Planthropy's Botanical Artwork Climbs Walls, Defines Spaces and Spreads Nature's Feel-Good Vibes
Ohio winters pushed landscape designer Michael Creath to seek ways to work with plants year-round. Right on cue, he met Jessie Laux (not yet Laux-Creath!), whose houseplant arrangements and workshops were becoming popular. They founded Planthropy to design large-scale living (and "faux-tanical") walls and plant installations. Most of their work is custom and commercial, but they sell framed art too. With jobs across the country, and a studio opening soon near downtown Columbus, the couple preaches the power of plants to a growing audience.
You two use the word "biophilia." What is that, and how is it connected to what you do?
JL-C It's the idea of enhancing our well-being with connectedness to nature. That's our passion and purpose.
MC The average person is spending 90 percent of their lives in a built environment. We all have this need inside us to be outside, but there are so many things keeping us indoors.
JL-C Bringing nature to interior spaces helps people reconnect with it. We have clients say, "I love staring at this piece because I find something new every time I look at it."
MC You can get lost in it, and that's a mental break.
If I want a green wall, what's that process like?
JL-C It starts with education. A lot of people don't know what they want. They just want greenery in some form. We talk to our clients about living walls and what they require for maintenance versus a preserved-moss wall, which is zero-maintenance.
MC It's real moss but preserved, so it's no longer living.
JL-C We send sample boxes with the moss types, so clients can get a visual quickly. Mood Moss is one of my favorites because it's very thick and dimensional, like a rolling hill. When the light hits it, it almost has iridescent properties.
And what goes into a living wall?
MC Live plants, proper water, light and maintenance. We'll often do a color rotation of bromeliads that last for two to three months, then we'll come in and change it out to keep interest in the walls. The walls are growing, too, so they change.
You have work in places like spas, restaurants and offices. What's the reaction when you arrive to install?
MC Typically we come last, to avoid damage to the plants. So our clients have been anticipating their green wall for a long time, and it acts as the pièce de résistance. Picking tile and furniture is fun, but everybody's seen those—nobody's seen a moss wall.
JL-C It's not just a visual thing. It actually changes that environment in a very positive way. Our clients are not just seeing it, they're feeling it.
Most of us head outside to recharge, but you're working with plants all the time. Do you ever need to get away from them?
JL-C No! We love hiking and camping and kayaking and running.
MC They keep us inspired.
JL-C It takes us forever to hike because we stop so much. We're looking at how the moss is growing on this tree or that rock. For example, you'd never expect orange and turquoise lichen on a rock to pair nicely in color and go together, but there they are, beautifully harmonizing.
MC Right now we're working on a rock wall within a moss piece. It was definitely inspired by rock walls covered in moss that we've taken pictures of in the forest.
Do you use actual rocks?
MC Faux-rock walls. We're studying rock formations and carving those into our projects, paying attention to details like how these tiny ferns grow out of crevices. Then we're painting it and throwing sand on it to make it look and feel realistic.
What other ways are you two designing with plants?
JL-C We worked on this really large clubhouse and filled it with moss walls, 14-foot trees, real plants, faux plants.
MC And we took bark and covered pillars to give the illusion of trees in the middle of the room.In the same room, there are faux-rose walls, a moss wall with neon, a cascading Amaranthus cloud above a seating area to define the space. You take away the plants and the moss walls, and you're not left with much, just paint and tile. We created a vibe in that space.
Tell me about your new studio.
JL-C After our building in Franklinton is complete, we're excited to take part in Franklinton Fridays. There are live performances, and you can walk around to different studios and watch artists creating. We'll throw our garage doors open and be an active part of that community.
MC We've got a really nice courtyard too. We want to have dinner parties and bingo parties with a DJ where you win plants for prizes. The vision in our heads is magical.
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This conversation has been edited for length and clarity.