Category: Philosophy

Ken’s Interview With Banana Republic on Urban Gardening

Last month, our fearless leader Ken Shelf was thrilled to be interviewed by Banana Republic for an article about urban gardening and green California living. Check out the piece here, and find the full transcript of the interview below.

Taking Root

How much commitment do indoor plants require?
 They vary!  Some need a lot of attention, and some just a couple helpful words of encouragement every now and then.  Find the one that resonates with your style.

Where do plants thrive indoors? Under what conditions?  There are a lot of options for indoor plants.  All things living need a bit of light and water, and indoor plants are no different.  Just how much light and water they require is the most important detail. One thing is for certain, you can probably find something that will thrive in whatever conditions you have, which will brighten up your room and add some life to your environment.

What are the top three requirements for indoor plants?  Probably the most important thing is to know your environment.  Do you get a ton of sun? Not very much at all? That is crucial to picking a plant that will thrive in your home.  The next question might be one about your style. Are you a helicopter plant parent? Or are you more likely to leave something completely alone.  Another important consideration is the space. Do you have room for something that is going to get tall? Or are you looking for something small that will provide a bit of life to a small corner of your home.

What makes a good plant parent?  The same thing that makes a good human parent; attentiveness.  Check in with your plant. Is the soil dry? Are there new leaves?  Flower buds? Look how beautiful it is! The key to success with plants is paying attention to them.  Which is also the key to enjoying plants.

What plants are best for a frequent traveler?  Cactus don’t need a lot of attention, they may only get watered once a month.  If you have the light for them, they may be your best bet to having life in a space that you don’t spend a lot of time in.

The First Sprout

Best beginner plants?  Haworthia are a beautiful family of small, hearty succulents.  They make cute flowers that are sent out on a long stem. My first succulent was a haworthia fasciata given to me in December of 1994.  I still have it!

Best small indoor plants?  Aloe Vera is a terrific indoor plant friend.  It is hearty and easy to care for and has the added bonus of having medicinal properties, so you can break off a piece to treat a minor burn.  Some people even drink their juices.

Best big indoor plants?  Monstera deliciosa is a gorgeous and eye-catching plant.  It can get very large, and doesn’t need water much more than once a week (and even less in the winter).

Easiest indoor plants?  Pothos are simple.  They come in lots of color variations and if they are given steady water, they will grow steadily.  You can train them to trail around an entire room from a small pot.

Most rewarding (or fickle) indoor plants?  I am a huge fan of the succulent plant Senecio Rowleyanus, otherwise known as the String of Pearls.  Not only can they thrive indoors, sending their pearly stems 3’ and longer, but they have fascinating little Seussian fluffy flowers that smell deliciously!  They are one of the only succulent flowers that have a sweet smell.

Most perseverant plants for black thumbs?  Thick leaved succulents like gasterias are really hard to kill, especially in a bright indoor environment.  And they don’t need much water, which can help create confidence for a newbie plant parent.

In Full Bloom

What was your first plant?  Haworthia Fasciata, still going strong since 1994.

What plant made you want more? Tephrocactus articulates var. papyracanthus.  It is made up of loosely connected segments that are separated easily.  I got one, and soon after I had many. Now they are everywhere in my house.  And so cool looking! They need very little care, which helps!

What is your favorite plant?  I am a huge fan of the Ficus Lyrata, the Fiddleleaf Fig.  I wish I lived somewhere that I could have it outside, where it can be enormous!  But in chilly San Francisco, it is relegated to an indoor plant. Still, we have one at our shop with a 30-foot wingspan!  It is a truly beautiful tree, with gorgeous and gigantic leaves.

The secret to a thriving apartment jungle? Lots of microclimates!  That way you can have different families of plants everywhere.  A lot of sun will give you the most options. A nurturing personality will help as well.

What is most rewarding about being a plant owner?  I think having lots of plants around is relaxing.  The energy is great, and the health benefits are real.  Besides producing oxygen, the venation patterns in the leaves make your eyes send happy messages to your brain.


The holidays are always such an interesting time of the year. On the one hand, they are a time of connection and joy, and on the other hand, they can be divisive and isolating.

When I was a young man, I loved Hanukah. As an American Jew, my family didn’t celebrate Christmas, but we had 8 full days of Hanukah! We sang songs and ate special foods (mmm, Latkes!). My parents generally were modest with their gifts; a pack of cards one night, dreidles for all another night. Every few years we would have a big Hanukah and one year that meant receiving the original Space 1999 Eagle 1 spaceship! That year was memorable.

As time went on, and the differences between Christmas and Hanukah (and then eventually Kwanza) became apparent, this time of year lost a bit of its shine. It felt awkward and exclusive. Not being in the Christmas club was a challenge for a young teenager! I took those feelings into my adulthood and before I had kids of my own, I even dabbled in not celebrating any holidays at all. Of course, that changed with my own little ones came along.

At Succulence, the holiday season means so much to us. As anyone can probably guess, most retail stores do a very large percentage of their yearly business during the five weeks between Thanksgiving and Christmas. And we spend a lot of careful planning to offer the highest quality creations we can find and make.  At the shop, we experience a wide range of feelings. There is joy, and excitement; thrilling desire and cautious hope. There is also stress. That is a part of it.

As we gear up for the holidays at Succulence, our front window display is such a big part of our thoughts. How to say it all in our window? And what is it we are trying to say? This year, I found myself feeling clear with my statement.


While our differences are highlighted over and over throughout the year (take the 2014 elections for example), during this moment in time I want to feel inclusive. I want to be extended. I’m striving for ubiquitous. I want to be sweeping. Widespread. Comprehensive. Compendious!

People, maybe we can’t just “get along”. Because we don’t “just” do anything. We do it all. That’s what makes us beautiful. And unique. And rare. And uncommon.

If we can’t “just” do something, let’s make sure to do it “somewhat”. Let’s put time and effort and joy into sometimes getting along. Let’s say hi to strangers on the street. Let’s reach out of our age bracket and make a friend of a different generation.

Let’s make eye contact. Eyes are so beautiful. And rich. And succulent. Let’s look into each others eyes and remember that the only path to betterment is the path we all take together.

Happy Thanksgiving, people. Peace.


Love and kisses,