When best friends Harris Mashood and Bowen Walker opened plant shop Botanicah in early February, they were hoping to create a hub for green thumbs – and to free their heaving balconies from foliage at the same time.
“Harris’s place was so full of plants you literally could not walk through it at one stage,” Walker says, laughing as he recounts how the pair unwittingly opened up the month before coronavirus restrictions took effect.
“We were literally sitting with our heads in our hands, thinking, ‘What are we going to do?’” says Mashood. “It was very scary as new business owners; we’d both put our life savings into it.”
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The pair pivoted quickly, selling seeds for vegetables and herbs, regularly sanitising every pot and surface in the store, and only opening on weekends.
“We owe the Prahran community so much, because the locals came out and supported us,” Mashood says.
The 350-square-metre former plastic-bag factory is now open seven days, and the majority of the plants on sale grow successfully indoors and on balconies. There are fiddle-leaf figs, monsteras and ficuses for $40; birds of paradise for $120; plus indoor palms, inch plants, succulents, cacti and more.
“We do have some plants in the store that aren’t for sale,” laughs Walker. “We call them our ‘gallery pieces’.”
Handmade hanging pots are strung from the ceiling, and there are outdoor terracotta pots, marble pots that can hold small trees, fibreglass pots, and even decorative pots carved out of tree stumps by a retiree working in Wilsons Promontory. (When coronavirus restrictions prevented him attending markets, the pair bought his entire stock.)
“We have so many people coming in on their lunchbreaks to breathe and feel the oxygen and calm down,” Mashood says.
Once the Covid situation subsides, the pair plan to host community-focused events and workshops, including classes on repotting, plant maintenance, and some aimed at encouraging young gardeners.
Along with propagating from their own gardens, Mashood and Walker visit nurseries each weekend to select more plants for Botanicah. They also offer plant-maintenance tips and garden-design advice on Instagram.
And the pair are already in the process of opening another Botanicah in South Melbourne, with a focus on outdoor and native species. It’ll also have an on-site coffee cart.
44 Porter Street, Prahran
Mon to Sun 10am–6pm