For many, especially those without gardens, they also provided a much-needed link with nature during the pandemic lockdowns.
As a horticulturalist of 35 years Nicky Fraser knows more than most about helping plants to thrive. She runs Loam plants and desirables, based at Maws Craft Centre in Jackfield, and specialises in unusual and hard to find houseplants. Each day is spent surrounded by greenery at the shop where she is able to share her extensive knowledge with customers.
“It’s been my love from the earliest age and the reason people like to come to my shop is that they know they will get accurate instructions on how to keep their plants alive,” she tells Weekend.
Nicky, who lives in Ironbridge, grew up visiting her uncle’s allotment and says this is where her love of plants, of all varieties, first blossomed.
“It was my uncle who taught me how to garden. I was completely fascinated by it,” she explains.
“Growing up there were other distractions and I moved to New York and London and then to Leicester. I got married and my husband and I bought our first house which had a tiny patch of a garden. It rekindled my love of gardening.
“I was working for an estate agent at the time and I just woke up one morning and thought I don’t want to do this anymore, I want to work in horticulture. I handed my notice in and got a job at a rose nursery, and then I worked for a tree nursery. I decided to get my qualifications and applied to a horticultural college in Leicester. I passed with distinction and then I worked for a gardening magazine as a technical writer.”
Although she enjoyed the work, Nicky, who is also an expert in topiary, found she was itching to get back to a more hands-on job.
Nicky and her husband Johnny set up their own nursery, woodland management and garden design business which they ran for many years.
After moving to Ironbridge in 2017, they decided to take their careers in a different direction, with Johnny becoming a tree officer and Nicky opening Loam in 2018. But Nicky admits running a shop mostly dedicated to houseplants came about by accident.
“I had a lot of vintage gardening items and a few houseplants to make it look nice. People kept coming in and asking about the plants so I got a few more and it turned into a houseplant shop with a bit of vintage,” she explains. “I managed to bring the shop through the pandemic quite successfully because people were doing up their homes and they wanted plants to fill their home.”
Nicky also runs workshops above the shop, which include making a closed terrarium, and also plans to invite guest speakers and experts to run a wider range of courses in the future.
Over the past few years, she has witnessed the surging popularity of indoor plants, particularly among the younger generations.
“Young people have definitely embraced houseplants. I think it’s because a lot of young people live in flats that don’t have gardens and that don’t allow pets so houseplants become their pets and their connection with nature,” explains Nicky.
“Younger people don’t just buy a houseplant and take it off a shelf here and put it on a shelf at home, they do their research, they are thinking about interior design and they are sharing their successes on social media.”
When it comes to selecting stock for her shop, Nicky says she fills the shelves with a wide variety of plants.
“There are thousands to choose from so I think ‘what do I fancy this week?’ and I like to change it every week so I’m offering people something new.
“There are plants like String of Turtles that I always stock because people love them so much. Everybody likes String of Turtles because it looks like little turtles. I try to avoid novelty plants, there’s a pineapple plant that’s popular at the moment with a small pineapple plant on top but they don’t do well as a houseplant,” she tells Weekend.
Among her favourites in the shop are prayer plants, which include the rattlesnake calathea.
“They’re the most active houseplants you can buy. They fold their leaves up at night and unfold them during the day. They are named prayer plants because when the leaves are folded up, they look like hands in prayer,” explains Nicky.
For anyone looking to buy their first houseplant, she recommends opting for a sansevieria. “There are hundreds of different species. They are always good for beginners because they’re very forgiving. If you forget to water them one day, they are not going to suddenly die. They come from a hot place so they know how to survive in hot and dry conditions,” explains Nicky.
Her shop sometimes doubles up as a ‘hospital’ as she will get customers bringing in plants which they bought elsewhere that are struggling.
“Part of the success of my business is that people trust me. I don’t just sell plants, I also provide care instructions. I use my horticulture knowledge and I tell people how to look after their plant,” explains Nicky. “I love it when somebody leaves the shop with their first plant and they’re nervous because they’ve never grown one before and then they come back several months later and they say: it’s still alive. I often get people sending me photographs of their plants too.
“I love that interaction with people and being with the plants.”
For more details about Nicky’s workshops, visit www.facebook.com/loamplantsanddesirables