April 30, 2020
Eliza Blank is the founder and CEO of The Sill, an NYC-based indoor plant company focused on connecting people to plants and the outdoors. In this episode, Eliza talks about how growing plants and being a parent are not actually all that different, why teaching kids to connect to nature is absolutely vital, and she suggests fun gardening activities parents can do with their children.
Liz Tenety: My husband's idea of the perfect day is being outside together in nature. He is an absolutely huge outdoorsman and his adventures have taken them all over the world. But my idea of the perfect day is spending the day inside alone with my music and my podcasts and putting on candles, admiring my house plants, and just sort of basking in my thoughts.
Um, I've always thought of myself as kind of an indoorsy person. That's what makes me feel most happy. And of course, we ended up together. Right? So along the course of our relationship, he's taken me on a lot of outdoor adventures. You've gone hiking, deep sea fishing, skiing, camping, whale watching, and whitewater [00:02:00] rafting.
You name it, like we probably tried it or he's probably tried to get me to do it. And what I've learned to appreciate in him is that he finds peace. By challenging himself in nature and he feels centered and full of purpose and rejuvenated. And actually lately we figured out a way to get the best of both worlds when he enjoys them.
And I enjoy it because he's been taking the kids out on the weekend for a few hours for a hike or to be outside. In a wilderness area and he gets his time with the people he loves out in nature. And I get a little bit alone time to myself. And you know, because of this relationship, I know that I've gotten to have some incredible adventures that I definitely wouldn't have had without him being in my life and have a new appreciation for the natural worlds.
And while I know I will be the one to teach my kids about how to make the right [00:03:00] cup of tea and find that time indoors to be alone with their thoughts. Like that's going to be my thing. I love that my kids get to experience the natural world alongside someone who left…
Liz Tenety: Hey mama. Welcome to the motherly podcast. Honest conversations about modern motherhood. I'm Liz Tenety. I'm the cofounder of Motherly, and today we're talking to Eliza Blank, founder and CEO of The Sill, an indoor plant company focused on connecting people to plants and the outdoors. Eliza is also the mom of an adorable daughter.
We talked to Eliza about her company. The parallels between growing plants and parenthood and by teaching kids to connect to nature is so important. We also had one of our listeners talk about her experience raising kids on a farm, and we'll get to their story at the end of our conversation.
Eliza Blank. Welcome to the motherly podcast.
[00:04:00] Eliza Blank: Thank you, Liz. I'm so happy to be joining you today.
Liz Tenety: Okay, so I always like to start by asking people, what did you think motherhood was going to be like before you became a mom?
Eliza Blank: So it's a funny question because I really find it difficult to even tap into my own brain pre-motherhood.
It feels like it never even existed in some ways, so it's hard for me to think about what I thought it was going to be like. Um, I know that I asked a lot of questions to friends and other moms. In anticipation of becoming a mother, but it's such a personal journey that I don't even know that it mattered that I asked those questions. Um, I just knew that it was going to be a lot and a lot of, of everything. I think I knew it was going to be a lot of work and knew it was going to be a lot of love. I knew it was going to be just a whole lot of something.
[00:05:00] Liz Tenety: I love that. And I want to talk more about the way that you're bringing meaning into your work and the mission that you have at work now. So tell us a little bit more about your story and why you started The Sill.
Eliza Blank: I'm the founder and CEO of The Sill. Uh, we are the first real consumer brand dedicated to house plants. And our mission is to enrich people's lives. Through a connection to plants and community. And we do this by selling house plans online, um, through our website, dot com and then also through our retail stores.
We have now five, um, three in New York, one in LA, and one in San Francisco. So I've built this business since 2012 and it's been a wild journey. Um. As we've really started to see plants become more popular [00:06:00] amongst our generation. And you know, it's so meaningful to me to have found something that I'm incredibly passionate about, that I can see myself doing for a very, very long time.
And that, you know, potentially changes sort of the... the... Zeitgeists or the mindset of people in a way that could eventually impact my children. You know, they may feel more connected to plans, not just because I happen to be the founder of a plant company, but because The Sill has this larger impact on people's, um, appreciation for plants. And, and that's why I do what I do.
Liz Tenety: How did you even, how did this begin for you? Like, is there, do you have a first plan in your bedroom growing up? Like where did this infatuation come from?
Eliza Blank: Yeah, well, in fact, my mother, um, so my mother is an avid gardener and she has houseplants throughout my [00:07:00] childhood home, many of which are actually older than me.
So like the same plants. Um, is in my childhood bathroom now as it was when I was growing up. So I like literally, if I go visit my mother and I'm in the bathroom brushing my teeth, I'm looking at the exact same plan that I was looking at when I was, you know, four or seven or 12 or 17. Um, and I grew up in Massachusetts, um, you know, sort of in a suburban kind of rural area, but I came to New York city to attend school and, um, that transition for me.
I felt very deeply because I was all of a sudden very disconnected from nature, um, from my family, from my mother, um, from this environment that felt very homelike to me. And so when I wanted to replicate that for myself and incorporate plants into my first apartment, I really struggled. Um, I didn't know where to go.
Um, I [00:08:00] didn't know what types of plants to get. I didn't really actually know how to take care of them. And so that's when it occurred to me that, you know, here is a category, uh, that is inherently good for so many reasons, but really didn't have a brand that supported it or that would help connect me as a consumer to the product.
Liz Tenety: Why? Why do plants make people happy?
Eliza Blank: So they make people happy for so many reasons. And this is all, you know, proven through a number of studies, whether it's because they clean the air, we breathe because they connect us to a sense of nature, which you know, obviously is ingrained in our DNA to be, you know, wanting to be connected with nature.
[Plants] increase our productivity, our creativity. They boost our mood. Um, studies have proven that your recovery time is faster if you have plants in your hospital room. Um, they, [00:09:00] there's just, it's endless. Um, but I think it's because there's a true reciprocal relationship between you and plants, whether it's because you're physically taking care of them or just because of the symbiotic nature between.
The oxygen exchange between humans and plants, there's, we couldn't exist without them. Um, and in fact, plants predate human existence on this planet. So we're… we're meant to be around plants.
Liz Tenety: Your website actually has this awesome line. I just love it. So the line is "plant care is self care." And um, you know, I know that there's some people who see like bringing house houseplants in as just a trend, but… I think, I think it's more than that. I was just reading a study that said the average American now spends 10 hours a day in front of a screen of some kind. So what do you think is really driving this [00:10:00] movement towards plants and reconnecting with nature?
Eliza Blank: So not only do we spend 10 hours behind a screen, but as Americans, we're going to spend 90% of our lives indoors.
That's. Crazy. Um, planned care is self care resonated with me because. I find that these moments that you give yourself to take care of your plants become sort of this meditation for yourself. It... it allows you, in the same way that kids do, plants make you feel very present. You can't sort of multitask while taking care of your plants.
You, you know, you're, you're, you've got plants in one hand, you're watering can on the other, um, you're, you feel very engaged and you are aware. So, you know, when you're checking on your plants, you're looking for things, you're looking, you know, is the soil dry? Are the leaves, um, green? Do they need to be cleaned?
Are there spots? Are there pests? So you have to actually just pay [00:11:00] attention to them. Um, and that is a very nice moment that we've lost sort of in this day and age, because our attention is often split between so many things. So the fact that it allows you to focus the fact that allows you to nurture something and oftentimes it helps you reconnect yourself.
So I was looking at this plant. In my home. It's a bird's nest fern. And I was just looking at it thinking, wow, you're really dehydrated. I was thinking, well, I'm really dehydrated. Like let's go get some water together. And you know, because all plants really want is, you know, a little sun and some hydration. It's like, not very different than what humans need. So it does give you that moment to think like, Oh, if my plants aren't doing well, like what else am I not doing?
Liz Tenety: Yeah…. So there's this little phrase that's got around the internet and it's, it's, it says, if speaking kindly to plants, helps them grow. Imagine [00:12:00] what speaking kindly to humans can do.
So is there something about growing plants that teaches us a little bit more about what it means to grow a human as well?
Eliza Blank: Yeah, I mean, so it's funny, I think part of what they are saying, whoever they are, is that the reason why millennials, millennials are so attracted to plants now is actually because they're delaying things like owning a home and starting a family.
But it does give you this relationship and it allows you to appreciate what it means to take care of something. Outside yourself. And you know, certainly I started with plants before I had a baby. Um, but it does give you a sense that these relationships are reciprocal, that you put in a little bit of work and you'd get back something in return.
And plants really do give you that something in return. They, they're beautiful to look at, you know? And as I said, they cleaned the air, they boost your mood, like [00:13:00] it's really endless. And, and it just. You know, goes to show that like, yes, kids are more work than plants, but they give you back a lot more too. So it just becomes something that you want to continue to build on.
Liz Tenety: So this idea of being a plant parent, you know, people sort of say that, but, um, I love the idea that becoming a plant parent might be the first thing that you do. That you know, you're not just worrying about yourself. You're worrying about cultivating some other creature or being, or what are the basics of being a successful plant parents.
Eliza Blank: So people come into our stores especially, um, expressing a lot of anxiety, which is funny because it is just a plant. And I, I also like to tell people, you know, we're the Tamagotchi generation. Like we carry these like little trinkets around in our pockets that had like, digital pets. And like, you just had to like feed it and, um, like give it water for it to survive.
But the reality was. [00:14:00] If it didn't survive, it's not a big deal. It's just like a little digital thing. Um, and similarly, you know, we try and explain to people, look, we've all killed plants before. We've all had bad luck. Um, it doesn't mean that you shouldn't try or that you're a bad plant parent or that you have this, you know, Brown thumb.
Um, it's just something that you need to learn about and practice. Um. And possibly fail at. So, you know, I think that obviously becomes a greater metaphor for life too. Like, you know, plants are something that you have to put your effort into, um, in order to reap the rewards.
Liz Tenety: Are there any kinds of plants in particular that are great for growing with kids or, you know, methods to teach children on a basic level?
Eliza Blank: Oh, I think there's so much opportunity even for us to do more of this. Um, we've done workshops with kids and it is just so exciting because [00:15:00] it feels so new to them and especially in the city where they just don't see plants as much. Um, but we always steer parents towards the, um, nontoxic plants. Of course, there's a lot of plants that we sell that are kid-friendly and non toxic.
So those might be. Part of the pepper Romeo family or the Calafia family, or maybe it's an air plant or a particular kind of succulent. Um, but there's a lot of activities for kids that teach them about plants, whether it's simply potting the plants so they can see the root system. Um, maybe it's propagating the plants so they can see how one plant grows, um, from the mother plants.
Um, or it's just actually, you know, depending on the age of the kids, sometimes it's great to, um. draw a plant and wait a few months and then have them draw it again, because then they like start to realize that it's growing and changing and different, but just teaching them to take care of a plant. Maybe it's just one little plant, but it's your [00:16:00] kids plant. They learn their own sense of responsibility and caring.
Liz Tenety: How are you doing that with your daughter?
Eliza Blank: Yeah, so we spend a lot of time outside. I would say she goes outside every single day. Um, sometimes that means she gets really bundled up, but we are a fresh air family. So whatever that means, we, we try and, um, get outside and play.
Um, we take her on hikes and, um, point out plants and, um, introduce her to. Animals, like dogs and cats. We just try and, you know, make sure that she sees environments outside of the four walls of our apartment. You know, we make sure that she knows what grass feels like under her feet. Um, and I really look forward, I mean, she just started walking, but I think this summer will spend even more time in the park outside. And she has lots of plants at home, so she points, um, and, and, [00:17:00] um, for a long time I thought that, uh, one of our plants was like her best friend because she just was so enamored by it and she would do her tummy time staring at this one plant. I was like, Oh, that snake plant is your best friend.
Liz Tenety: You know, I was talking to a Montessori expert recently about how parenthood is so similar to being a gardener, right? So I'm coming from the Montessori perspective. She was saying, how, your job as the parent is to set up a beautiful environment to put down that good soil and you're sort of telling the ground and making sure it's safe and beautiful, and then you kind of step back and watch your child grow once your creation grown.
I don't know. I love that metaphor of the Gardener and just getting to, of course it's work, you know? And it doesn't always turn out exactly the way that you planned, but that there's something so beautiful in watching something you've created like. Find [00:18:00] itself and, and know how to grow.
Eliza Blank: So true. Well, I always say that plants are a beautiful metaphor for life, and there are so many lessons to be found, um, when it comes to taking care of plants. But I like, it's funny, as you're talking about gardening, what I'm picturing is my mother, you know, even though she's now nearly 70, she'll still spend every warm weather weekend out in her garden.
And. And objectively look at her and she's on our hands and knees. She's sweating. You know, her back probably hurts. She's working really hard, but she's just loving it, you know, every moment. So it's hard work, but it really get that immediate, beautiful payoff of, you know, seeing things grow and flourish.
And you know, the beauty of that. So I always say this… just as it relates to business, but if it's worth doing. It's hard. That's, that's, you know, if it's not hard, it's not worth doing.
Liz Tenety: Well, Eliza Blank. Thank you so much for joining us [00:19:00] today on the motherly podcast.
Eliza Blank: Thank you, Liz. It was so lovely to have an opportunity to actually talk about this because I find that I don't talk about it and not, and so this was great.
Liz Tenety: Yeah. Well thanks for bringing so much perspective and your work is so interesting and I think we all have a lot to learn from you and just from being in nature and more present in our daily life. Thank you.
Eliza Blank: Thank you.
Liz Tenety: And now for a quick word from this episode sponsor Kinder…
Liz Tenety: the other day you went on a hike with your
dad. Can you tell me what, what you guys did when you were out there? Well,
Liz's Son: we ate, we went on a hike.
Liz Tenety: Um, what do you do on hikes with dad?
Liz's Son: you just let it be beautiful, isn't really fun or not so fun. It's awesome.
Liz Tenety:What do you like? What do you like about being in nature? Is there a reason why you're being super silly today?
Liz's Son: Can I go get some water?
[00:22:00] Liz Tenety: Love you.
Taylor: Um, my husband and I found this piece of property in 2008.
Liz Tenety: That's Taylor Dale. She's an organic farmer living in New Mexico.
Taylor: There was already already an established. Peach acre of peaches, acre of apples, um, no structures on the land, or there's some real ground day. Um, and we started to build our own homes, and then we've expanded to another nine acres of mainly fruit trees.
And we also specialize in heirloom tomatoes. Our kids have lived here their whole lives. Our bedroom is in one building and then in order to get to the [00:23:00] kitchen and you're hungry in the morning, you have to put on your coat and go outside and come up to the tree house. So yeah, every step of the day requires interaction with nature in some way.
I mean, I think they're pretty lucky to be such a part of their natural surroundings. It's the most awe-inspiring thing we have, right? The natural world.
Liz. Thanks Taylor… That's it for the show this week...
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Hosted by Liz Tenety
Liz is an award-winning journalist and editor, and the co-founder of Motherly. A former Washington Post editor, she thrives on all things digital community + social media strategy. She's passionate about helping to provide women with more support, (and way less judgment), on the journey through motherhood. This podcast is an extension of her commitment to hosting honest conversations about modern motherhood. Liz resides outside NYC with her husband, two sons, one daughter and one amazing au pair.