Deborah Choi wouldn’t exactly call herself a green thumb. So it’s no doubt ironic that she now runs Horticure, a company whose mission is to help the gardening-challenged take better care of their plants.
But what Choi may lack in her ability to keep greens alive, she makes up for in entrepreneurial spirit and a roster of some 150 specialists, who can be booked for one of three services on offer through Horticure: selection, care, and a sort of plant triage to help those that may be suffering from pests, leaf drop, and other maladies.
“If you want to solve a problem with the plants in your home, there are a million and one books on Amazon, there are a ton of blogs, and there are Instagram influencers giving different tips and tricks,” Choi says. "And there’s always your grandma," she jokes. “But you have to pull it all together for yourself, so there’s still this element of work involved that kept me from keeping my plants alive.”
With her own plantscape numbering about 15 to 20 deep — but dwindling — Choi and Horticure co-founder Timmy Lee set out to create a solution that she says mimicked the other on-demand conveniences we’ve become accustomed to. “I realized that I was struggling to find a solution to take care of this plant problem that I had in the same way that I took care of all my other problems," she says. "If I need a babysitter, there are a lot of different tools I can use to find one. If I need something to be delivered to me — easy.”
The first service Choi and Lee launched last November was a selection service for aspiring plant parents in Berlin where they’re based. “Our plant specialists come to the homes of our customers and make an assessment of the light conditions, humidity levels, and also take into account the budget and goals,” Choi explains. One of the company’s first bookings, for example, was a young family renovating parts of their home and looking for someone to help fulfill their vision for a hanging plant display in their living room. “They also wanted to pick the right plants for their child’s room,” adds Choi. “Our specialist went in for an hour and basically made them their shopping list.”
But the core service that sets Horticure apart is plant care. Services in this category run the gamut based on both your lifestyle and your plant needs, from watering and cleaning leaves to re-potting and even propagation (aka dividing a plant into three to four separate plants before repotting it).
According to the 2019 Garden Trends Report, 30 percent of households bought at least one houseplant last year. On Pinterest, searches for indoor plants are also up 90 percent, led by terrariums, cacti, and tropical plants.
In other words, the #plantgang is growing. And already, Horticure is growing, too, expanding its services to London, Paris, New York, and San Francisco.
“There are a lot of things intersecting. There’s the fact that we spend 90 to 92 percent of our time indoors, whether that’s in your home or your office. We’re so disconnected from nature and greenery,” Choi says, offering one hypothesis for the spike. “They’re also a trend piece, and cheaper than buying designer furniture.”
"Of all the living things that you might have in your home, plants are this category where we just kind of accept that we killed them,” Choi says, noting that a big part of the problem is not knowing what kind of green you have to begin with.
For quick consultations, like a plant ID, Horticure recently launched an alternative to its one-hour minimum sessions: a 15 to 30 minute booking where you can hop on a video call with a specialist and they can assess what may be happening. Or, perhaps, if you aren’t ready to commit to the (often pricey) plant life just yet, Choi says she’s working on something of a brick-and-mortar extension of Horticure, where you can buy “pre-loved plants,” as she puts it, in the same way you would on Craigslist.
Choi’s own collection of plants has doubled in the months since she launched Horticure, but she’s proud to say that her specialists — 30 percent of whom have studied horticulture or botany, but most of whom are self-taught — own far more. “We always ask how many plants a candidate has in their house," she says. "The average right now is 50.”
But there’s one equalizing factor between Choi and all of her pros — their pure love of plants.