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A ‘houseplant hotel’ gives greenery the spa treatment — and keeps them alive while you’re on vacation

Elizabeth Wellington, The Philadelphia Inquirer on

Published in Fashion Daily News

PHILADELPHIA -- Yolanda Palmer ushers visitors through Foliage, past towering ferns, hanging ficus, and monstera with leaves that look like Swiss cheese, to the 300-square-foot greenery hotel nestled in back of her plant boutique.

Here, close to a dozen clivia, hibiscus and succulents soak in the sun under floor-to-ceiling windows. On cloudy days, high-powered, infrared grow lights help turn stalks green and lush. Palmer repots, fertilizes, and sprays neem oil so bugs don’t get too comfortable. She puts all her visiting plants on strict watering schedules — too much water is worse than too little.

Bruised leaves heal. Viruses in the soil are cured. Plants flourish. And when owners return from vacations abroad and monthslong business trips, their agave trees, cacti, and snake plants are perky, healthy, and, most importantly, ready to thrive at home.

“I’ve always had lots of plants and lots of animals,” said Palmer, who charges $75 a week for her in-store plant-hoteling services and for plant-sitting at clients’ homes. “And when I traveled, I always wished I had someone to take care of them. …”

Palmer, 52, grew up in Southwest Philly in the ‘80s and ‘90s and to keep out of trouble, her mother required she have a hobby. Caring for plants became hers.

She worked as an accountant and billing coordinator at Public Health Management Corp. for 14 years, where she became an expert in spreadsheets and balancing budgets. Palmer quit PHMC in 2019 to turn her hobby into a business and started selling plants at pop-ups. She needed a place to store her plants so she set up shop at Jerry’s Corner, a flea market in Southwest Philly, selling plants three days a week.

Palmer consulted with would-be plant parents. People who travel should buy snake plants, ponytail palms, and cacti because they don’t need to be watered often. Those with pets might want to buy ferns or hoyas because their leaves aren’t poisonous.

 

In 2021, when the space at 8139 Germantown Ave. — a teahouse turned antique shop — became available, she jumped.

“What sets me apart is that I really help people care for their plants,” Palmer said. “It takes time, dedication and space,” she said. And it takes a special eye because plants can’t tell you what they need or want. And by the time you notice a yellowed leaf, or a brittle stem, it’s too late.

Everything from the wrought iron gates that separate the rooms in Foliage to the wine racks has a leaf on it. Terrariums filled with multicolored sand and succulents line the windowsills next to rows of teeny tiny plants Palmer is growing for party favors. Candles that smell like springtime and evergreens dot the store. Palmer walks through Foliage untangling hanging potted plants overflowing with dangling strings of fishhooks. She stops to braid the long, skinny leaves of a snake plant.

Cindy Boughton walked in. She moved to Philadelphia from Texas a few years ago and wasn’t able to bring her beloved nearly 3-foot-tall Euphorbia — a succulent with prickly glochids that give it a cactus vibe — with her.

Boughton purchased another Euphorbia from Palmer a few weeks ago, but didn’t take it home immediately because she needed to make space for it. Palmer took care of the plant until she came back. She helped Boughton load it into the car. “I really missed my plant,” Boughton said. “She … this store … It’s just so wonderful.”

A steady stream of customers walked in and out of Foliage praising Palmer for her dedication and green thumb. “I’m just so happy I was able to turn my passion into a business,” Palmer said.


©2024 The Philadelphia Inquirer, LLC. Visit at inquirer.com. Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.

 

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