Jason Chongue and his partner Nathan Smith had good reason to be confident that opening a permanent Sydney outpost of The Plant Society would work well. “We have a great following in Sydney [Plant Society had a regular pop-up at Surry Hills’ Paramount Recreation Club], and we used to have a lot of people fly in and out of Melbourne to buy plants and pots from us. It was really surprising,” Chongue says.
The Plant Society’s Sydney store is in a terrace house on Paddington’s charming, boutique-lined William Street. Like in Melbourne you can visit to buy plants grown by local or Melbourne growers, get advice on why your peace lily’s leaf tips are turning brown (it’s either too much or too little water) or pick up homewares and pots.
“It’s a place for people of different backgrounds, genders and ages to connect and celebrate the process of gardening,” he says. “We wanted to give a similar experience we had when going to a milk bar when we were younger, in that you get to talk to the owner and be part of a community.”
There’s also accommodation upstairs, ShopHouse. “We like to do two things in one location. In Melbourne there’s a cafe with the shop, and in Sydney there’s a guesthouse.”
Staff doubles as concierge to the guesthouse, which has its own entry via a laneway. Guests have the run of the private two-bedroom space upstairs and at night, the downstairs bathroom and kitchen (during the day they share downstairs with the shop). Unsurprisingly, the bedrooms are lush with greenery as well as products from the shop and pieces by Melbourne and Sydney artists.
“It’s quite intimate and lush with lots of curated homewares and goods,” Chongue says. “The idea is to play with your senses and create an environment that’s rich.”
The Plant Society started two years ago and has seen phenomenal growth. Chongue is an architect and interior designer, but the business is a natural fit for his passion for plants. “Gardening has always been a hidden hobby for me. I used to garden with my parents and grandparents. I remember bringing my first plant home from school. They gave us cuttings in tins and mine was a lamb’s ear.”
As someone who’s gardened his whole life and whose own home has hundreds of plants Chongue believes the appeal of gardening is in its connection to something simple and rewarding. “It’s part of a return to making and growing and creating. It’s not the gardening that’s popular, it’s the idea of a process: being able to make and grow things, to know where your fruit and veg come from.
“For a long time we told ourselves we had to go to university and get tertiary degrees and sit at a desk for 18 hours a day. Now we’re returning to that lost sense of process, to understanding how things come about.”
The Plant Society
21 William Street, Paddington
Mon to Sat 10am–5pm
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This article first appeared on Broadsheet on June 11, 2019. Some details may have changed since publication.