We meet owner Lydia Wilford to talk exotic specimens, millennial trends and how to keep your houseplant alive

From cacti through to monsteras, it’s fair to say that our generation has gotten somewhat green-fingered of late. As millennials find themselves frustrated with the seeming impossibility of owning their own home - putting off pets and children in favour of careers and considering their own self-care - plants have become a way to ‘adult’, to claim your own space, look after something and bring that little bit of the outdoors inside. 

Having studied at Leeds College of Art, Lydia Wilford’s passion for plant life outdates any trend. Embracing the talents of her uni colleagues and local artists, designers and more, she has created Short Press; a store in Burley that celebrates the independent, encouraging people to shop local and get back in touch with nature. Chock-full of fabulous homeware, accessories and plants, Short Press is leading the charge for a new kind of shopping, one rooted (quite literally) in community and collaboration. 

We sat down with Lydia to find out how she managed to transform her dreams into bricks and mortar… 

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Tell us a bit about your background – how did you get into plants?

Lydia Wilford: "My mum and my gran got me into plants, they used to go collecting cuttings after the council trimmed the bushes. I started rooting my own when I wanted a cheese plant with massive leaves and I couldn’t find one at the usual places. My friends ended up getting them as gifts, then my friend Bobbi Rae made a run of pots and wanted some of my weird guys (ed - we think she means the plants here) to finish them off.

"We did a few stalls, then I ended up getting a concession at LS6 after Eve Finlay Miller spotted my plant boys, which led to being part of Veg Out’s Pop Up Café. After it finished, I really missed the sense of community it bought. One grim November day I was feeling pretty bummed out and, walking to the Old Bridge, saw the shop going for let. I cancelled my pub visit, made a business plan and booked a viewing."

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What does an average day in the life of Lydia look like?

LW: "I do a few shop days a week and pop in for deliveries & odd jobs like repotting the guys who are crawling out of their pots. Other days are filled with doing finances, research, growing stock for the shop. Sometimes a workday will start with a trip to the flower market at 3am. Bobbi still works with me as store manager, and she keeps things ticking over on the good ship."

Why do you think millennials have got so into houseplants in the last few years?

LW: "There are lots of potential reasons: the findings from the NASA clean air study, combined with what we know about air pollution. We live in times where technology is very dominant and some feel it’s important to re-connect with nature. In the Victorian times men didn’t have flash cars, they had flash plants: owning a exotic specimen meant you were the business - I feel that sometimes exists nowadays, especially with social media."    

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What are the biggest mistakes that people make when trying to keep their houseplants alive?

LW: "Overwatering, usually during the winter months. Winter in general can be really rough on some plants and a lot of people can’t keep their homes heated to exotic temperatures. It’s all about buying plants that suit your lifestyle."  

What are your favourite plant in stock right now?

LW: "Plant wise, it’s Calathea - we try keep these in all the time. They are pretty unusual as they twitch their leaves, reminding everyone that plants are living things. They come in a tonne of varieties, are also okay for pet owners and even have air-purifying qualities."

For those hoping to make the leap into their own bricks and mortar business, what are your top tips?

LW: "Don’t let anyone pressure you into signing anything you don’t fully understand, and don’t be scared to ask questions: Citizen’s Advice are really helpful. Do your research from legitimate sources, ask neighbouring shops and go to a solicitor for advice if there is anything you are unsure of. Don’t be disheartened if you lose out on a space because you never know what’s around the corner.

"Pop Ups are really great for ideas to be tested without the big scary commitment of taking on a lease. It’s a real shame there are so many spaces standing empty in Leeds City Centre, sometimes for years. If you don’t feel confident or don’t feel like you have a lot of stuff, start small, share with friends, split the stall fee. Basically, don’t have a loner mentality about it - collaborate and help each other."

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Short Press is open Tuesday to Sunday at 404 Burley Road, LS4 2SN