Maryah (@greene.piece) is a New York based, Japan-bred plant designer and teacher who believes everyone is entitled to an affordable, functional green(e) space. She understands that the same developments she fosters in her fifth grade classroom go hand in hand with the processes and attention to detail that comes with building green spaces. Much like her plants, Maryah thrives where she can build off the energy around her! Read on for an insight into her green beginnings, why you should neglect your houseplants (and other advice for plant newbies), and the news on her SOS Plant Care Hotline!
Many thanks to our interviewer, Elise!
I first got involved with plants when I moved to NYC a little over 2 years ago. I moved to NYC straight out of college in Washington D.C. and found myself living in a small apartment in uptown Manhattan on 211th street. I didn’t know a soul in NYC and spent a lot of time going to grad school and trapping myself in my room. This gave me tons of time to decorate and create a homey space. After a few months of living in NY, I started to realize that I felt something missing in my day to day life and I soon realized the lack of greenery in the city started to have an effect on me.
I grew up in Japan (lived there for 9 years) and greenery was very much embedded into the society that I grew up in. It was upon moving to NYC that I realized that greenery and gardens are truly only valued in small, specified spaces such as Central Park and various community gardens. To cope with this lack of greenery, I began quickly decorating my space with houseplants to not only act as décor pieces but also as a hobby to keep myself busy since my social life hadn’t fully developed in NYC yet.
From there, as I started meeting people and making friends who eventually saw the space that I created, I soon got offers to decorate friend’s spaces and help them with their houseplants that weren’t thriving the way that they should have. This motivated me to read up on houseplants and chat with some of the local experts from community gardens and nurseries in the area.
Plants are a must-have for any classroom of mine. I am still a full-time graduate student getting a Masters in General Education and Literacy, so I am constantly thinking of ways to bridge my teaching knowledge with my love for plants.
2 years ago, I started a seed germination project with 4th graders in which they were each given their own seed, soil, and planter. Each student got to pot their own plant and care for it during our summer program together. This was a great opportunity for the kids to get their hands dirty, witness something growing in the classroom, and learn a sense of responsibility when it came to making sure their plants were watered and cared for regularly. As a teacher this also acted as a tool that gave me insight on each student’s temperament on a weekly basis. As humans, we’re meant to love and care for living things. If I ever had a student that wasn’t making a priority to check in on their plant or randomly began neglecting its needs, it was a sign that one of my students may have been dealing with something that I’m not aware of, thus leading me to check in on their personal needs.
I like to believe that younger generations will be interested in plants and I also like to believe that it's our job as adults to educate them on the responsibility that we all have to have to Earth. Yes, plants make people happy and they make us feel good, but taking a step back and realizing that we have a responsibility to make sure that the Earth is also happy will ensure a reciprocal relationship of respect between nature and the people who benefit from it.
The biggest struggle I currently face with plants is making sure that they’re affordable and accessible to everyone. About a year ago, when I first created Greene Piece, I realized that trendy plant shops and boutiques were only accessible in the most developed and gentrified locations. I found a disparity in some places in New York where people can go to purchase a reasonably priced plant and also become educated on its watering and light needs. My goal is educate people not only on the right plants for their spaces but also the best places to purchase them while benefiting their local communities.
Often times people bring home a plant from a plant shop or nursery because they fell in love with “the one” and it would just look so perfect on their coffee table or bookshelf. Lately, I’ve been giving the advice that this process should be the other way around. If you’re looking to add greenery into your space or want to get involved with plants, first determine 2 things: “What kind of lighting am I receiving in my space and how much time and love can I commit to my plant?” From there, you’ll be able to narrow down the best plant(s) for your space and more importantly, the best plant for you at this point in your life.
Plants range in watering needs, pruning, misting, and light requirements. So for someone working 12 hours a day or traveling every weekend, I’d hope that they’d become familiar with low maintenance plant options. This is a lot of what I discuss during my Styling Consults and it prevents a lot of people from experiencing plant death thus leading them to believe that they simply “don’t have a green thumb”.
Neglect. It sounds so crazy but I always tell my clients that I’d rather them neglect their plants than over-love them. Often times people look at their plants and see a few sad leaves and think, “Oh no, it must be thirsty. I’ll give it some water.” However, the most common reason people kill their houseplants is because they overwater them. It makes sense that we want to love our plants since we’re naturally inclined to care for living things. However, sometimes the best thing you can do for your plant is adjust smaller variables, such as the amount of sun it’s receiving, checking to make sure it isn’t near a draft or space with high traffic. Treat your plants like a long distance relationship: Give them a little space but when it’s time to finally be together on watering day, make the most of it!
I just launched an SOS Plant Care hotline on my website yourgreenepiece.com and anyone can submit details about their not-so-happy plant(s). You simply fill out a few questions about your plant and it allows me to make a virtual diagnosis about what could be making your plant unhappy!
Thanks to Maryah for sharing her story and her methods with us! See her work: