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Shopper’s Diary: Houseplants for Beginners from The Sill in NYC

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Shopper’s Diary: Houseplants for Beginners from The Sill in NYC

December 5, 2017

Eliza Blank’s first New York City apartment was the proverbial 200-square-foot studio facing a brick wall. Her quarters made her long for a bit of nature—and gave her a new appreciation for her plant-filled childhood home in Northampton, Massachusetts, which her mother had turned into an approximation of her own childhood surroundings in the Philippines. Blank’s first awkward attempts as indoor gardener—how to lug a bag of potting soil up five flights?—led her to start her own business, The Sill, devoted to making it easy for green-minded millennials like herself to live with plants.

That was in 2012, just ahead of the great flowering of the urban gardening movement, and Blank, who began by offering potted plant deliveries in her own neighborhood, has since opened two NYC storefronts (one debuted just last week), and launched an online plant and planter shop that ships nationwide. She also has a warehouse in NJ, where The Sill’s plants, grown by small suppliers in Florida and California, are nurtured by horticulturalists —most of the staff of 20 are graduates of Rutger’s agriculture school—”so what we sell is in peak health.” Join us for a look at it all.

Upper West Side Shop

The Sill&#8
Above: The Sill’s just-opened uptown location occupies a former kids’ hairdresser at 448 Amsterdam Ave, between 81st and 82nd streets.
Eliza Blank made The Sill&#8
Above: Eliza Blank made The Sill’s first houseplant deliveries herself.

To make indoor gardening easy and affordable for city dwellers, she began by focusing on plants small enough to perch on a windowsill; diminutive succulents remain a Sill basic. Artist-designed, American-made glazed planters—upgrades on the standard plastic nursery pot—are another Sill staple.

The shop has white brick walls that allow the greenery to stand out.  A marble-topped bar/checkout area serves as a table for the shop&#8
Above: The shop has white brick walls that allow the greenery to stand out.  A marble-topped bar/checkout area serves as a table for the shop’s weekly workshops that range from gardening 101 lessons to DIY macrame plant hangers and decorating cupcakes with frosting “succulents.”

Note the retractable laundry rack over the sink: it’s a Remodelista favorite (see Object of Desire: The Hanging Laundry Rack from George & Willy) cleverly used as a plant hanger.

Display shelves show The Sill&#8
Above: Display shelves show The Sill’s array of low-light “plants for beginners” and signature pots. Info cards on each specimen offer distilled instructions, including “sad plant signs” and how to respond to them.

“We assume most people walking in know absolutely nothing, says Blank. “I myself didn’t know a fern from a philodendron when I brought home my first plant. We want to provide information and encouragement.” To that end, The Sill plants come with a one-year guarantee: If your purchase was tended and expires, they’ll replace it. Rate of return? “Online, less than five percent and in-store less than one percent: most people would prefer to save the plant, so we supply a coaching service.”

Downtown NYC Shop

The Sill&#8
Above: The Sill’s five-year-old downtown location is at 84 Hester Street in Chinatown. The mural is by Katie Evans, design director of the Rifle Paper Co.
Varieties of the air plant Tillandsia were the recent Plant of the Month. The December plant: the Norfolk Island pine (see below).
Above: Varieties of the air plant Tillandsia were the recent Plant of the Month. The December plant: the Norfolk Island pine (see below).

New Jersey Warehouse

Blank in her company&#8
Above: Blank in her company’s 900-square-foot distribution center. In addition to window-sill-sized plants, the company has branched out to larger potted plants and trees.

The Sill Delivery

A Sill installation on a customer&#8
Above: A Sill installation on a customer’s Brooklyn mantel: a kokedama, a Japanese-style root ball, and a Echeveria ‘Lola’ in an Ezra Planter; $29.50.

The Sill Hall of Fame: 6 Easy Potted Plants

The Sill’s website makes it easy to zero in on fuss-free plants: categories include Plants for Small Spaces, Plants for Beginners, Low-Light Plants, and Pet-Friendly Plants (because cats, in particular, are known to munch the greenery and some of it can make them sick (see our Ask the Expert Post: Will a “Poisonous” Plant Really Kill My Pet?). Here’s an overview.

An Assortment of Six Tiny Succulents is $30. &#8
Above: An Assortment of Six Tiny Succulents is $30. “Succulents are easy as long as you have bright light and don’t over water,” says Blank.
Air plants, $30 for an assortment of five, fall under the &#8
Above: Air plants, $30 for an assortment of five, fall under the “Plants for Small Spaces” and “Dirty Nails Aren’t Your Thing” categories. The ones here are shown on The Sill’s powder-coated steel Tillandz Air Plant Stand Sets; $39 for three (in addition to white, they come in black and pale pink).
Read more about how to keep an air plant alive in Gardening 101: How to Water an Air Plant.

One of the least-demanding houseplants out there, Zamioculcas zamiifolia, the ZZ plant, is a favorite Sill starter option: it&#8
Above: One of the least-demanding houseplants out there, Zamioculcas zamiifolia, the ZZ plant, is a favorite Sill starter option: it’s happy in low light and “any humidity level will do.” The ZZ Plant is $11 on its own (in a plastic pot) and $51 in an August Planter, shown here in blush.
Blank predicts that the Calathea &#8
Above: Blank predicts that the Calathea ‘rattlesnake plant’, $12, is going to be one of the next “It” plants. “The leaves close up at nights, so it’s also known as the prayer plant, and they’re patterned with what looks like deep green brushstrokes.” Pet safe, they prefer indirect sunlight and only need to be watered once every one to two weeks.

See more about calathea care in 9 Best Indoor Plants for Low- Light Apartments.

A Tricolor Oyster Plant and Ezra Planter,
Above: A Tricolor Oyster Plant and Ezra Planter, 2 inches tall tall and 2.5 inches wide, is $29.95. All of The Sill’s planters are named after famous horticulturalists—this one is for Ezra Cornell, co-founder of Cornell University—and come in several color options.
Fast growing in direct light, tricolor oyster plants require watering only every one to weeks and the potting soil should be allowed to completely dry out: “In general, one of the biggest mistakes beginners make is sticking to an exact watering schedule—watering on exactly the same day every week,” she says. “You should only water most plants when the soil is dry, and not just dry on the surface, but dry two inches down into the soil.”

A potted Christmas tree that&#8
Above: A potted Christmas tree that’s also a houseplant: the Norfolk Island Pine is $8 for a 4-inch-tall, 4-inch-wide plant in a plastic pot.
In addition to potted plant deliveries, The Sill provides plant design and maintenance services to companies in NYC and LA. Blank plans to next offer balcony and window box plants.
Above: In addition to potted plant deliveries, The Sill provides plant design and maintenance services to companies in NYC and LA. Blank plans to next offer balcony and window box plants.

Here’s The Sill’s 10 Tips for Office Plants.

Also take a look at our guide to the 10 Best Low-Maintenance Houseplants.

Finally, get more ideas on how to plant, grow, and care for various houseplants with our Houseplants: A Field Guide.

Product summary  

ZZ Plant

ZZ Plant

$11.00 USD from The Sill

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