Growing up in the Seattle area, Tassy de Give always knew that she was bound for the opposite coast, but didn't know that plants would become her career. It started when she took a part-time job at Sprout Home while studying art history at the University of Illinois in Chicago.
"It's just from working there that I developed a passion about plants," she explained. "I think it was always kind of in the back of my head, being from the Northwest and having my family be avid gardeners, but I honestly did not know much until I started working there."
She eventually brought together her favorite things, Brooklyn and plants, when Sprout opened in Williamsburg in 2007. Read on to find out why she settled here, how her flower business has taken off, and which plants you shouldn't mess with in her store.
How did working in the Chicago store part-time translate into running your own store in Brooklyn?
I had always wanted to live in New York, just because I was on the West Coast. Chicago was a good midway point for me, but I really wanted to be here. When I came here, I worked at some garden centers, but I realized I missed the aesthetic of Sprout. I really felt like I knew enough about plants and the business to start a store here, so Tara [Heibel of Sprout Chicago] and I became partners and decided to open.
Where did you first start looking for store spaces?
I live in Greenpoint, and I liked that area. The area that Sprout is in in Chicago is a Polish neighborhood, too, so I thought it would be funny to open there, but there weren't as many people in Greenpoint as Williamsburg [in 2007].
Also, the space had to have a yard, so that was very limiting. I had almost given up hope—I had been looking for a space for six months, and a lease fell through on one we had. My boyfriend at the time and I were riding our bikes around, and we saw a "For Rent" sign here, and it totally worked out.
What have you seen change in Williamsburg since you've arrived?
The number of people, especially with the condos going up. Kent Avenue is really crazy on the weekends, with concerts and all sorts of different festivals. But the biggest thing is all of the new buildings.
Has that brought you new or unexpected customers?
It's different customers. When we first started, a lot of long-term residents would come here—a lot of avid gardeners. A lot of people have yards, but you just can't see them because they're in the back of all the buildings. But with new people coming in, they're definitely more focused on indoor plants, and on terraces and rooftops.
What's the biggest challenge of being a gardening store in an urban environment?
I would say space, because our backyard is relatively small, but we have to stock soil and mulch and compost. We get those all on pallets, so when we get a 12-pallet delivery, we have to bring it through the store one bag at a time.
How much does a pallet weigh?
A pallet weighs thousands of pounds, because it's hundreds of bags of soil.
How do you buy for your store, keeping your customers' needs in mind?
Ideally, I want to stock plants that I know will live here. Being in the business for more than ten years, I know what will work. I have a very curated selection of plants that will do well in apartments, but are also a little more unusual than your traditional plant.
Where do you buy your plants from?
We always aim to go as local as possible. Our orchid grower is local—there are some really amazing growers out on Long Island, and it's nice because we can actually go see everything in person and hand-pick it. We also work with Brooklyn rooftop farms for our cut flowers, but we have to sub things in from the Flower Market. I would say 75% of what we sell is local.
What are some of your favorite items in store right now?
I like these little geometric pots, made in Greenpoint—they're like a new take on terra cotta.
We have handmade glazed ceramic pots from a company called Bruning, that's based where I grew up in Snohomish, Washington. They have a nice drain hole and saucer attached.
We also got these pots in from a local crafter—it's cast concrete, and then she paints them. Some of them have pebbles—they're all a little bit different.
What about favorite plants or flowers?
I love the Raphis Palm. It's really tropical-looking, it's low maintenance, and it's also one of the best air purifiers, so I feel like that's good for Brooklyn.
We also have these rock plants. It's a bromeliad that's been planted into a volcanic rock, and you just put a little water into the base once a week or so. It lasts for months and eventually dies off, but they can re-bloom on a side growth.
We have these carnivorous plants called pitcher plants—they eat flies. They're also pretty low maintenance. You just need to keep them really soggy all the time.
I think we're getting new plants today—we're getting more cacti and succulents. More large floor plants, more ficus, more bird of paradise.
Are you transitioning to spring yet?
Not quite. In another couple weeks, we'll start bringing in herbs and vegetables again. They really do better outside and we don't get a ton of direct light in here, so we'd like to wait until it's above 40 degrees.
What's your price point like, given that the cost of maintaining your products is higher than other retail stores?
Our prices are really affordable. When I've checked other places that carry similar products, ours have always been lower. People are surprised to find that plants are actually the cheapest component—the container is what's going to cost more than the plant itself.
What's the average customer spending on a house plant?
For a small table plant, it's $5 to $10 for the plant and $10 to $20 for the pot. For a large floor plant that's six to eight feet tall, it's maybe $200 for the plant and anywhere from $50 to $100 for the pot.
You recently expanded, adding the flower store two doors down.
We used to just be consolidated in this space, but a couple of years ago we decided that the flower part of the business was really growing. We were doing a lot more weddings and events, and we needed more space to physically make everything and refrigerate it.
Wedding season starts up in April and goes through November, and fall is our busiest time. We also do weekly accounts for restaurants and hotels, and then there are just people who want to come in every week and get fresh flowers for their house. Everything is sold per stem, so you can make your own arrangement.
I meet with wedding clients once a week. I love talking to new brides and making their flower designs. Our bridal bouquets start at $200, and our table centerpieces start at $80.
What about your landscaping services? How does that work here when people have virtually no space?
It's actually really busy when it starts up in April. We offer two options—first, people can come in and meet with a garden designer for free. We'll look at pictures of the space and go over dimensions, and make recommendations on what we think will work best. We'll also go offsite for a fee, depending on the location.
What sort of classes do you offer in your event space?
Most of the classes that we have are [for making] terrariums, because it's the biggest demand. We started holding them about five years ago, and we're sold out every time we do a class.
How often are these classes?
We do a terrarium class three to four times a month. We also do kokedama, which is the Japanese style of putting together arrangements. Then we do floral classes once a month, and there's other types of gardening classes—we'll talk about indoor plants, starting seeds, and stuff like that.
Are there any plans to physically expand your current spaces, or open in a new neighborhood?
There are always plans to expand, but not any concrete ones. We would love to open an event space where we can do the full package of design for weddings and events. That would be great someday.
What's your favorite part about having your own store?
I really just like working in the store on a busy weekend and helping customers. That's why I started in the business—just to talk to people about plants and make recommendations on what plant would be good for them.
Okay, time for the lightning round: 8 a.m. or 8 p.m.?
Beer or wine?
Whiskey or tequila?
Neither. Can I say that?
Beach or mountains?
Cats or dogs?
Favorite vacation destination?
Galapagos is my dream vacation.
Favorite neighborhood lunchtime spot?
Favorite happy hour spot?
Rap or country?
Scandal or Homeland?
What's that? Oh, I don't own a TV.