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In 2018, full-time physician assistant Caitlin Hastings was feeling a little burnt out from work. As a creative outlet, she began helping friends and mutual acquaintances incorporate houseplants into their homes. Soon, that blossomed into weekend pop-ups where she sold pre-potted plants with care instructions for novice plant parents. And when the side hustle’s growth outpaced her operation, Hastings took a leap of faith and opened Botanica, a modern houseplant shop specializing in tropical, desert, and rare plants in downtown Birmingham. Since opening in August of 2019, Botanica hasn’t stopped growing. In 2020, they opened a second location in Huntsville, and have no plans to slow down any time soon. We sat down with Hastings to learn more about her love for plants, her plans for Botanica, and the ridiculously cool spaces she creates in her stores.
Where did you develop your love for plants?
My love of plants actually came from a lot of trial and error. In 2016, my husband and I purchased an older home in Roebuck Springs and needed furniture to fill it. Since furniture is really expensive, I decided to place plants strategically in the rooms where we needed furniture. I quickly learned what each of those plants liked and disliked as far as their placement inside of my home and their watering schedules. Once you catch the “plant bug,” you have to have at least one in every room!
Can you talk about expanding to your second shop in Huntsville?
A year after opening our storefront in Birmingham, we decided to expand and open another retail location. We had a shortlist of places we were interested in, but ultimately settled on Huntsville because of its thriving economy, proximity to Birmingham, and the fact that they just really needed a cool plant shop in town! We opened in September of 2020 when Covid was still really new and really scary, so my staff and I didn’t see each other’s full faces without masks on for almost a year. It was wild!
What are some of your favorite houseplant trends?
I love that we now have access to trendy, rarer varieties of plants from all over the world. When I started this business in 2019, the only way to get cool rare Anthuriums and Philodendrons was to have them imported in the mail from Thailand and Indonesia, which was a super sketchy process and the plants rarely arrived salvageable. Now, we have access to growers here in the U.S. that are growing all the coolest plants from all over the world, so they are cheaper and more readily available.
Do you have any specific types of plants that you especially love to keep in your home?
I try not to have the same plant more than once in my home, so I totally base my plant picks on the amount of light each room gets. From there, I always have favorites to choose from and try to mix it up in every room. Some of my personal favorites are a variegated rubber plant, the Rhaphidophora tetrasperma (a type of monstera) that is climbing the wall in my bathroom, and my Philodendron goeldii because it puts out the coolest leaves.
What do you love about owning your own plant store?
The slowness of my mornings before we open when I’m just surrounded by plants. Coming from the world of surgery where everything is stressful and you never even have time to drink coffee or eat lunch, I enjoy the small things now. I enjoy not being rushed or having someone’s life in my hands. I also love interacting with customers and helping them find the perfect plants for their space and lifestyle. At Botanica, we strive to educate our customers on the plants they buy from us so they can enjoy them for many years and watch them grow.
Do you have any exciting things planned for Botanica in the near future?
We just launched the interiorscaping arm of our business called Plantscape by Botanica. We offer plant consulting and design services to local businesses who want plants in their offices, bars, restaurants, etc. We even do the monthly maintenance on the plants to keep them thriving. This is a service we’ve always offered on the side, but now we intend to make this a primary staple of our business. Our clients currently include Bocca Ristorante, Cayo Coco Rum Bar and Restaurant, Lululemon at The Summit, Fleetio, Zephyr Barbershop, and blueroot in Birmingham. (Have you seen the living wall we installed there?!)
You create some really gorgeous spaces inside your shop. Do you have a background in design? What inspires the designs of your stores?
That is so kind! But no, I don’t have any official design experience, ha! I’ve always loved scouring the internet for interior and architectural design inspiration. When we opened our stores, we wanted to keep the overhead low and create a modern indoor jungle. The plants do all the talking, really. I wanted to have a few “Instagrammable moments” in the shops (photo ops for free advertising, hello!), so we brought in our staple flamingo wallpaper and some neon lights. I will always be a lover of vintage rattan pieces. You’ll see many in our stores that are from my personal collection.