Sarah Cotterill meets the couple bringing a slice of leafy Amsterdam to the unlikely suburb of Cross Gates.
Hop over the road from Cross Gates train station, and you’ll find The Plant Collection, tucked between an off-licence and a hairdresser, a flash of vintage racing green against monochromatic suburbia.
Tangles of vegetation dress the wide glass facade above a sprouting selection of pots, planters and woven baskets - just a glimpse of the enchanted oasis inside.
Owner Fiona Myers sources Wildernis in Amsterdam as an inspiration: “It’s an amazing shop. Massive front windows just filled with plants, you couldn’t walk past without being drawn in.”
There’s certainly a Dutch charm to the space. The artistic attention to detail, drawers of teak midcentury furniture overspilling with greenery, local prints on the walls and knotted macrame hanging in corners. A voluptuous velvet armchair, perfect for sinking into beside another Dutch devotion - coffee and cake.
“I’d always wanted to open a little café, all the way back when I was a little child my mum says I spoke about it. It would be full of plants and comfy seating with lovely drinks, I wanted somewhere warm and welcoming that made me happy.”
Fiona’s dream came to fruition in September 2021, thanks to the help of her partner Tom Mason, who lovingly gutted and kitted out the former tanning salon to create a space her Mum would surely be proud of.
The duo are no strangers to a bit of grit and graft, after long stints in the hospitality trade.
“There are a lot of similarities in craft beer and specialist coffee oddly, a lot of the flavours are shared. It didn’t feel like such a long jump from alcohol to coffee”, Tom adds.
With support from North Star Roasters, Tom now slings espressos like he’s been doing it forever. He also showcases his favourite blends via a rotating guest pour over if you fancy something a little livelier.
“At the moment I am loving both the Rwandan Cyato (Anaerobic Natural) from North Star Roast for its fruity strawberry notes and amazing clean finish and The Kenyan Tambaya AA (Washed) from Chipp Coffee, another amazing Leeds-based roastery.”
As for sweet treats, there is flapjacks, frangipane, brownies and banana bread from local bakeries That Old Chestnut, Bluebird and The Savvy Baker, served on vintage floral china. Jazz oozes from retro speakers at the back of the shop. A haven away from the roaring ring road beyond.
Fiona is mindful of the connection between relaxation and plant life. An experience we all shared during lockdown, as Britons flocked to garden centres, keen to bring the outdoors in.
Her current treasures include the Calathea Warscewiczii, known as “Jungle Velvet”, or the Caladium Lindenii with large arrowhead-shaped leafage and creamy white veins.
“I always add plants to my collection by what I like, [and] what I think looks nice. The only thing I’m wary of is humidity requirements, as sometimes they can be trickier to care for.”
If you feel a little unconfident about potting and planting, Fiona can offer a wealth of advice and the odd masterclass, as well as stocking everything you need from peat to pruning shears.
Embarrassed by my brown wilting palms at home, I asked if she has any pro top-tips for less green-fingered folk.
“Light is everything when it comes to environmental factors,” she said. “They thrive in the temperatures we keep our houses. Within a couple of meters of a window is generally fine.”
Luckily for Fiona and Tom, there’s plenty of natural Cross Gates sunshine beaming in through the windows on my visit. In fact, the whole space seems to twinkle. Amber pendants dangle in rows above the café counter, a glittering disco ball swivelling in the centre, a nod perhaps to their former night-life working in bars.
Tom’s mixology will not be missed thanks to a series of Festive cocktail nights The Plant Collection is running in December, with live DJs spinning all night long.
There’s a rumour the shop will be transformed into a Christmas grotto, complete with mulled apple juice and the return of its infamous homemade marshmallow-topped drinks.
For wreath-making courses and more, check out The Plant Collection’s full events lineup by following them at @theplantcollection.leeds.
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