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Shopper’s Diary: Conservatory Archives in East London

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Shopper’s Diary: Conservatory Archives in East London

July 13, 2016

When Jin Ahn was studying for her horticulture degree at an agricultural college in Essex, she realised that despite her course focus on outdoor landscapes there also was, in cities at least, a need for indoor gardening. As a native of Seoul and now London, she also realized after graduation that urbanites were lacking a shop with the hanging ferns, imposing cacti, and big glossy architectural plants that she loved.

She opened her oasis, Conservatory Archives, at the end of last year with her Italian boyfriend Giacomo, a mathematician who is studying for his doctorate. And since then the double-fronted Hackney shop has become the go-to destination for the young professionals and creatives who dominate this area of the East End, with queues out of the door on most weekends. We take a look inside this packed, inspiring space.

Photography by Clare Coulson except where noted.

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Above: Photograph courtesy of Conservatory Archives.

Jin searched across London for a site for six months but has surely found the perfect spot. The building originally housed one of London’s oldest ironmongers from the late 18th century. The vast glass windows provide not only a fabulous showcase for her plants, but they also allow light to stream inside to the sun-loving cacti clustered near the windows.

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Above: Cacti of all sizes are one of the most popular plants on sale here—especially with men, says Jin, who she says prefer to shop here than visit a florist. Prices range from £85 to £350 for popular cacti including Euphorbia ingense or Polaskia chichipe.

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Above: Jin studied graphic design and worked in fashion before moving to England. Her design background is evident throughout the shop, which she stripped to bare plaster in lots of places and where she left as many architectural details intact as possible. Clever ideas include lots of beautiful vintage finds such as these galvanized factory light fittings she bought on eBay.

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Above: Photograph courtesy of Conservatory Archives.

Jin and Giacomo are avid vintage furniture hunters and the shop was originally intended to showcase antique pieces alongside plants. Horticulture has taken over but there are still lots of cabinets, mid-century chairs, and lighting to admire.  The sink unit was found in a junk shop and then tiled on top to create a practical workspace.

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Above: Photograph courtesy of Conservatory Archives. Big plants including rabbit foot fern and monstera are bestsellers.

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Above: Hanging plants are also popular; pictured is the sculptural and intriguing staghorn fern (at L).

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Above: Customers always want to discuss how to care for their plants; the biggest and most common crime, says Jin, is over-watering.

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Above: Many plants need much less water than you imagine, especially in winter. A case in point is Tillandsia xerographica, the air plant, £15.

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Above: Since opening Jin has also been busy collaborating with stores, fashion brands such as Cos, and events including Grow London and the Affordable Art Fair. Pictured behind the chair is: Ficus elastica, rubber tree, £380.

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Above: The bare plaster walls provide a spectacular backdrop to plants at all levels.

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Above: Jin hunts for new and interesting plants all over Europe but mostly buys from Holland and specialist dealers and growers. The shop is at 493-495 Hackney Road, London E2 and is open from 11:30 am to 7 pm from Tuesday through Sunday. For more information, see Conservatory Archives.

For more of our favorite sources of plants and flowers in East London, see Shopper’s Diary: Grace & Thorn in Hackney.

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