Not all indoor plants are created equal. Fiddle-leaf figs are particularly on trend, as are spider plants and monsteras, while bonsai and peace lily are far from fashionable.
Jana Stewart is looking to change this attitude. Through her plant business, Microcosm, she wants to grow people’s appreciation for all things green, regardless of their trend factor.
“Sometimes people feel like they have to have a 'cool plant', but I want them to appreciate all plants. A plant is a living thing ... It's not going to look the same as an interior design magazine,” she says.
After holding market stalls around town (including a pop-up store on Parramatta Road), Microcosm has set up permanently at Mini Mart, a plants/homewares/design store in Petersham. It’s owned by Stewart and her partner Pablo Colombi, and is just a couple of doors down from retro cafe Daisy’s Milkbar.
Stewart – who’s in her final year of a science degree, majoring in microbiology – says having indoor greenery leads to better health. Plants improve air quality by filtering out impurities and pollutants, and are also known to lift mood and lower stress levels.
Microcosm offers more than the run-of-the-mill plants found at your local nursery – Stewart sources hers from Noraville Green, a boutique supplier on the NSW central coast. You’ll find familiar species such as monsteras, philodendrons and, of course, fiddle-leaf figs, alongside more unusual options such as the fleshy “donkey tail” and the shrimp plant, which has pink flowers that resemble prawns.
Stewart also runs Plant Parenthood, hands-on workshops teaching the basics of plant care, including how to pot it and where to put it. Participants walk away with an easy-care shrub such as a devil’s ivy or a peace lily, which Stewart says are “gateway” plants to more greenery in the home. “[At the end of class], people have more confidence. They get hooked and think, ‘If I feel this happy with this plant, imagine how happy I’ll be if I have five plants,” she says.
Stewart also sells a variety of pots and accessories, mainly sourced from Sydney-based ceramicists and designers. There are Cass Siow’s cute-as-a-button planters that have little stump “feet”; brightly coloured pots from Trade the Mark; and baskets from Asahi Sun, which have been woven from palm inflorescence (the flowering stem of a palm tree).
Insacious, Colombi’s side of the business, is a launch pad for emerging artists and designers to exhibit, develop and sell their works. At the moment there’s a photo exhibition by Jamie Espinosa, and geometric tables by industrial designer Vincent Buret.
Mini Mart also features pieces from To Barwyn and Back. It’s a stylish Melbourne bike-wear label by Gemma Baxter, an architect and keen cyclist who saw a gap in the market for riding gear that eschewed the lycra-forward "MAMIL" (middle-aged men in lycra) aesthetic.
“There's a bit of a story behind the products. I'm all for internet shopping, but you miss out on the connection of talking to the person behind your products. It's such a privilege to have an actual shop in Sydney – we want to team up with other people so they can have a space to show their work,” says Stewart.
328 Stanmore Road, Petersham