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May 8, 2023 —

Shopkeeper Spotlight: Holly Grows

From selling houseplants online while at university, Holly Johannessen turned her passion for plants, interiors and community, soon after graduating, into bricks and mortar store, Holly Grows in the heart of Portobello, Edinburgh
Owner Holly Johanessen outside Edinburgh plant shop Holly Grows
Terracotta mural wall inside Edinburgh plant shop Holly Grows
Shelley Welti
91 Magazine online content editor,

Photography

Jack Allan & Holly Johannessen
Photographer,
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Hi Holly! When and why did you decide to open Holly Grows?

It was pretty spur of the moment and spontaneous if I’m honest! I decided to start selling houseplants in August 2020 after I graduated from university and was back living at my parents. I had sort of joked for a while that I would love to own a plant shop one day – but never envisioned it happening so soon. But after a year of selling online and doing markets I decided the next logical step was a brick and mortar store, so I just went for it!Owner Holly Johanessen inside Edinburgh plant shop Holly Grows

What had you done before? Did any of these skills help?

I started Holly Grows straight out of university, studying Marine Biology, so not entirely relevant other than the occasional nugget of plant biology knowledge! I did, however, always work in customer-facing roles, with my last university part time job before opening the shop being at Hobbycraft! I always loved working in retail and found the everyday interactions with the public to be really beneficial to my wellbeing.

How did you decide on the name?

I spent a long time debating a name, coming up with so many different ideas but never being 100% sure of any of them. I already had an Instagram account that I used to document my houseplant collection and this had the account name ‘hollygrows’ – a friend suggested I just keep it as that, so that’s what I did!

Botanical books, houseplants and homeware inside Edinburgh plant shop Holly Grows

How would you describe the interior style of the store?

Organic, minimal and calming are probably the three words I would use. I used a chalk based paint to give the walls a slightly textured appearance and have chosen a minimal, earthy colour palette with lots of wood. I have always been inspired by Balinese interiors ever since going there for a month whilst I was at university. I saved so many pictures of gorgeous Balinese stores to my Pinterest board when I was designing the shop.

Tell us about the range of products you stock… 

Our focus at Holly Grows is primarily houseplants, stocking an ever-changing range of tropical plants, something to suit any home and any care abilities. My other passion alongside plants is interior design so I have always stocked a range of homewares. We also stock an amazing range of lifestyle products that are perfect for gifts and of course plant pots/accessories.

Terracotta mural and shelves with plants inside Edinburgh plant shop Holly Grows

Botanical books, houseplants and homeware inside Edinburgh plant shop Holly Grows

Do you make anything in-house?

Yes – soil! I make a range of potting mixes myself called ‘The Perfect Potting Mix’. The two top reasons I see for plants dying in peoples homes is overwatering and incorrect soil use (never use a standard bag of compost for your houseplants!). We sell an All Rounder mix, a Moisture Lovers mix and a Cacti & Succulent mix. This is also your best bet to avoid those annoying little black flies called fungus gnats that are often associated with houseplants.

Plants, pots and independent homeware inside Edinburgh plant shop Holly Growswall mural in independent plant store Holly Grows in Edinburgh

Amazing! So tell us, what does a ‘normal’ day look like?

I live a 25 minute drive away from the shop, in the East Lothian countryside. My partner and I are early risers so we usually have a nice chilled morning, at home, before I leave for work, I try to walk my dog, Crumpet, in the surrounding fields before I leave.

I usually get to the shop for about 9am which gives me an hour to sort things out in the shop before we open at 10am, often we will have received a plant or flower delivery in the early hours of the morning so I use this time to organise the new arrivals. Throughout the day, between serving (and chatting to) customers you will find me doing all sorts; from ordering new stock and posting on social media, to arranging flowers and creating terrariums.

One of my best friends also lives above the shop so most days I will get a bit of time chatting to her which is the best. The shop currently closes at 4pm so I usually take Crumpet for a walk in Portobello before heading home. And since the evenings are light at the moment, I will usually spend some time tending to the garden when I get home. In the evenings I usually try to just chill but sometimes need to do some laptop based admin. My normal day is pretty lovely!

Cheese plant inside Edinburgh plant shop Holly Grows

Botanical books, houseplants and homeware inside Edinburgh plant shop Holly Grows

How do you choose your wares/ stockists?

Being a lover of interior design means that most things are chosen largely based around whether I would be happy to have them in my own home. Much of our stock is created by other amazing small businesses. Most of these are businesses I have come across on social media over the years and who’s branding aligns with the style of our store. Quality and aesthetics are definitely the most important factors for me when choosing new items for the store. Working with smaller brands almost always translates to better sustainability too, which is very important to me.

Which item is your bestseller? Why do you think that is?

This is always a tricky question for me because my stock is always changing. But the most popular plants is probably the prayer plant, and I think this is just because it is simply one of the most beautiful plants in existence and people can’t resist it when they see it in the flesh – they look like they have been painted by hand.

Outside of plants, greetings cards are hugely popular. This is great for me because they are one of my favourite things to source!

Independent made greeting cards inside Edinburgh plant shop Holly Grows

Plants and neutral pots inside Edinburgh plant shop Holly Grows

What items are your personal can’t-live-without?

Probably the chocolate we stock by the wonderful Edinburgh based small business ‘Cocoa Mania’. I am a total chocolate fiend and its very dangerous having such high quality chocolate at my fingertips. I also of course I swear by our potting mixes and my plants likely wouldn’t still be standing if I didn’t use it!

What do you enjoy most about running the store? 

My favourite part of opening a shop was definitely the renovation at the beginning. Creating my dream space from scratch in such a short space of time was an absolute dream come true for me – me and my parents did all the work ourselves except for painting the shop front. I enjoy being able to continually make alterations to the interior of the shop as well, it feeds my hunger for interior design.

Day-to-day, I would say my favourite part is the social aspect. I wouldn’t say I am hugely extroverted but there something about the ease of small conversations with customers or friends just popping in to say hi that makes me so happy. Portobello is a lovely community and some of my closest friends have come from me having a shop here.

Decorative seed packets herboo inside Edinburgh plant shop Holly Growsshelving with painted arch in independent plant store Holly Grows in Edinburgh

Oh! Do tell us more about Portobello! Do you have a community of independent stores around you?

Portobello is a gorgeous seaside suburb of Edinburgh, it’s a very sought after place to live nowadays because it provides a lovely quiet life, but so close to the city. We have an amazing promenade and so many nice parks, its a really lovely place to be. There is definitely a great community of independent stores here yes, I know all the other store owners and I always know I can rely on them if I need anything which is really lucky. Some of them have become really good friends of mine.

What has been your career highlight (so far!)?

Can I cheat and say being asked to be featured in 91 Magazine?! I have said from day one that this is a business goal of mine after following the magazine for so long and looking to your articles for inspiration when I was designing the store. So this is definitely a huge highlight for me.

Terracotta plant pots inside Edinburgh plant shop Holly Grows

Houseplants, accessories and homeware inside Edinburgh plant shop Holly Grows

That really makes us smile, thank you! Last question: what do you wish you’d known before opening the store? 

I probably didn’t realise quite how tricky it would be sometimes financially – I guess a lot of that wouldn’t have been predictable with the cost of living crisis etc. But I definitely think its good to be prepared to make less than you would have hoped some days. Also don’t be afraid to ask for help, I’m not the best at this but its really important to recognise when you can’t do it all yourself. I would not have got through last Christmas without so much help from my staff, parents and boyfriend.

Find Holly Grows at 9 Brighton Place, Portobello, Edinburgh.

www.hollygrows.co.uk

@hollygrows

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