In 2018, full-time physician assistant Caitlin Hastings felt a little burned out from the job. As a creative outlet, she began helping friends and mutual acquaintances incorporate houseplants into their homes. Soon it blossomed into weekend pop-ups where she sold pre-potted plants with care instructions for novice plant parents. And when the hustle’s growth outgrew her operation, Hastings took a leap of faith and opened Botanica, a modern houseplant shop specializing in tropical, desert and rare plants in downtown Birmingham. Since opening in August 2019, Botanica has not stopped growing. In 2020, they opened a second location in Huntsville, and have no plans to slow down anytime soon. We sat down with Hastings to learn more about her love of plants, her plans for Botanica, and the ridiculously cool spaces she creates in her stores.
Where did you develop your love for plants?
My love of plants actually came from a lot of trial and error. In 2016 my husband and I bought an older house in Roebuck Springs and needed furniture to fill it. Since furniture is very expensive, I decided to strategically place plants in the rooms where we needed furniture. I quickly learned the likes and dislikes of each of those plants, as far as their placement inside my home and their watering schedules. Once you catch the “plant bug” you should have at least one in every room!
Can you talk about expanding to your second store in Huntsville?
A year after opening our storefront in Birmingham, we decided to expand and open another retail location. We had a short list of places we were interested in, but ultimately settled on Huntsville because of its thriving economy, proximity to Birmingham, and the fact that they just needed a cool plant shop in town! We opened in September of 2020 when Covid was still very new and scary, so my staff and I didn’t see each other’s full faces without masks for almost a year. It was wild!
What are some of your favorite houseplant trends?
I love that we now have access to trendy, rarer varieties of plants from around the world. When I started this business in 2019, the only way to get cool rare Anthuriums and Philodendrons was to import them by post from Thailand and Indonesia, which was a very sketchy process and the plants rarely arrived recoverable. Now we have access to growers here in the US who grow all the coolest plants from around the world, so they are cheaper and more readily available.
Do you have any particular types of plants that you particularly like to keep in your home?
I try not to have the same plant more than once in my house, so I base my plant selection entirely on the amount of light each room gets. From there I always have favorites to choose from and try to mix them up in every room. Some of my personal favorites are a variegated rubber plant, the Rhaphidophora tetrasperma (a type of monstera) that climbs the wall in my bathroom, and my Philodendron golddii because it puts out the coolest leaves.
What do you love about owning your own plant shop?
The sluggishness of my mornings before we open when I am surrounded only by plants. Coming from the world of surgery where everything is stressful and you never even have time to drink coffee or eat lunch, I now enjoy the little things. I enjoy not being rushed or having someone’s life in my hands. I also love interacting with clients and helping them find the perfect plants for their space and lifestyle. At Botanica, we strive to educate our customers about the plants they buy from us so they can enjoy them for many years and watch them grow.
Do you have any exciting things planned for Botanica in the near future?
We have just launched the interior landscaping arm of our business called Plantscape at Botanica. We offer plant consultation and design services to local businesses that want plants in their offices, bars, restaurants, etc. We even do the monthly maintenance on the plants to keep them thriving. It’s a service we’ve always offered on the side, but now we aim to make it a primary staple of our business. Our clients currently include Bocca Ristorante, Cayo Coco Rum Bar and Restaurant, Lululemon at The Summit, Fleetio, Zephyr Barbershop and blueroot in Birmingham. (Did you see the living wall we installed there?!)
You create some very beautiful spaces in your shop. Do you have a background in design? What inspires the designs of your stores?
This is so cool! But no, I have no official design experience, ha! I’ve always loved scouring the internet for interior and architectural design inspiration. When we opened our stores, we wanted to keep overheads low and create a modern indoor jungle. The plants do all the talking, really. I wanted some “Instagrammable moments” in the stores (photo ops for free advertising, hello!), so we brought in our staple flamingo wallpaper and some neon lights. I will always be a lover of vintage rattan pieces. You will see many in our stores that are from my personal collection.