Growing up in California, Orion Tait used to watch his father’s weekend housekeeping routine. “Sunday was loud music — Neil Young — and my dad going around watering the plants,” Tait recalled. “He had a deck of plants growing everywhere. It was a ritual.”
Tait, a creative director and partner at Buck, a production company, tried to carry on that tradition as an adult in his Brooklyn, New York, home, complete with the loud rock. But he and his wife, Amy Won, were too busy to care for their houseplants. They never got around to repotting them. Fungus gnats colonized.
“I was, like, this is New York City,” Tait said. “There’s got to be someone we can hire.”
That someone was Lisa Muñoz. For $2,000, Muñoz will come fill your house with plants and make it look beautiful. You can spend more than $2,000, but you cannot spend less; that’s the minimum fee charged by her Brooklyn-based firm, Leaf and June.
That covers the design, plants, potting, delivery of plants and a detailed care guide, Muñoz said. “You don’t have to call an Uber XL to transport your big tree home,” she said. “We do all the dirty work for you.”
If Muñoz, 38, sounds practiced at selling her services, it’s because her job title — interior plant designer — usually requires explanation. It’s an emerging career; she has been doing it for six years.
Nurseries and flower shops have long provided professional plant care for offices and homes. Most billionaires of Park Avenue, one assumes, don’t water their ficus trees. Muñoz offers such maintenance services to her clients, too.
But her real role is in performing the job that a fashion stylist or art consultant might — to make aesthetic choices and sound investments on someone’s behalf. Just … about plants.
The fascination with houseplants has begun to spawn all manner of specialists.
After he began posting photos of his Baltimore home to Instagram three years ago, and talking about the 200 plants that fill the lush rooms, Hilton Carter became a bit of a celebrity. He published a book, “Wild at Home: How to Style and Care for Beautiful Plants,” and, he says, created a new occupation.
“I’m not going to lie to you — I believe I was the first person to ever say I was a plant stylist,” said Carter, 40, who worked at an ad agency before dedicating himself to houseplants. “I just ran with it. That’s awesome that it’s now a job title.”
These days, Carter is too busy with his other plant gigs (he has a new book coming out this spring, “Wild Interiors,” with a promotional tour to follow) to do much styling, he said.
Maryah Greene, who runs the one-woman firm Greene Piece, bills herself as New York City’s “Plant Doctor & Stylist.” She is the fiddle-leaf-fig whisperer for the rest of us: She charges a flat hourly rate of between $125 and $175. Her clients are largely renters who want to introduce a little greenery into their lives but don’t know a pothos plant from a bird of paradise, much less how to not kill them.
“A lot of what I do I like to think of as confidence boosting,” said Greene, 24, who has plant styled for more than a year and has met with about 50 clients so far.
The confidence they crave requires counsel: Will a monstera be happy by the radiator? Can sunshine-loving cactuses thrive in a light-starved apartment? What’s the best pot to show off the pink and white leaves of hoya carnosa?
More plant money, more plant problems
For one Brooklyn homeowner, Muñoz put a schefflera tree in the kids’ room, with rich, green foliage that droops like an umbrella. She paired it with a showstopper pot — a $1,500 ceramic planter from Bzippy & Co. For another Brooklynite whose kitchen is flooded with light, she built a 6-foot fiberglass window planter and filled it with herbs and leafy greens.
That was a special case. Herbs indoors “need a lot of sun,” Muñoz said, adding that in New York, “80 percent of the time, the light sucks.”
Those two clients came to her through Elizabeth Roberts, an architect popular with the brownstone Brooklyn gentry who frequently brings in Muñoz for her projects. Roberts works with gardeners and landscape architects to design outdoor green spaces.
“I wouldn’t call one of our landscape designers to talk about potted plants we want to put on the mantel,” she said. “Lisa is the first person we’ve worked with who can really fill this gap.”
One wonders why a plant stylist is needed in the first place. The library is still free.
Yet in the age of the gig economy, where freelancers and consultants exist to fulfill every life need, and hiring out a task can be preferable to learning how to do it yourself, houseplant decisions are just another thing to outsource.
The plant stylists say most people’s ability to properly choose and care for houseplants is woeful, even as the reported desire to live among them is high.
“One of the biggest questions I get from clients is, ‘What plant can I get that would be good with no light?’” Muñoz said. “No light? That’s actually not possible.”
John Fraser, a chef, hired Muñoz to rescue his neglected houseplants, which “were on death’s door,” and to create a potted greenscape on the balcony of his apartment. “I wanted someone who could give me the answers that you probably learn over time,” he said. “Because of travel and restaurant stuff, I’m not the best caretaker.”
Meeting with a plant stylist is “a really intimate service,” Greene said, and thus caters to the still would-be plant parent. “I can’t provide you with the right plants unless I know who you are, what your work schedule is like, your history with plants.”
No doctorate required
A four-year degree in horticulture or botany isn’t necessary to style plants. Greene was earning her master’s in education and literacy and hanging around plant shops when she realized she could make money from her hobby.
In 2013, Muñoz earned her certificate in horticulture from the Brooklyn Botanic Garden and began working part-time at plant shops, including the Sill, to further educate herself. Her business was born in 2014.
A recent afternoon found Muñoz checking on one of her plant-care clients, an office in the Dumbo section of Brooklyn. A 10-foot-tall fiddle leaf fig had been placed too close to the radiator over the holiday break, with the shades shut to boot, and was shedding leaves in revolt. Muñoz gave the fiddle leaf a thorough watering and the office manager a gentle reminder that plants need sunlight.
When she isn’t doing plant triage, Muñoz is in her plant-filled studio near the Brooklyn Navy Yard, creating design proposals for clients, including one for the new mega art space in Chelsea opened by Pace Gallery. She also devotes a significant amount of time to seeking out ceramists to source pots from and researching interesting plants.
On a shelf above her desk was her latest find: peperomia polybotrya, or peperomia raindrop, a squat houseplant with waxy, raindrop-shaped leaves that “stopped me in my tracks,” Muñoz said, when she encountered it at a nursery.
Muñoz recently installed 115 potted plants in Buck’s large, light-filled offices overlooking the Brooklyn waterfront, at the behest of Tait and his partners. Soon after, she said, the company asked for a proposal to add more plants.
“I think people are really just wanting things that make them happy. And things that are alive …,” Muñoz said, trailing off.
She considered her curious role. “I mean, have you ever heard of plants making people mad?”