Tara Heibel parlayed her fine arts background and passion for gardening into a career in garden and floral design. This is an artist who lives for getting her hands dirty! Sprout Home is an oasis for fellow makers and design-forward folks with green thumbs. As part of our Masters of Their Craft series, we spoke to Tara about how she emphasizes education and creativity with her clients.
Flavorwire: Tell us a little bit about Sprout Home, and your background. How did garden design become your focus?
Tara Heibel: Sprout Home opened in Chicago in 2003, and then in 2007 Sprout Home Brooklyn opened. My background is in the fine arts, and I was first introduced to gardening by having to design and install gardens in buildings that I was rehabbing in Chicago. Creating and installing those first gardens made me fall in love with the process, and I very soon realized that that love was never going to wane. As I went on searches to find the the plants I wanted to use, I found that the offerings were a little limited in regards to experimentation of plant type — and also that the garden accessories were somewhat limiting in their style… thus the idea of Sprout Home was born. The main concept of Sprout Home was to combine the outdoors with the inside, and bring creative design in both flora and product to the forefront.
How were you able to expand from Chicago to Brooklyn, while staying true to your roots (haha, plant humor!)?
After being open in Chicago for a couple of years, we developed a following in New York — and luckily enough my New York partner Tassy DeGive was able and willing to head up the expansion. We have never really followed what would be considered standard trends in the plant market, but instead go “outside of the pot” (back at ya! haha) and concentrate on how to elevate the common perception of garden and floral design.
How are you and Tassy different in terms of design aesthetic? And how do you keep your overall brand aesthetic cohesive with two different personalities at the helm?
Both of us have the creative inspiration to push the boundaries in experimenting with plant type and design, which is the common focus. We do have slight differences when it comes to aesthetics, and so do our bevy of garden designers, which makes it an open community at Sprout Home. We all work together to explore and learn. The two stores share the same product lines with some minor deviations, as the customer base is a little different, but if you walk in to either store you know that you are at a Sprout Home. And with plant type, there are some differences; we try to source locally and each store is in a different climate.
Is there a favorite terrarium or garden you’ve designed? (Got any pics, or can you describe it?).
Goodness, that is a hard question to answer and I do not think that I can. Being a designer at Sprout Home you need to be able to complete an installation feeling proud of the results and know that the client is happy.
What are some of the challenges you’ve had to overcome in garden design? How do you creatively integrate your own expertise and preferences within a client’s demands?
One thing we do stress at Sprout is education. Plants are living things that need to be taken care of, so matching the plants to the client needs — not only visually but practically speaking — is a constant consideration. What a client “wants” might not necessarily be what will work in the space, so being able to educate them as to why, and offer comparable suggestions, is part of the job.
Related: Is there a specific design trend or plant that you’re just like “UGH not again!”
I think that it’s about how you use the plants in the design, versus the plant itself in most cases. There are not many cases where a plant is a bad plant — we like to keep our minds open to possibilities. If that means reinvesting in a plant that might have lost favor in the market, or using something that is considered trendy, it’s all in how it’s used. I suppose that while there is a case for creating a typical “border,” I will sometimes walk by the standard box design and wish there was a little more creativity… One shouldn’t be afraid to experiment.
What’s something you hope clients, customers, and gardeners get from your plants and design? Do you have a particular ethos or a spirit that carries you through every job?
I hope that with each design, a client gets enjoyment out of having that garden in their space. Whether it be an indoor garden, deck, or outdoor landscape, you want to know that the client can enjoy their living or work space that much more, because of the plants and who they are arranged.
Classes are also a big part of Sprout Home. What are some key lessons or tips for others looking to get their hands dirty?
We do believe in and try to foster education with classes of all kinds. We want the plants that we plant or that a client takes home to be happy and healthy, and imparting the knowledge to our clients is one way to ensure that the relationship between the person and plant fosters. Learn and and ask questions! We are here to help and find the right things that work with your lifestyle and space. Know your limitations, but at the same time don’t be afraid; once you start playing in the dirt, it can become quite addictive. Perhaps we should start a plant anonymous group for those that develop the addiction.
If you could sum up Sprout Home and your mission in six words, what would they be?
Perspective. Cultivation. Prosperity. Innovation. Education. Enjoyment.
This interview has been lightly edited and condensed for length.