Learning to Be a Plant Parent

When I bought my new house and was preparing it to become both my home and work space, I realized that I needed to freshen the place up. To inject a little more life into these spaces that I was making my own, I asked Shylah, plant stylist at Des Moines’ Art Terrarium to come over and impart some much-needed advice on how plants can invigorate my space and, maybe more importantly, how I can be a good plant parent and keep them alive and happy.

Pictured: Andrea Metzler, owner and Shylah, plant stylist at Art Terrarium.

Pictured: Andrea Metzler, owner and Shylah, plant stylist at Art Terrarium.

When Shylah came into my home to begin our consultation process, I think she knew right away that this space would benefit from some greenery. She is, after all, a professional plant stylist: a career she began recently when she realized that many people coming into the Art Terrarium shop wanting more plants in their lives but weren’t sure what or where or how. And with a background in art and event facilitation, she decided to let her creative spirit guide this burgeoning consultation business.

“Plant styling is a title I made up to describe a role where I show up with plants for people, and put those plants in places,” Shylah says. “For Whitney, having just moved into a new house, I get to be a part of the creative process that brings her home to life. It’s so special.”

We started room by room, identifying whether each will be a personal or work space, and what my goals are for each. Shylah assessed the amount of natural light that would be reaching every corner. (The lighting proved to be a bit challenging because of all the gorgeous mature trees around my house. I love them, but they sure block a lot of sunlight.) We also talked about how often I’d be able to pay attention to them and water them. This particular factor made me want to lean more minimalist. I didn’t want the chlorophyll of dozens of dead houseplants on my hands!

IvoryHousePhotography-ArtTerrarium

Shylah took down my goals and feedback on a notepad and returned to the shop to start pulling some plants that would be suitable for my space. “I worked with Whitney’s budget, picking out some specific things. Keeping her goal of moderation in mind, she wanted greenery in every space. This was a little tricky because they all had to live near the windows, but luckily there are many types of plants that thrive in lower lighting.”

She invited me to come check out what she had pulled and to bring in the few vases and vessels that I already had in mind to put plants in, plus pick out some more from the shop. I was so impressed by both their selection and by Shylah’s styling suggestions that my initial impulse to keep things minimal went straight out the window.

When she brought the plants over to my house to finally stage them, I could barely contain myself. The difference that a dozen or so fresh, green, lively houseplants made was unbelievable. I was totally hooked. And I might have mellowed out right then and there, but Shylah assured me so thoroughly that I can indeed keep these plants alive and thriving, beautifying my home and impressing friends and clients alike, and they looked so amazing in little groups, rejuvenating each room...well, I got more plants. I am now the proud parent of 33 happy plants, breathing life into every room in my house.

IvoryHousePhotography-ArtTerrarium

How, you may ask, did I go from killing cacti to confidently raising so many houseplants? I have Shylah to thank for that. On top of her wonderful styling skills, she gave me some very simple, straightforward advice that seemed to take the mystery out of plant parenting.

Shylah’s Simple Tips for Raising Houseplants

  1. Most of the problems with plants come from overwatering them. People think that watering them equals caring for them, when in fact, most plants just kinda want to be left alone.

  2. Light = food, so pay attention to how much your plant is getting. South-facing windows get more direct light than north, so stage your plants accordingly.

  3. Plants are very resilient. If you notice them turning yellow, it’s most likely either from overwatering or not giving them enough light. Move them around in your home and find a spot that makes them happier.

  4. Having daily contact with your plants gives you a chance to check the soil, prune any dead leaves, and make sure they don’t have dust building up. This also ensures that you are watering them as needed, and not just when you think about watering them.

  5. Practice with your plants. Don’t be afraid of killing them, and don’t be afraid to reach out and ask for help. There are lots of great resources on the Art Terrarium website, plus the folks at the shop love sharing their plant knowledge!

IvoryHousePhotography-ArtTerrarium

If you’re still unsure whether plants are right for you (spoiler: they are), or are looking for someone to come in and tell you exactly what plants you should get, where to put them, and how to care for them, Shylah is your gal. Check out this great new styling service here and start the process of elevating your home or office space. The best part is, their $75 consultation deposit is redeemable toward your plant purchase of $350 or more. Shylah also does plant rentals and staging work for parties and large events.


I can’t thank Shylah enough for her styling skills, advice, laid-back approach to plant parenting, and most of all, her confidence in me. If I can successfully care for 33 plants in the middle of my nonstop schedule, anyone can!

Retzlaff Wedding

A couple of weeks ago, I had the absolute pleasure of photographing the wedding of John Retzlaff and Mackenzie Hawk at the Rollins Mansion in Des Moines.

Click to watch their epic wedding slideshow

Retzlaff Wedding Ivory House Photography.jpg
Retzlaff Wedding Ivory House Photography.jpg
Retzlaff Wedding Ivory House Photography.jpg

The weather forecast was grim but the spirits were high. Everyone was constantly checking WHO’s weather map all morning to see when the rain would start. Despite our nervousness, there was one immutable fact that hung in the air with the Iowa humidity: Today was going to be a magical day.

Retzlaff Wedding Ivory House Photography.jpg
Retzlaff Wedding Ivory House Photography.jpg
Retzlaff Wedding Ivory House Photography.jpg
Retzlaff Wedding Ivory House Photography.jpg

My first interaction with Mackenzie was a phone call during which we discussed her wedding details, including a rain backup plan. She said confidently that the ceremony was going to be outside, no matter what. “We’re getting married, and we’re willing to get wet doing it.” That’s when I understood this bride’s wonderful attitude, and that nothing could seriously go wrong with this wedding.

Retzlaff Wedding Ivory House Photography.jpg
Retzlaff Wedding Ivory House Photography.jpg
Retzlaff Wedding Ivory House Photography.jpg
Retzlaff Wedding Ivory House Photography.jpg
Retzlaff Wedding Ivory House Photography.jpg

And as fairy tales go, not a raindrop fell from the sky until all the festivities were over. This day was truly magical because of the people who gathered and the pure, joyful, overflowing emotion. Oh, and the dancing.

Retzlaff Wedding Ivory House Photography.jpg
Retzlaff Wedding Ivory House Photography.jpg

John and Mackenzie are two of the kindest most loyal dedicated people I have ever met. It has been my pleasure to become good friends with them and capture the most magical day of their lives. Thank you for choosing me to photograph your wedding, and for the dance party I’ll never forget!
 

Retzlaff Wedding Ivory House Photography.jpg
Retzlaff Wedding Ivory House Photography.jpg

Vendors:
Hair - Alexis Hawk and Kelly Fitch
Makeup - Alexis Hawk and Kelly Fitch
Wedding Dress – Modern Dress in Boone
Groomswear - The Good Fancy
Florist – Originals by Beck
DJ - Tony Bonekamp (ceremony), The Flashdance (reception)
Catering - Delmonico Catering
Chocolate Bar - Beaverdale Confections
Wedding Coordinator - Defining the Details
Venue - Rollins Mansion

Retzlaff Wedding Ivory House Photography.jpg
Retzlaff Wedding Ivory House Photography.jpg
Retzlaff Wedding Ivory House Photography.jpg

Finding Stories in Woodland Cemetery: A Walk with Buz Brenton

Woodland Cemetery Des Moines

Today I took a tour of one of the most historic places in Des Moines: Woodland Cemetery. I was joined by my mentor and friend, Junius (Buz) Brenton. Currently 83 years old and thriving, Buz is responsible for initiating some pretty amazing projects around our city, such as the revitalization of the Greater Des Moines Botanical Garden and the Brenton Arboretum. He is passionate about history and passing along knowledge to the next generation.

One of his current passion projects is restoring the headstones in Woodland Cemetary to their proper upright position. This cemetery was established in 1848, before Des Moines was even the state capitol. This makes it the oldest cemetery in the city, and as a result, parts have fallen into disrepair. Many of the deceased no longer have relatives routinely checking on their gravestones. The ground has also shifted over time, causing some of these stones to lean and occasionally tip over. Buz commented that after five generations, there is usually no family left who are connected to the namesake. 

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Buz believes in the legacy of Des Moines in both big and small ways. He is also interested in dendrology (the study of trees). In fact, he loves trees more than anyone else I've ever met! While touring around Woodland Cemetery, Buz pointed out his favorite tree to me. He described this particular tree as "flamboyant but modest." Its sturdy trunk rises and splits evenly into beautiful, even branches that reach upwards as if honoring the people buried beneath its canopy. We stood marveling at its complexity and symmetry, the beauty of its branches dividing into themselves in some effortless, majestic pattern that only nature can accomplish. As Buz dove into the topic of trees, he anthropomorphized them, talking about their longevity, their lack of frivolity, their ability to weather the storm. "Trees embody so many qualities that men should, but so rarely do." 

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As we walked underneath the tree, it struck me how true these words were. Underneath the ground, the roots of this tree and others nearby had been growing together for decades, sharing nutrients in the warmer months and standing solidly through the colder ones. It's something similar to a community: On the surface, we are all individuals living our own lives. But underneath, and where it really matters, we hold each other up. We share resources and depend on one another. We shape the landscape. 

As Buz and I strolled around the cemetery, he explained that most of the trees in this cemetery were planted at the same time, which you can see by their similar size and shape. He also pointed out the oldest stone building in Des Moines: the cemetery's Receiving Vault, where the city stored the remains of those who passed away during the winter when the ground was too frozen to bury them. He pointed out the gravestones of prominent Des Moines leaders of the past. Familiar names like Savery, Hubbell, Frankel, Crocker, and Sherman are scattered across the 69-acre plot. The people who built Des Moines, who started this journey and laid down the foundation for what has become such a vibrant city, are lying so close to us, and I feel like I know so little about them.

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I am guilty, as many of us are, of being obsessed with the grind, the trends, the latest events and social gatherings. Of being "in the know," of knowing the people in the know. But how much do we actually know? Where would we be today if these brave men and women had only forged their own paths without regard to where their city would be in 100 years? And is that any less important than understanding where we were 100 years ago?

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This trip to Woodland Cemetery with my dear friend Buz opened my eyes and my heart to the rich history that's often lying right under our feet. It's a privilege to live in a city with so much to learn, and it's our responsibility to take an interest and pass on that history, these feelings, and this knowledge to future generations.