From the quiet street in Sausalito, you wouldn’t know that hiding behind a tall fence is a thriving, vibrant micro farm, lab, and headquarters. This is where Justine Kahn, owner of Botnia (a “science-based skin remedies” company) and Skin Remedy (a day spa in San Francisco), lives with her husband and where she grows and cares for most of the plants used in her lotions, creams, scrubs, and hydrosols.
“The garden wasn’t always this way,” Justine tells us. “Our home was built around 1900, and in the 1920s, it was turned from a barn into a home for a family of five. They were known in the neighborhood for their garden, and we’ve been told that the garden was so beautiful that people thought it was a park.” Fast-forward to 2011 when, after years of neglect, the once-beautiful garden was now overgrown with weeds, and the house (listed as a “contractor’s special”) was dilapidated. Undeterred, Justine and her husband, Chris, bought the property and took the house down to the studs themselves, replacing the interior and leaving the exterior exactly as it was to keep the charm of the early 1900s.
That same year, Justine started Skin Remedy with the hope of one day offering her clients homemade remedies for their exact skin type. “I didn’t know I wanted or loved farming flowers; all I knew was that I loved skincare and wanted to help people understand that what we put on our skin is just as important as what we put in our bodies.”
So Justine decided to try growing various skin-healing plants in her garden, which she had started to slowly rehabilitate. She and her team planted rose geranium, chamomile, calendula, sage, yarrow, arnica, sweet Annie, comfrey, gotu kola, goldenseal, meadowfoam, parsley, lavender, cilantro, dahlias, and many other botanicals—and from this bounty, she created her natural skincare line, Botnia. She realized, though, that to grow the quantity of botanicals needed for spas around the country she would need a farm partner. She found one in Katina Connaughton, owner-farmer-floral designer of SingleThread in Healdsburg. “Katina mainly grows yarrow, calendula, and chamomile for us, but this year she tried some tansy too,” says Justine.
Back in Sausalito, the Botnia team is also trying something different this year: growing two plants that normally have a hard time thriving in Sausalito’s Zone 10—arnica and meadowsweet. Both plants prefer higher elevations, but because the team had minor success last year growing them, they’re trying for a larger crop this year. “We have room to experiment!” says Justine.
Join us for a tour of her beautiful experiment.
Photography by Nancy Neil, courtesy of Botnia, unless otherwise noted.
For more gardens we love in Northern California, see: