A new shop opened Friday, April 16, along Washington Street in Brainerd with a product that has been a perhaps unexpected growth area during the pandemic.
But owner Brandi Blowers loved houseplants long before the recent surge in popularity.
Blowers, 31, grew up in the lakes area and went to school in Chicago. She said her bachelor of fine arts degree in interior design came from her love of interiors and while living in Chicago she also worked in a seasonal position in a garden center. Whenever she walked through the greenhouse, she’d come home with plants of her own.
Now many of those plants — she estimates she had 150 of them in her apartment until recently — are filling the shop next to Hardee’s. Walking in provides an aroma of green, growing plants, along with potting soil and all those things that make plant lovers want to get their hands dirty. Blowers named her new business the Eclectic Jungle, a nod to her eclectic taste and the full effect of all the growing plants she envisions for the business. Blowers described the shop as a mix of houseplant and artisan shop, which fits her mix of interests, as a way to bring it all together.
“I swear I was supposed to be born in the ‘60s or ‘70s,” Blowers said as she took a short break from setting up the store with friends Thursday. “I have a vintage soul.”
Blowers loves to quilt and redo furniture. She worked as a contract sewer for The Teehive and opened her own interior design shop Studio BNB in Brainerd with a storefront on Laurel Street for a number of years.
A BHS graduate in 2007, Blowers is a single mother with two daughters. The move to open the Eclectic Jungle came together quickly. Blowers went by the vacated storefront after Treasures Old and New closed and saw geraniums and spike plants through the window. The southern exposure with the large windows seemed to be the perfect fit and the plants inside (which were wintering over for the building owner) seemed to be a sign. That was about a month ago. Now Blowers is ready to open and give the business a growing start with an eye toward an expanded future. There were a few hurdles along the way, like the surge of interest in houseplants creating a shortage, the freeze in Texas playing a part in plant availability, and learning about all the regulations involved in plants and orders between states. Blowers focused on Minnesota grown items and her own large collection to make things happen.
“God is like opening every single door and I’ve just been walking through it because I prayed for something to happen,” Blowers said. She wanted to keep her hands busy, she said, and needed a way to support her daughters, one of whom is now 8 months old.
“I just have a love for plants and I want to help people keep them alive and keep them thriving,” Blowers said. She plans to provide more detailed information for customers so they’ll know how best to care for the plants and what plants they can have around pets or children. She is setting up a sensory area for kids in the store wher they can play with fake plants. She also wants to have potting parties so people can pick their plants, pot them and make it an occasion.
In addition to the benefits of houseplants for mental health and for real air quality, there are also plant collectors who look for specific varieties.
Blowers wants to provide the place where people can get houseplants that are easy to grow with little light or water to those that are on the hard to find list for plant collectors. Those plants may be Swiss cheese plants with holes in the green leaves or dragon scale plants, or the low-maintenance peperomia plants that resemble the rubber plant but are smaller.
“I want to be known to have more rare plants up here than what you can just find anywhere else,” she said.
There is a greenhouse in the back of the retail space at the store. Blowers estimates she already has about 200 varieties in the store such as succulents with compelling names like strings of pearls, strings of dolphins and strings of fish hooks. There are angel wing begonias, neon pothos, birkins, snake plants, crotons and many more.
In addition to the plants, the store has gift items such as macrame plant hangers created by Blowers’ sister Kacee Cruikshank and laser cut wood items for custom art, earrings and coasters by Sarah Gorvin. Blowers is also focusing on sustainability, one of the reasons she is setting up the store so people can pick and plant their choice right there.
And the timing seems right as Blowers noted the pandemic has people back to gardening, to doing things with their own hands and doing things at home. Not everything Blowers wants to do will happen overnight, but she said in the short time she’s had to get the dream off the ground, there will be more times for all the additional plans. She’ll start with annuals, perennials and herbs.
So what do most people do wrong with their plants? Overwater them, Blowers said. And that’s one of the things she hopes to help customers with so they can be successful plant owners.