TORRINGTON – Snow falls outside on a mid-February day, turning what was once green into a white blanket of cold mush. Inside Great Gardens, an array of plants continues to bloom and grow, ignoring the weather event transpiring just outside the doors.
Houseplants’ popularity has been on the rise for years, a phenomenon only intensified by the coronavirus pandemic. Great Gardens, a Torrington-based garden center and greenhouse, sees the trend reflected in its sales, according to owner Jeff Jones.
Last year was the shop’s best by far, but houseplants were especially successful as their sales more than tripled from the year prior. The coronavirus pandemic keeping people in their homes is a likely culprit for the surge in sales, Jones said.
“It was just completely different,” Jones said. “We’ve been pretty consistent in houseplant sales over the years, but last year, it just exploded.”
As demands for these plants increased, their supplies decreased. Florida, the state from where tropical plants and houseplants originates, effectively shut down amid the pandemic and residents largely stayed home, including planters.
“People were home working, and it’s tough to plant these from home, you can’t work from home doing this,” Jones said. “It put a supply constraint and we’re still seeing that today.”
Still, there are enough leafy greens to go around, and Haley Carter wants to help you find one.
Carter, the proud owner of 35 houseplants and an employee at Great Gardens, spends her days tending to plants and helping customers find one that suits their lifestyle.
Plants, in a sense, are like pets. You might like all animals but consider yourself a dog person, a cat person, a lizard person or a hamster person, because each kind of animal requires different levels and methods of care.
The same goes for plants. Carter said succulents, a plant popular for its small size and low maintenance, should be placed in a window with sunlight and watered next to never. Others, including, rose bushes, are more challenging to care for and thus not always recommended.
The most important aspect of shopping for a houseplant is research. Carter said customers come to the greenhouse and find a plant they think is beautiful, but it isn’t what’s right for their lifestyle or the composition of their home. Do a google search, and then come talk to Carter.
“Don’t be afraid to ask, ‘what do I need to take care of this?’ because we love that, that’s our thing,” she said. “We love talking about plants, and we love helping people take care of plants, because we know the joy that they bring and the peace they give you.”
Caring for plants in the winter, even when they live indoors, can be tough as room temperature fluctuates, the sun is finicky and windows where they happily live out their days in temperate weather turn too cold for them.
First, for winter months, Carter recommends plants with thicker leaves. Specifically, she said those interested should look to ZZ plants, jade, hoyas, geraniums and of course, succulents. No matter which plants you want to buy, research how to take care of it and where to keep it, she says.
In the plant world, a window is not just a window. An ideal spot for one plant might not be the same for another, and it is largely dependent on which direction the window faces: north, south, east or west.
A south window, Carter said, has a lot of light during the day, whereas a north window has little to none. East has a light somewhere in between the two, and west is a hot afternoon sun, conducive to succulents. If you still aren’t sure which direction your window is facing, the compass app on your smartphone should do the trick, she said.
Some plants also go dormant in the winter and may appear dead, but they’re not.
Carter applied to work at Great Gardens and share her plant wisdom with others after Brittanie Lofink, a longtime employee suggested she do so. Lofink has similar advice for aspiring plant owners.
“You just have to come see a plant person and say, ‘this is the kind of lighting I have; I don’t know anything about plants, but I have this kind of window, and these are the habits I have, what kind of plant can I get?’” Lofink said.
Houseplants are a significant part of her life. She estimates her home is filled with more than 100 plants that she tends to with her family.
“There are a lot of people who do family board games and game nights. We do family plant cleaning,” Lofink said. “We grab a bunch of houseplants and we cut off the dead stuff and we talk about what kind of plant it is, what kind of blooms it has and different fertilizers. It’s a passion for me to grow things and to have nature be a part of my home with my family.”
Great Gardens is open year-round, in rain, snow and sleet, to those who want to bring a little light into their homes.
“It’s literally a part of my soul, for sure,” Lofink said.