Recently, I feel like the universe is imploring me to buy new plants. Everywhere I look there is fabulous foliage and stylish planters trying to tempt me into an unnecessary impulse purchase. It’s getting extremely hard to resist, but I must be strong as space is so limited in our flat. I’m currently up to 28 plants in the living room and that is after I had a little clear out. We lost a small cactus over Christmas and I moved three large Dracaena down to my work office so that we would have room for the Christmas tree and we decided they could stay there because I like having a touch of greenery in the office. That number also doesn’t include the two faux plants. So all in all things are getting a little out of hand.
When I discovered Patch, a company that helps you discover the best plants for your space, delivers them to your door and helps you look after them, I thought my days were numbered. I was having visions of those TV documentaries about hoarders were some poor soul is found living in a home so full of junk that they can barely move around, only in my case it would be plants filling every available space. The more I read about Patch, the more I realised what a brilliant concept it is. The reason it took me so long to get into plants was because I had very little success in keeping them alive and no matter how hard I searched the internet for help and answers, I could never find anything to explain why my leafy friends were perishing at my hands. All the information was so very vague.
For example, I read that aloe vera is a fairly easy plant to care for so I bought one. Within weeks it started to look a bit worse for wear. I googled the symptoms and found that it could be down to two things. 1/ Not enough water or 2/ too much water. Fantastic, I thought. What now? If only there was somewhere I could go to get help with my planty problems. And that my friends, is where Patch comes in. I know that there are people out there like me who love plants but need help choosing them and keeping them alive. So I reached out to Freddie Blackett, founder of Patch, to find out more about this great company.
What is your background?
Before starting Patch I worked in brand consulting for Jamie Oliver Group, Sage, Cancer Research UK, King, among others. I loved my job – I basically spent all my time helping companies better connect with their target customers. It’s amazing how difficult this becomes, the larger an organisation gets.
How did you become interested in plants?
I don’t come from a long line of gardeners. My parents are pretty reluctant gardeners; they had a lovely garden when I was growing up but I always hated being tasked with watering it. The initial spark actually came from moving in with my girlfriend back in 2014. In my efforts to put my stamp on what was her place, I made it my mission to turn the bare, unloved balcony into an urban garden that we could be proud of.
I struggled with many of the obstacles that urban gardeners often face; realising that I had no idea which plants I liked nor what kind would be right for our little east-facing balcony. Then I realised that I was going to have to travel to the city’s far reaches to find a garden centre and, once I’d got there, I couldn’t find anyone or anything to help guide me. So I picked up some books and found some simple guides online to teach myself where to get started.
Can you tell us about Patch?
We’re trying to make living with and caring for plants as easy as possible to get into. Over half the world’s population now live in cities. By 2030 that number will reach 5 billion. That’s five billion people crammed into high rises, and packed along tube lines. Five billion people spending 90% of their time indoors. All settling for less colour, for less air, for less nature – in return for better pay and more fun.
At Patch, we believe that reconnecting with nature is fundamental to the sustainability of urban living. We know that a life with plants is so much more calm, bright and healthy. We’re on a mission to green-up city life by helping you choose the right plants for your space – delivering every plant quickly and with care, and providing expert advice on how to look after them.
What prompted you to set up a company that delivers urban jungles?
When I was trying to green up my girlfriend’s balcony I looked for decent online garden centre, but there was nothing out there for an inexperienced urban gardener like myself. In the end I picked up some supermarket plants that died after a few weeks despite my attempts to look after them.
While this was going on I heard from friends who had come up against the same problem. That’s where the idea for Patch came from. The way plants are sold and knowledge required to keep them alive in the traditional gardening market can be complicated and exclusive, catering to people that measure their space in acres not square feet. Lack of experience or living in a city shouldn’t prevent you from enjoying all the benefits of living with plants – inside or outside your home or workplace.
Can you describe the perfect patch customer?
There’s no such thing! As a small business, we appreciate every customer that chooses Patch. I can say that our ‘typical’ customers are generally 25-35 year olds that live in London and don’t know where to start when it comes to choosing plants for their space. Many of these Londoners rent their homes or offices, and move around frequently, so adopt plants as a way to make each new space feel like home. Others have just bought their first home and want to bring it to life, indoors and outdoors if they are lucky to have a balcony or urban garden.
Where do you source the plants that you sell and how do you choose which ones to stock?
We know that people in cities without a lot of experience with plants have a different lifestyles to rural counterparts. To account for this we favour plants that are good-looking, hardy and can therefore withstand an occasional missed watering or a lack of sunlight. We also stock a lot of plants that purify the air, removing harmful toxins found in polluted cities to make for a healthier home or work space.
Unlike most large out of town retailers that sell house plants, we only stock plants from growers with the top EU quality rating. This is because we’re in it for the long term with our customers. We know that delivering the healthiest plants possible, alongside our simple care guides and unlimited access to our plant care experts, will make it much more likely that their first urban gardening experience will turn into a lifelong passion.
All your plants have human names. Why is this? Who names them and how do you choose the names?
The lingua franca of the traditional gardening market is Latin, which we try to avoid. The nicknames we give our plants are not only more memorable and familiar, they also reflect the tendency of plant owners to name their own plants. For example, Sansevieria, also known as mother-in-law’s tongue, is nicknamed Susie after my own mother-in-law! Most people in the Patch office also have a plant named after them – even Vinnie, our office dog.
What kind of support do you offer your customers after they have purchased a plant from you?
We offer lifetime plant care support – if you’re worried that your Pippa (Peace Lily) is drooping, or your Chaz (Cheese Plant) is going brown, we can help. We give every new customer access to a free Plant Parenting Course, which consists of up to 20 lessons delivered via email in bite size chunks. All Patch customers can also have a chat with our Plant Rescue Team via our website if things go wrong and their plants need emergency resuscitation.
What are your top tips for plant care?
It’s best to start by thinking about your plant’s natural habitat – a desert plant won’t like being frequently watered, whereas a tropical plant might appreciate a room with higher humidity. Take the time to get to know a bit about your plant before jumping in to an intensive care routine.It’s clear that there’s a lot of anxiety around neglecting your plant, and we often see plant owners overcompensate; when we get questions about why a plant is unhealthy the most common reason is actually that it has been over watered!
Do you operate solely in London? Do you have plans to expand? If not how can people outside of London experience Patch?
Right now we only deliver to central London, but we’re expanding our delivery radius every week.
Non-Londoners can always get involved anyway, whether it’s by following our Instagram, Facebook or Pinterest accounts for urban gardening inspiration, or by engaging in our plant-care content. Anyone can sign up to receive our free Houseplant Parenting Course- the more the merrier.
Any exciting plans for the future you can tell us about?
2017 was a big year for Patch – we took some big first steps in our mission to bring London’s homes and workplaces to life. Along the way our team grew from just 3 to 11 (plus two new babies and our office bulldog), we’ve scaled from fewer than a dozen orders a day to delivering hundreds each week and a community of over 11,000 plant parents have connected around our shared desire to green up this grey city landscape.
After a year like this we’re incredibly excited about what 2018 has in store. Expanding our delivery radius is top of the list – it will be a monumental task but we’re ready for the challenge.
So for those of you who live in London, you’re in luck. There is a fantastic community of plant lovers waiting to help you choose your new plants, deliver them to you by hand and then support you on your urban jungle journey. What are you waiting for? I just hope Patch makes it as far as Devon. I could really do with such an attentive supplier. What about you?