Jason Chongue is an architect, interior designer and plant cultivator. Together with his partner, Nathan Smith, the couple’s “geeky and relaxing hobby” blossomed into a full-time business in just eight months.
“We spent over three months accumulating 1000 unusual plants and then we hosted an event in a warehouse and sold them all,” says Chongue. “It was crazy, so we did it again once a month, then once a week and then found a permanent home with our friends at Mina-no-ie in Collingwood."
“It makes so much sense to share the space together," he says of the Japanese cafe. "I can offer a coffee to someone while we’re potting and help make the experience much more friendly.”
As the name suggests, The Plant Society is about inclusion – it’s focused on bringing together buyers, growers, artists and makers, and wants to make it easy for beginner gardeners to ask questions.
“We wanted to set up a space where people could come up and ask simple questions like "how much water should I use?"” says Chongue. “We like to start with the question, how many plants have you killed recently? We’re all human and sometimes nature is just out of our control.”
Plant Society stocks both common plants, such as peace lily, fiddle leaf and devil’s ivy, and some harder to find varieties. It can also assist you with sourcing a specific plant if there’s none in store.
“We sometimes get rarer species in stock, such as the philodendron pink princess, dinner plate ficus and these gnarly umbrella plants, which we’re growing at the moment for our upcoming collaboration with Supernormal,” says Chongue.
The plants come from various growers, including Chongue and Smith’s garden in Abbotsford. The pair also works with “backyard growers”, who may grow as few as 10 plants a year, to cultivate rarer species.
In addition to helping you source a certain plant, the nursery also offers services including plant rejuvenation and plant styling. You can have a consultation in-store, or in the convenience of your own home, office or a cafe.
“We laugh that it sounds like a dog-walking service where we’ll schedule weekly, monthly or holiday check ups to maintain our clients’ plants,” says Chongue.
Education is an integral ingredient here: Chongue wants to preserve valuable horticulture skills, which he worries will “otherwise be lost”. The Plant Society consults to schools and council groups in that vein, and is releasing its first gardening book in November.
“I also believe the more you learn about plants, the more you can appreciate them, their growth and journey,” he says. “It’s a shame to only enjoy them aesthetically.”
Not that aesthetics are ignored, and in fact the pair collaborates with local ceramists and artists to design pots with seasonal plants in mind. An elongated vase by Melbourne artist, Jade Thorsen, for example, is designed for taller plant such as orchids. Melbourne-based ceramist Penelope Duke has created stylish vessels for propagation.
Our tip? Enter from the corner door where Peel meets Cambridge Street for the best vantage point of the nursery – a green oasis within a warehouse cafe.
“We wanted a space that was mostly indoors as apartments are going up really fast around here,” Chongue says. “If people don’t see the effects of gardening in a strange environment like in here, then they won’t relate to it.”
The Plant Society
33 Peel Street, Collingwood
0439 282 409
Tue to Fri 8am–4pm