JIN AHN WORKED IN GRAPHIC AND FASHION DESIGN FOR TEN YEARS before deciding to study horticulture. Seeing a potential in green things, she went on to open Conservatory Archives along east London's Hackney Road. Originally intended by Jin and her partner Giacomo to be part-plant-shop, part-antique-shop, they saw the leafy side of business too quickly outgrow its counterpart since opening in December of 2015.
There's still a sprinkling of furniture and accessories, albeit overtaken by the forest of foliage. Ferns hang overhead, birds of paradise dwarf a door frame, succulents sit like trophies on tabletops, and all sorts of potted greens fill shelves and boxes on the floor. Possessing both volume and variety, the plants are well selected, purchased by Jin herself from different sellers and private collectors. She tells me that the large cacti go fast. Showing one that stood over five feet, priced at £300, she gives me an idea of just how big a recently-sold £500 cactus might have been.
The perfect hostess for a snug yet buzzing shop, Jin managed to chat with me between attending to visitors. It was a Wednesday, the shop's quietest day, and in my two-hour visit, there wasn't a period of more than ten minutes in which there wasn't at least one customer browsing. Jin says that on weekends, it gets so busy, people line up to pay.
The Telegraph's Debora Robertson calls it a renaissance. "Like so many trend evolutions, this hip green renaissance is spreading from the style hothouse that is east London. Where once they came with their cocktails, food trucks and pop-up restaurants, now they’re here with their succulents and ferns, air plants and ivies, following a nurturing continuum from pop-ups to potting up."
In existence since the early Greeks and Romans, houseplants gained popularity in colder climates by the 17th century. Benefits of keeping them have also been made known, particularly by a 1988 NASA paper determining their ability to remove trace levels of toxic chemicals from indoor spaces. The study revealed such figures as 2,592 micrograms of formaldehyde dropping to 259 micrograms after 24 hours of exposure to aloe vera. Benzene levels dropped from 18,500 to 9,000 when bamboo palm was introduced into the enclosed space.
Today, houseplants appear to be celebrated for their ornamental qualities, as unlikely style symbols. #monstera and #fiddleleaffig appear in quintuple digits on Instagram, posted by tastemakers and coolhunters alike. #cactus now appears over two million times and that doesn't even count #cactuslover, #cactusclub or #cacti.
Conservatory Archives is one such hashtag-worthy destination, in a hashtag-worthy pocket of the city no less. You might be one to sneer at trends but it's hard to vilify houseplants, which thrive on care, and inanimately care back. To take it from a a blossoming plant professional, perhaps there is indeed a potential in green things. Any trend that makes life a little less toxic must be worth cultivating.
Conservatory Archives, 493-495 Hackney Road, London. facebook.com/conservatoryarchives Photos by Lady San Pedro and Mónica García Koewandhono.