April 7, 2016

A slice of calm in the heart of Hackney, Conservatory Archives is a green oasis packed full of succulents, prickly cacti and trailing plants. The bright spring sunshine filters through the glass-fronted shop and the temperature soars; Conservatory Archives is a tropical haven in the least likely location. We caught up with co-founder Jin Ahn, to find out more about urban gardening and her top tips on how to take care of your little green friends at home.

UO: What is the story behind the Conservatory Archives? 

Conservatory Archives embodies everything that I can’t live without! The initial concept came about when I was studying Horticulture. There was a strong emphasis on outdoor gardening and landscaping, but little concerning indoor gardening, which I believe is so crucial for urban dwellers. The intention behind Conservatory Archives was to create a little green oasis in an urban setting; my love of vintage furniture and curios has gradually been added to that vision.

UO: What is it about horticulture that captures your imagination and where does this fascination come from? 

Many of our visitors fall in love with how the space looks, but believe me, this isn’t because I am a particularly artistic person. Plants do the job themselves. They are living sculptures with their own personalities; their effortless ability to transform any space is incredible. The thing I find most fascinating about plants is the way they keep growing, reproducing, getting ill, recovering, and growing back stronger. They are living beings, just as we are.

I love that plants adapt to their surroundings depending on where they live and who they live with. For examples, I have a four-year-old cheese plant which is such a funny-looking plant and I’m really attached to it. Bringing plants into your life and home can bring a lot of joy (both mentally and physically), as long as you take the responsibility to look after them.

UO: What is it you love about antique furniture?

I love how antique furniture is made with such passion and care. It’s a feeling you can never hope to recreate in modern furniture, it’s something that comes through age.

UO: What is your favourite antique and what is its story? 

That’s hard to say, as I have so many! I particularly adore mid-century chairs and Dieter Rams’ designs for Braun that I have been collecting for a while.

UO: Where do you source both your antiques and your plants?

Giacomo (my partner & co-founder), has a totally different background than me. He is currently a phD student in Mathematics and also works as a consultant, but you can trace his love for antique trading back to his family in Italy. We always get support from his family for sourcing new pieces. I am in heaven every time we go back to Italy where we have a warehouse, crammed full of old stuff. Before opening the store, we tried to make some contacts with dealers and we travelled all over Europe to meet them and to find vintage gems along the way. These could be anything from the mid-century Danish chair to antique copper vases from an old florist in Italy, or silly toys from a french flea market.

I also work very closely with growers in Holland and Denmark; I chase them and bother them every week to fill my delivery with a wide variety of plants. I get some plants from suppliers in London, but not a lot. We also travel with our van to get rare plants or specimen plants from collectors or private nurseries.

UO: Could you give us your top tips for nurturing an indoor garden at home? 

Plants are much stronger than we think; they will strive to survive no matter what the condition, but obviously you should try to find the right plants for the space you have. Also think about your lifestyle and how much time you can dedicate to looking after them.

From my experience and from what I hear from my customers everyday, over-watering is the killer in many cases. We live in the UK where we get so much rain every day…plants do not need that much water, especially in winter. Plants will suffocate in over-soaked soil; root rot might end up killing the plant and there’s nothing you can do to salvage it. Too much love is suffocating!

UO: We’re really lucky to live in such a green city. Where are your favourite green spaces in London?

I love Kew Gardens, Petersham Nurseries and the Barbican Centre’s Conservatory. I am so inspired by conservatories and botanic gardens. It was actually the Edinburgh Botanic Gardens that inspired my decision to go back to university and study Horticulture.

  UO: What are your tips for looking after succulents at home?

Don’t over-water your plants! Place them where they can get a lot of sunlight. My Echeveria is absolutely healthy and beautiful although I have not watered it for a month. I rarely water my succulents and cacti in the winter. Also remember to use a well-draining soil when repotting.