Plants, Business and Peace of Mind with Maryah Greene of "Greene Piece"

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Going Green with Maryah Greene of "Greene Piece"

By: Derika Crowley

Multiple studies have shown that plants can reduce stress and promote a healthier lifestyle. Houseplants, specifically,  are notorious for increasing wellbeing and overall happiness; improving air quality, reducing anxiety, and providing a sense of purpose.

All sounds great right? But, the reality is, not everyone has a green thumb (or the gift of aesthetic). That’s where Maryah Greene comes in. A schoolteacher by day and “green consultant” by night, Maryah is the brains behind Greene Piece - a company dedicated to beautifying individual spaces through incorporating greenery.

I first discovered Maryah while scrolling through Instagram and was instantly in awe at her page - the color scheme, the shelf inspiration, the plants (yes, it’s beautiful). Long story short, I had to reach out to her for Twenty Somethin’ & Black.

Surprisingly, Maryah didn’t grow up aspiring to one day be an interior designer or some plant guru. She started out in politics and eventually found her calling in education after working for a nonprofit in DC. After school, she ventured out to New York City to continue teaching and fell in love with plants after attempting to find a way to cope to her new surroundings. A little homesick, she discovered plants were the perfect way to make the city feel more like home.

“When I was younger I always saw myself helping people,” Maryah told me. “I initially went to school to study political science. But, moving to DC I saw I wasn’t as passionate. I started working at a nonprofit called ‘Kid Power’....[after that experience] I knew I wanted to help people, so I decided to study education. Since moving to NY, there’s been an overlap of me caring for someone/something. Whether it’s my students or a plant, I love watching growth…”

When it comes to entrepreneurship, Maryah is learning as she goes. Figuring out how she prefers to work and how to balance her side hustle with her day-to-day job. It’s a balancing act, but thankfully Maryah has learned the value of patience through tending to the dozens of plants throughout her New York apartment.

How many plants do you have in total right now?

The fact that I had to look around my room and count should tell you that I might have a problem (lol)! In my room, I have a total of 16 plants around my room. Some are hanging, some are on floating shelves and others are large enough to take up their own corner of my room.

Who was your first client? Walk us through what you helped them achieve.

My first client was a friend I met within this past year a cool dive bar in Brooklyn. We got to talking and discovered we were from the same town in “middle-of-nowhere” Pennsylvania. A few weeks went by and I went over to his place for a pre-game and he told me he was getting a new apartment and really wanted to add a ton of plants to his new space. I let him know that I have somewhat of a plant addiction and I’d love to just grab him a few plants that I thought would fit nicely with his aesthetic. Without thinking twice or questioning my ability to do so, he agreed and we never talked much about it until months later. He is now in his new apartment and as of 6 weeks ago we decided it was time that we both follow through on our plan. I let him know that I was launching this whole “Greene.Piece” thing and that I’d love to decorate his space pro-bono as a thank you for inspiring and believing in me before I believed in myself. I always thought this whole “plant thing” was just an obsession but I never knew I was capable of creating loving, functional, green spaces until someone gave me a chance. Thank you, Sean.

Sean lives with two other roommates and they’re all very well versed in the young, black, creative world in NYC. I knew that they’d have a lot of foot traffic coming in and out of their space and I wanted to create a living area that catered to that. Hanging and floating shelves allowed me to flood the space with as many plants as they wanted while also ensuring I wasn’t taking up valuable fellowship space for visitors.  They also had this amazingly brightly colored Aztec designed rug and as soon as I saw it, I knew my work was already done. All I needed to do was find some plants and moderately colored pots to make it come alive and that exactly what I did (I hope).

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What’s your creative process when determining what plant would be good for your client?

For example, what species would you recommend for someone who works often and doesn’t have a lot of free time? My first client Sean is the best example of this. In a household of three twenty-something year old males, I knew I had to find the most indestructible plants in the world. In that sense, it was as simple as doing some Googling but I also took into account their two huge windows and high ceiling space. This told me that their space could handle very large and/or tall plants that didn’t require a lot of maintenance. I never truly know what types of plants work best for a client’s space until I engage in my first co-creation session with a client to determine their most prominent lifestyle habits and ability to care for green life.

Selecting your plant…

What should we consider when selecting a new plant?

When selecting a new plant, the most important thing that I try to get across to my clients is the time & commitment associated with certain types of foliage. Buying a new plant isn’t as simple as buying, placing on a windowsill, and watering once a week but often times it requires a lot of initial love like repotting fertilizing etc.  Think of this as the puppy love stage in which a lot of love and time is spent in the beginning and overtime, this begins to level out when you become more confident that everything is stable and comfortable.

For those who “kill everything,” is there a plant out there for us?

Behold, The Golden Pothos plant. Believe it or not, my best friend and I are complete opposites when it comes to caring for living things. I told her about this plant and she finally purchased one a few months ago. Not only is it still alive but it’s actually GROWING. This plant can be found in almost any grocery store or wholesale club. It grows long like a vine and only needs to be watered every 10-12 days.

What are your top starter plants?

When I think of “starter plants” I think of plants that don’t require a huge time commitment. Plants like The Golden Pothos, Money Trees, Jade Plants, and any sort of hanging Ivy are my go-tos. If you skip a watering day and don’t remember until days later, these babies will still be okay since their super tough.

Sometimes, it can take forever to find the perfect place for your new plant baby. What are some tips you use to determine a good spot to create a nice aesthetic?

As I glance around my room and realize I have a plant jammed into every tiny corner of my room, I can't help but to laugh and think “ANYWHERE!” But realistically, I always think of plants as an addition to any space. Its not necessarily the centerpiece of a space but every plant has the potential to be. For example, I have a beautiful Monstera plant near my window and its hands down one of my favorites. In order to make sure it’s the centerpiece of my décor, I found an incredible pot with a design that stands out while it also incorporates the same color pattern as the rest of my room. Plant placement is all about ensuring that a space is functional yet bringing in all of the elements of your room’s design.

You have a lot of hanging piece in your own apartment, how do you determine which plants are “hanging friendly”.

Almost any plant can be placed in a hanger as long as it isn’t too heavy for the ceiling to hold its weight. Keep in mind that a lot of plant pots have a small hole at the bottom for water drainage so I often place a small cup on the floor to collect this runoff. That being said, it probably would be best to place a hanging plant over your bed or a nice suede couch.

As far as preference of plants to hang, I always go with plants that grow longer as opposed to higher. Plants that grow like a vine will have enough space to grow down as opposed to a fuller plant that needs for width to stretch its new leaves. This has been a trial and error process for me because I never know which way a plant is going to grow until I’ve had it in the hanger for a few weeks.

Taking care of your plant…

If we don’t get a lot of light in our home, what should we do?

I get this question a lot more often than any other question. And my response is always the same: Faux plants mixed with a few indestructible real plants that don’t require a lot of light are never a bad thing. Faux plants get a bad rap because of shiny and plastic-y they can look sometimes. But believe it or not, there are A LOT of faux plants available that don’t have that fake glare to them and really have the potential to brighten up a space. I have 4 faux plants in my bathroom since I don’t have any windows in there but it's just a nice way to connect my room’s aesthetic with my bathroom.  Some great plants to mix with your faux plants that do not require a lot of sunlight include the Snake Plant, Dracaena, Philodendron, and Maidenhair Fern.

Is there a way to save a dying plant?

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My optimistic self wants to automatically scream “YES” and tell everyone to never give up on a plant but I’d be lying if I said I didn’t have to part with a few of my babies in the past. “Saving” can mean so many things and can only be determined based upon the amount of damage that has been done to your plant baby. Things like root rot, water logging, and mold are hard to cure but it isn’t impossible. When these things happen, it’s more of time commitment to sit down and inspect your plant’s roots. But when it comes to factors like dying or yellowing leaves, wilted stalks, and/ or dry soil, a lot of these things can be solved and it is often as simple as changing the environment that your plant is living in. Too much or too little light, too much of a draft, too much foot traffic swiping against it are all minor considerations that can “save” a plant, depending on it’s condition.  

How do we know if we’ve overwatered (and how can we save it)?

I’ve done this so many times with brand new plants. I get so excited when I first get them that I just want to love them and water them so that they’re never in need. However, the whole time I’ve just been drowning the poor thing not realizing that I'm killing it. The first sign of an over-watered plant is mold or fungus. You’ll start to see white or orange fungus at the base of your plant and it is extremely terrible to breathe in. You might also start to see little grey flies around your room. The flies grow from out of the soil and start laying eggs on top of the soil. These are telling tale signs that it’s time to repot your plant to get rid of the fungus/flies and start watering it less.

What should we look for to know when it time to cut off a stem or change a plants environment?

Your plant’s leaves will tell you everything you need to know. Discoloration, lethargic leaves, & wilted stems suggest that you may need to try another location for your plant. The sun is incredibly strong even for a plant that doesn’t need direct sunlight so consider this when placing your plant in a small room that receives a lot of light.

Is it weird to talk to your plants? Does it actually do anything?

I personally don’t find this weird whatsoever but if you were to ask my boyfriend how often I have a conversation with my Ficus tree, he’d probably give you a different answer.

I like to think of my plants as living beings with personalities and sometimes I treat them as such. For example, I came home from work two days ago and saw that my money tree finally sprouted a new leaf after struggling with this plant for MONTHS. My initial response (out loud) was “Yasss queen, show these hoes what growth looks like.” Am I crazy? Probably.

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Any other “must know” plant care tips?

Like dealing with almost any living being, patience is key. Think of your favorite plant like a person. You want nothing but the best for the people you love & you want nothing more than to see someone grow into their full potential. For better or worse you choose to support them even when they decide to make a poor decision that doesn’t benefit them. But at the end of the day, you’ll always be there despite whatever changes, your person might go through. Being patient and supportive regardless of circumstances is the best way to ensure that your plant stays alive for a very long time. When it comes to knowing when to water your plant, the general rule is to stick your fingers into the soil. If it’s moist it doesn’t need to be water, but if it’s dry it needs moisture (just like your hair)!

Plants and mental health…

Why do you think plants are good for individuals struggling with depression, anxiety and stress?

I’m a strong believer that human beings are alive to love and be loved. Sometimes I find myself with absolutely no one around on my worse days and I find an ounce of purpose and responsibility in knowing that I have a life depending on me. My Monstera hasn’t been watered today and even though I don’t necessarily feel as though I’m my best self, I know that I have the power to make sure that my plant baby won't have to feel anything close to what I’m feeling because I can cure it all with a liter of water. To me, it just nice to care for something other than myself because as most twenty-something’s know, that’s a full time job and there aren’t always enough hours in the day.

How can plants around your home/room or workspace help with productivity?

Functionality is at the forefront of my mind when I’m working with a client who is looking to add some green life into their home. I would never put a large Ficus tree in front of someone’s desk knowing that it’ll block all the sunlight from their workspace. It's all about balance and adding small piece of life to areas in which it might otherwise be missed.

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What are some of the best houseplants to ease mental distress? Can you break down what plants are good for what (for example, Aloe Vera to reduce stress)?

There is a lot of research that suggests a connection between stress and greenery. My goal before the end of 2019 is to become more familiar with which plants are best for a specific feeling or state of being. I am extremely in love with having fresh lavender near my bed. It’s such a calming and fresh scent to have near my bed and window and it makes getting a drafty breeze through my room the most delightful thing in the world. So much so that it makes falling asleep extremely peaceful and relaxing. It’s small things like this that make having plants extremely functional.

How have plants help with your own mental health journey?

Moving to New York was a culture shock. DC had a lot of greenery, unlike New York. Got sick of concrete and used plants to jazz it up. Add a few and liked the look of it! When I got to New York she was in a state of depression and it was nice caring for something!

Why do you believe everyone should have one or multiple plants?

I am completely aware that not everyone will have the same love for plants that I do. Most of the time, my discussions with clients are rooted in developing a certain aesthetic for the purpose of fellowshipping with guests coming in and out of their home. That being said, I believe that anyone would enjoy walking into a space that includes a lot of natural life. As humans we are so often on the go and interacting with others who are equally as busy as we are. I’m teaching third grade while attending graduate school full time & attempting to manage a freelance interior décor company. I’m surrounded by teachers and classmates who are beyond busy and crave a five-minute nap on the subway. But how often is it that we encounter a life that just requires the simple things in life such as the sun and water. In a world full of chaos, keep some simplicity around and you can always find that in a houseplant or two.

Any other words of wisdom that you’d like to leave the TSB community?

This is the first time I’m going doing something on my own schedule and it’s liberating. It’s been fun making mistakes and my parents are so supportive. When you decide to start a new venture, either being a “plant mom” or entrepreneurship, think about your goals and what success looks like to you. What’s your end goal? There are so many avenues to what success looks like, so use your plants as a success tracker. Constantly check your soil, look at your environment and make sure your positioning yourself in the right light to grow.  To me my success was impacting a life, so as long as what you do sits right in your heart.