Jin Ahn is the founder of Conservatory Archives – a plant store situated on London’s Hackney Road. Filled to the rafters with succulents and cacti of every kind it is has become a destination for rare horticultural finds. This month TOAST has partnered with Conservatory Archives, bringing some of its green oasis into our Notting Hill shop. Below we talk to Jin about setting up Conservatory Archives...
Where did the idea for Conservatory Archives come from?
I was born and raised in Seoul in South Korea - a city that has little space for outdoor gardening. During the three years I spent studying Horticulture in Essex, I found out that there was very little attention paid to indoor gardening, which I believe is so crucial for urban dwellers. It is embarrassing to say, but I also found myself struggling a lot working outside in the British weather... although I learnt so much about all the principles of horticulture. Once I had completed my degree, I moved to London, one of the cities I love most, and opened Conservatory Archives in 2015. I chose to move to London because it is such a creative city - and you never know who will come through the shop door.
How did you find the space?
I tried everything, searching through the internet and contacting agencies, but it didn't really work. So I started travelling on buses just staring at streets. After about three months, I spotted an empty shop with a beautiful glass front on bus 55. I just loved everything, although inside was very raw and old - the shop used to be the oldest ironmonger in London. We had to install electricity and water, but apart from that we left many of the details - all the stains and old nail holes. The facade had already been renovated by the landlords and was beautiful - they used a 19th century drawing of the shop as their guide, which I think is truly amazing.
What is it like working in such a beautiful space?
When it is not busy, it is very relaxing - looking after plants and speaking to local customers and neighbours. But it becomes so crowded at weekends, people travel from all around the city to visit us, even from other cities or countries! Summer months are the most hectic time of the year, I have to keep watering the plants all day as we get so much sun coming through our window.
Have you always worked with plants?
Not all all, I used to work in fashion industry until I was 30. That's why I went back to uni to study plants to change my career. I discovered my love of plants when I had a year's break, just travelling and studying English in Edinburgh. Being surrounded by beautiful gardens and landscapes definitely inspired me in choosing my new career. I could not imagine something else other than plants... so I went for it.
What are you influenced by?
I'm influenced by great architecture and furniture design. I spend a lot of time just observing buildings or random plants - it's hard for me to think of them apart as I always view the landscape as a whole. I think if you're a true horticulturist then you have to understand every element of space, and how things work with another, not just the plants.
What is your favourite succulent or cacti?
Most difficult question... I love succulents and cacti that have pale colours, I find them very elegant. For example, Euphorbia stenoclada and Kalanchoe beharensis that I used for the TOAST window display or Myrtillocactus geometrizans Euphorbia eritrea 'Variegata' - also part of the TOAST installation.
Thoughts on collaborating with TOAST...
We love TOAST and its aesthetic and the space given for Conservatory Archives is just amazing. Everything has been very exciting, me and Giacomo my partner even drove down to Belgium to source unusual plants for our collaboration! We managed to source one beautiful specimen called the Agave attenuate, which has a weirdly curved stem and is probably over 50 years old.
The pop-up with Conservatory Archives will be in our Notting Hill shop until April 5th. There are over 100 cacti and succulents available to purchase directly from the shop.
For a chance to win one of Jin's favourite cacti - "the pale blueish green Myrtillocactus geometrizans. Native to Mexico and the way they branch out makes them look like they are hugging".
Simply comment below with your favourite succulent or cati and why. One winner will be chosen at random and announced on the 23rd March 2018.