ANGELA MAYNARD - FOUNDER OF BOTANY
Angela Maynard is the founder of Botany, an independent plant and lifestyle store situated on Chatsworth Road in the heart of Hackney’s creative community. Inspired by nature and simple living, Botany sells a carefully curated selection of indoor plants and ethically sourced hand crafted homewares. I speak to Angela about how her passion for plants developed and the inspiring story of how she managed to turn her dream into a reality.
Born and raised in central London Angela rarely ventured into the countryside; indeed the only experiences she had with nature growing up was either when she was playing in the local park with her friends after school or the small, gloomy, family garden, which lay in the shadow of an imposing city skyscraper, or when she visited her grandmother who lived in a tiny flat stuffed full of plants. “You couldn’t see things there were so many,” she recalls.
Angela credits her grandmother with inspiring her passion for plants. She moved to London in her teens from the Mediterranean island of Cyprus where plants are a huge part of everyone’s lives. “There are plant pots on every doorstep and every windowsill in Cyprus. I completely understand why she had to make it such a part of her life here as it was such a strong part of her childhood,” Angela says. “I am probably as crazy as my grandmother in terms of the number of plants that I have got for the size of the space I live in,” she adds.
It was not until her early twenties when she was buying her first flat that Angela became fully conscious of her passion for nature and the environment. “I had a strong desire to have an outdoor space, even if it was a little patio or balcony and during the summer months would spend more time outside than in the flat, enjoying my own secluded space,” Angela says.
After a few years Angela bought a rundown house and set to work renovating it, building a vegetable patch and tidying up the neglected garden. However following the emotional trauma of breaking up with her long term boyfriend Angela had to leave the cosy home she had worked so hard to build and move in to a tiny flat without any outdoor space. “I suddenly realised that I didn’t have anything green anymore. I would look out onto someone else’s outdoor space that they were not utilising and it made me really sad. So I started to build up a collection of indoor plants. I needed a green environment because I am so affected by what I see,” Angela explains.
She has fond memories of buying her first plant from a flea market in Brighton and watching it grow. “I had this one plant and managed to keep it alive, which triggered something in me; it made me feel like I could have an influence and do something right. It was really important to me at a time of huge change in my life,” Angela says. “Owning a plant is like having a pet in a way; when you have a pet you get pleasure out of giving something positive to something else, and that is healthy,” she adds.
After 12 years working in product development for various British fashion brands and the end of her relationship, Angela felt like she was at a crossroad in her life. Work had become “soul destroying”; she spent her days sitting in front of a computer screen “frustrated and miserable” working for a company that she felt like did not share her passion. “I felt like I needed to make a change,” Angela tells me.
She had always dreamed of being a shop keeper so started scouring Hackney, her local neighbourhood, for empty shop space. “Plants are my creative outlet in my living space and I thought there might be other people in the city that are similar and want to be creative in that way too,” Angela says. She has also always liked handmade ceramics and would spend many an hour watching her mother make pots and pressed flowers as a young child. Her passion for ceramics continued into adulthood however she was rarely able to find the sort of things she liked in the United Kingdom. So she came up with the idea of opening a shop that would be inspired by nature and simple living and filled with plants and homewares that reflected what she likes to have in her own home.
Angela has lived in Hackney for over a decade and it felt like the natural place to open her shop. “I wanted to change my life quite drastically; I didn’t want to travel as I had been commuting for an hour every day and I have always had a strong sense of community so wanted to get to know the neighbourhood I had been living in for years. You live somewhere in London but do not necessarily get to know your community.” she says.
In 2014 Angela took the plunge and opened a shop called Botany in Hackney, the name inspired by her love of botanical books. She wanted Botany to promote simple and wholesome living so filled it with a carefully curated selection of affordable indoor plants and handmade homewares. “Botany is about thinking about what you buy and not having too much, only things that are special to you,” Angela explains. She was also determined to only stock ethically sourced items so spent a lot of time researching the origin of the products she wanted to sell. “Filling the shop with products that have been ethically made is my ideal. That doesn’t mean is has to be made in the UK or Europe, people get bogged down with that. You can produce ethically made product in India and China and help those people. People need a job all over the world,” she exclaims.
Angela designed the interior of Botany to be like a sanctuary and hoped it would be a calm, soothing environment that contributes to people’s wellbeing and happiness. She envisaged it being a place people could go to cheer themselves up or buy something to cheer someone else up. “A friend I have got to know through opening the shop was recently made redundant and said the shop has been like a sanctuary while she has been establishing herself as a freelance. It is a very inclusive place - there is a hospital close by with a psychiatric unit; we often get social workers bringing patients in to walk around the shop. It is like a little indoor garden in the middle of the city. It is a sanctuary for me and other people who like plants,” Angela explains.
Botany’s location on Chatsworth Road where the population is young, diverse, and generally open minded has been key to its success. Most of Angela’s customers are in their 20s or 30s and want to personalise their living space with a beautiful terracotta pot housing a cactus. She often thinks about the possibility of opening another shop as she would love to have more exhibition space to display the work of ceramicists or host workshops with some of the artisans she works with. However she is not convinced the Botany concept would work anywhere else in London. “Hackney is the right place for this particular shop; Botany is about place and the location it is in and if I opened somewhere else it would have to be about that community and adapt to that area,” Angela explains.
I noticed that Angela’s Instagram page is littered with motivational phrases from novels and poetry. Her first Instagram post in particular stands out for me; it is a picture of a green post-it note, which reads: “Only when we are no longer afraid, do we begin to live.” I wonder if it was fear of the unknown that has prevented her from opening the shop sooner. “My friend gave me that note because her dad had cancer and someone had given it to him. She was with me when I saw the empty shop and we had lots of conversations about our dreams and what we wanted to do. It was quite a big quote for me,” Angela tells me. “I was scared because I am a personal person and through opening the shop I was putting myself on display. But I was very driven to do it,” she adds.
It has been a long, hard slog, getting Botany off the ground and when the bills have piled up it has been all too easy for Angela to lose sight of the fact that she is living her dream. “I often have to pinch myself; just trying to run the shop and keep things going you forget how lucky you are to be doing what you love and not being stuck behind a computer all day. I would not want to do anything else, I never thought I would have my own shop. I also never thought having my own shop would allow me to meet and develop beautiful products with so many amazing people,” she says.
The story of how Botany came into being and brought Angela happiness is an inspiring tale that shows if you believe in yourself and have the confidence to follow your dreams anything is possible.
Headline image credited to Kate Berry @botanyshope5