The plant stylist

Turning your apartment into a green oasis is not as easy as it looks – fortunately, Joe Ann Liew has tips to help you out

16 Nov 2020 / 10:25 H.

AFTER quitting her job last year, Joe Ann Liew embarked on a journey to get closer to nature. Her goal is to bring more greenery into homes, especially those of urbanites who live in apartments and condominiums.

“I live in a condo, but I want a jungle in my house. So how do I do that? From there I try to learn and to understand about house plants,” said Liew.

She built upon her years of appreciating nature and her curiosity about plants. In the past year, she also learned landscaping and farming.

“I learned that the small plants that live under canopies of larger plants are the ones people use as house plants. I also learned this the hard way. I bought a few plants and brought them indoors. To see how they grow.

“Then I realised that they can’t survive. This is because of many factors, like species, type of plant, type of soil use, and even where you put it in a home,” said Liew.

A few months ago she took this knowledge and launched Wild Oasis, her own house plant styling service, where she helps clients fill their homes with greenery.

“People tell me that they don’t have a green thumb and to just recommend an easy plant; at the same time they say they like trendy and exotic plants. But I have to tell them that there is no such thing as a ‘simple’ plant. All house plants need some level of care and attention. They are like having pets.

“In the home itself, you have to consider the humidity, lighting, and even the location of the plant. For example, I find that if you like to place your plants in places like the kitchen or next to your TV cabinet, once in a while, you need to bring the plant out to give it sunlight. But don’t do it too often.”

When decorating a space she prefers plants with big leaves, placing them high and low, and working with their shapes. To figure out what plants are suitable, she has to see the space for herself, and with the help of a few gadgets and her clients, she finds out the amount of light in the space, whether it is wet or dry, still or windy, and more.

“I can’t remember all of the plants, so I have a partner who has a nursery. She provides all types of plants for me. When I am doing a project, I will go to her nursery and check out all the plants. To see what would work, based on the client’s preference and available space,” she said.

She also said that some plants have a personality.

“I enjoyed talking to my plants. I tried to grow a Calathea plant once. It took me about a year. It’s a pinstriped leafy plant. I watered it daily but it never grew taller.

“One time I went to Hong Kong for a week and asked my husband to take care of the plant instead. Strangely when I came back, the plant grew big and blossomed.

“So I asked my husband, what did you do? And he said he just watered the plant. So I said why didn’t it grow when I water and fertilise the plant. He said it’s because you are noisy and talk to them too much. From then onwards I don’t talk to the plants. I just water them quietly and they grow. It’s very strange,” said Liew.

In addition to styling plants, she and her cousin provide a free photography service for seniors. The idea came about during the MCO while she was watching a Korean drama.

They provide professionally-taken ‘rememberance photos’ for the elderly who are ready to pass. However, they are not meant to be sombre or morbid.

The results are beautiful photos of the subjects at their best, an experience they will never forget, and a treasured memory for their children.

“They feel like they are models. So sometimes they request if they could wear their fancier clothes. Once someone asked us if they could take a photo with their daughter because they had never really hugged their daughter before,” said Liew.

The project was only meant to go on until the end of the year, but they decided to extend it to January.

“Although we frame these as obituary photos, we are not limiting our service by race. We would be elated if more people took up our mission and provide this service where they are as well,” said Liew.

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