By Janice Carter Levitch
Imagine yourself surrounded by succulent plant-life and beautiful flowers that have been lovingly cared for by local growers at what feels like a couturier’s studio. That is what you will discover when you visit Mahonia, located on East Market Street in the toniest area of NuLu. A selection of wall-to-wall plants will fulfill even your wildest botanical fantasies. Another hotspot for such adventures can take place at Forage, located on Frankfort Avenue, which is equally chic with a dash of bohemia cascading from each corner of the store.
The prelude to either of these specialty shops opening their doors to customers is in their need to partner with the perfect supplier who possesses the wherewithal to find unique indoor and outdoor plants. Enter Brian Williams, owner of Brian’s Botanicals in Shepherdsville. As he will tell you, it all started for him with some turtles and a large yard. As a boy, his father transformed their backyard into a palm-filled oasis, which was his job to keep watered. Mostly focused on his pets and not on his chore, Brian’s affinity for plants blossomed while he was creating a prehistoric-looking pond for his turtles. That ignited his interest in aquatic and carnivorous plants, which he employs today as a supplier of uncommon and extraordinary plants.
“What we offer isn’t really considered mainstream,” Williams explained. “I’ve traveled to far off places to find rare and exotic plants that might take a year or longer to have them approved to export to my place in Shepherdsville. A lot of plants in the Aroid family are the most popular – about 80 percent of all houseplants are in this particular plant family.”
So, how did his interest in traveling to far off places to find rare and exotic plants get started?
“I’ve been collecting and growing plants since I was about 13 years old,” he said. “I’ve been going to a special plant show in Miami for a few years, and I would notice some of the people participating would travel to interesting places and always bring back a new tropical plant. A couple years ago, a friend of mine was going to Borneo and asked if my fiancée and I would like to join him. We spent a week in the jungle and got to see some unusual things, and we collected a few things that had never been in the United States before.”
Given the effort that international travel demands, this writer asked Williams to explain what it took to bring unusual plants into the United States and make them available to the Louisville community.
“We collected plants that would work in Louisville,” he stated. “First, we had to take what we collected to a local nursery so they could identify it then let it grow out. My friend is a botanist, and almost a year later, he went back, cut it, then brought the cuttings back to me. I’ve also been to Costa Rica to find unusual plants, and it’s never easy to bring these back. Mostly, I really enjoy breeding endless varieties of plants.”
Bridget Davis owns Mahonia and works closely with local growers for flowers that are unique. “We buy a lot of flowers from an Indiana grower,” she said. “I can get everything from crabapple branches that I used for a wedding at the Speed Art Museum to numerous varieties of dahlias. This company is Wild Willows right outside of Corydon, Indiana, and they are terrific.
“I’m friends with the people at Forage, and we buy from some of the same growers,” she continued. Davis also recommends Brian’s Botanicals.
Mahonia specializes in houseplants that include terrariums. The staff strives to educate customers on everything from finding the right container to curating the ideal environment.
“For us, it’s all about you being successful with your purchase,” Davis said. “We want to make sure you are happy and when you get home that your plant is happy, too. Once we know what your space is like, we help you add a little green to your interior. … We encourage people to have a closer relationship with the plant and even inspect it occasionally. Some plants are bulletproof and those are perfect for busy people who don’t have a lot of time to commit to caring for them. Coaching our customers to pay close attention to houseplants – because they are living creatures – is very important to us. You might like the way something looks and by asking a lot of questions, we sometimes discover certain plants may or may not be the right fit.”
Jamie Fairman, owner of Forage, is known for sourcing florals from all over the world, as well as working with local growers – “plant mamas and plant daddys” – as often as possible. “I truly love what Forage has become to us and so many of our patrons,” she said. “It has become much more than just a store filled with beautiful plants (and is) a community of people, now friends, who happen to patron our store. We all come together over a common interest and have formed relationships because of them. That is the main reason that I love working with plants.”
Summer Brown, Forage’s sales manager and installation specialist, works closely with customers.
“We have exotic plants and wonderful hobby growers who bring us plants when they are available,” Brown said. “The plant industry is booming, and plants are a winning design trend with good reason. Research shows that plants increase our mood and productivity. They lower our blood pressure and help us feel more grounded.”
For more amateur growers, Forage happily consults and connects with anyone who has plant-related questions.
“We offer free consultations for homes and offices if someone is feeling lost on how to add them to their space,” Brown explained.
“We are known for our fast-growing Instagram (@forageplants) that’s full of knowledge from beginner to advanced plant care. We are major hand holders and have customers from all walks of life. … I answer about 100 Instagram direct messages a day from people all over the country to help them take care of their green babies.”
Brown’s favorites for beginners include peace lilies, snake plants, ZZ plants and just about any philodendrons.
“My favorite plant of all time is the Bird of Paradise,” she said. “They’re stunning and make such a statement, plus they are really tolerant.”
“Bird of Paradise and many ficus varieties (fiddle leaf figs and Ficus Audreys) are true showstoppers,” Fairman concurred. “They can transform any space and make it feel luxe, and we are here for that! Approachable luxury is the name of our game and we think everyone deserves that.” V
Where to Find:
822 E. Market St., Louisville
10 a.m. to 6 p.m. Monday – Saturday
11 a.m. to 4 p.m. Sunday
1731 Frankfort Ave. Louisville
11 a.m. to 7 p.m. Wednesday – Friday
11a.m. to 6 p.m. Saturday
11 a.m. to 5 p.m. Sunday
6350 N. Preston Hwy., Shepherdsville
7115 S. Hardinsburg Livonia Road,