An Interview with the Founder of Conservatory Archives / Land & Garden

9th March 2018

Jin Ahn is the founder of Conservatory Archives – a plant store situated on London’s Hackney Road. Filled to the rafters with succulents and cacti of every kind it is has become a destination for rare horticultural finds. This month TOAST has partnered with Conservatory Archives, bringing some of its green oasis into our Notting Hill shop. Below we talk to Jin about setting up Conservatory Archives…

Where did the idea for Conservatory Archives come from?

I was born and raised in Seoul in South Korea – a city that has little space for outdoor gardening. During the three years I spent studying Horticulture in Essex, I found out that there was very little attention paid to indoor gardening, which I believe is so crucial for urban dwellers. It is embarrassing to say, but I also found myself struggling a lot working outside in the British weather… although I learnt so much about all the principles of horticulture. Once I had completed my degree, I moved to London, one of the cities I love most, and opened Conservatory Archives in 2015. I chose to move to London because it is such a creative city – and you never know who will come through the shop door.

How did you find the space?

I tried everything, searching through the internet and contacting agencies, but it didn’t really work. So I started travelling on buses just staring at streets. After about three months, I spotted an empty shop with a beautiful glass front on bus 55. I just loved everything, although inside was very raw and old – the shop used to be the oldest ironmonger in London. We had to install electricity and water, but apart from that we left many of the details – all the stains and old nail holes. The facade had already been renovated by the landlords and was beautiful – they used a 19th century drawing of the shop as their guide, which I think is truly amazing.

What is it like working in such a beautiful space?

When it is not busy, it is very relaxing – looking after plants and speaking to local customers and neighbours. But it becomes so crowded at weekends, people travel from all around the city to visit us, even from other cities or countries! Summer months are the most hectic time of the year, I have to keep watering the plants all day as we get so much sun coming through our window.

Have you always worked with plants?

Not all all, I used to work in fashion industry until I was 30. That’s why I went back to uni to study plants to change my career. I discovered my love of plants when I had a year’s break, just travelling and studying English in Edinburgh. Being surrounded by beautiful gardens and landscapes definitely inspired me in choosing my new career. I could not imagine something else other than plants… so I went for it.

What are you influenced by?

I’m influenced by great architecture and furniture design. I spend a lot of time just observing buildings or random plants – it’s hard for me to think of them apart as I always view the landscape as a whole. I think if you’re a true horticulturist then you have to understand every element of space, and how things work with another, not just the plants.

What is your favourite succulent or cacti?

Most difficult question… I love succulents and cacti that have pale colours, I find them very elegant. For example, Euphorbia stenoclada and Kalanchoe beharensis that I used for the TOAST window display or Myrtillocactus geometrizans Euphorbia eritrea ‘Variegata’ – also part of the TOAST installation.

Thoughts on collaborating with TOAST…

We love TOAST and its aesthetic and the space given for Conservatory Archives is just amazing. Everything has been very exciting, me and Giacomo my partner even drove down to Belgium to source unusual plants for our collaboration! We managed to source one beautiful specimen called the Agave attenuate, which has a weirdly curved stem and is probably over 50 years old.

The pop-up with Conservatory Archives will be in our Notting Hill shop until April 5th. There are over 100 cacti and succulents available to purchase directly from the shop.

For a chance to win one of Jin’s favourite cacti – “the pale blueish green Myrtillocactus geometrizans. Native to Mexico and the way they branch out makes them look like they are hugging”.

Simply comment below with your favourite succulent or cati and why. One winner will be chosen at random and announced on the 23rd March 2018.

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34 Comments

  • The Epiphyllum anguliger – with its beautifully undulating wavy stems that cast such curious shadows, dancing on the wall.

  • Crassula ovata as it propagates so easily – everybody in the office has one on their desk as a result of one small plant my Nan gave me 15 years ago as a going away present when I went to university

  • My favourite succulents are the Lithops, Africa’s living stones. I first saw one in a monastery greenhouse in Conyers, Georgia, USA, in about 1972. I immediately fell in love. I’ve grown these plants from seeds and purchased specimens at market. They are curious, cute, and have an amazing growth habit. They grow at ground level, looking like pebbles or stones with a cleft diameter. This line divides the two halves, leaves, that split apart when new leaves or flowers are emerging. I would like a small nursery of these plants. And as I was about to leave this page, I remembered the night blooming Cereus. Another true contender because of its mysterious habit of bloom and its delightful fragrance.

  • My favourite cacti is Opuntia Polycantha because I love the way the sections join together and it’s wonderful to draw.

  • I really like the rainbow hedgehog cactus because of the beautiful flower with very vivid color they produce!

  • Aeonium ‘Cyclops’ – for the impressive height and size of the heads. Exceptionally easy to propagate and fast growing too

  • As a complete novice, I rely on a lovely friend to draw my attention to beautiful plants. I’d love to start my journey with a ‘string of pearls’for its sculptural qualities.

  • Ceropegia woodii is a favourite of mine. I adore the trailing heart-shaped leaves, deep green with a mystical silvery sheen. To my delight, ours flowered last year, producing delicate tubular lilac flowers cascading down the vine.

    • Congratulations Gemma. You are the winner of the Myrtillocactus geometrizans catus! We will be in contact directly to arrange delivery. Regards, TOAST

  • Burros tail because of its beautiful trailing stems and juicy blue green leaves

  • Gymnocalycium mihanovichii are my favourite because of their vivid colour.

  • I love my pilea peperomioides. I call her Antonella, she is thus named after my creative colleague and great friend. Antonella, or Chinese money plant, is on my desk to bring me luck every day.

  • I’ve always admired Burros tails and am yet to add one to my collection! They look so delicate, yet can trail so well !

  • Myself and my Husband got married in Arizona, I’ll always love the Saguaro (Carnegiea gigantea) Absolutely breathtaking ❤️

  • I love the large flat leaves of the Kalanchoe thyrsiflora paddle plant. Simple and calm looking.

  • Definitely my Christmas Cactus, Noel. My mum gave him to me and I wasn’t that taken with him until he started flowering. He cheers me up every year when his gorgeous pink flowers start to appear. This year he’s onto his second round of fabulousness. Noel, you’re my fave.

  • Without doubt the Myrtillocactus Geometrizans like you are giving away. They have the most beautiful colour and the spikes are fierce!

  • Katie O'Brien- Clarke

    We love our wild Rhipsalis campos-portoana – scruffy, beautiful and it surprised us with amazing little white flowers this spring. Looks so good hanging over directly our Euphorbia Tetra too which is soon to be joined by a Euphorbia eritrea Variegata.

  • Stephanie Little

    I love my Agave Americana, even though it stabbed me in the buttock when I bent over the other day.I just thought you are a big beautiful brute and I could hug you but that would end in tears.

  • Chinese money plant because my oldest friend propagated it & gave it to me & it lives in a white panda head!

  • Mammillaria- such lovely flowers!

  • Aniruddha Satam

    The purple prickly pear! I love the purple tones and its beautiful shape. It’s like bringing a completely foreign landscape into your own home to create a space you can escape to!

  • Cleistocactus winteri – they are so ridiculous and a bit naughty looking

  • The one bought for me by my girlfriend for our Valentine’s tradition. The type changes each year but the sentiment is always the same. I’d love to be able to give her a hugging cactus in return!

  • Imogen Thornhill

    My favourite is the Epiphyllum anguliger (fish bone cactus) love the name and how it grows in a zig zag. It’s so interesting and unique 🙂

  • I love cactus and succulents. But especially the myrtillocactus Geometricians Blue Crezt Cactus, because i’m an architecture studend and i love geometry!!

  • Christmas cactus – not the most exciting plant I own but every time it flowers it makes me smile. I’ve had it for years and i still get excited when I see the pink buds emerging.

  • Echeveria’s love the verity, colour and Fibonacci growth pattern. Inspiration for my SLAB range of handmade ceramics

  • May not be the most impressive succulent but I love my aloe vera – the reason being I am such a clumsy cook and it is so soothing. It looks good and is helpful.

  • Myrtillocactus Geometrizans Blue Crest Cactus
    I love the gentle colour and how the leaves curl and roll into one another, reminding me of bellows of smoke or rolling waves

  • Jodie May Allen

    Astrophytum because they are so cute and little! ଘ(੭ˊᵕˋ)੭* ੈ✩‧₊

  • My favourite succulent is the Portulaca molokiniensis, it has such an interesting structure and sometimes produces a beautiful yellow flower.

  • William Papworth

    I love the Anacampseros telephiastrum variegata (Sunrise) succulent due to its beautiful pink hues and wonderfully weird way of growing. It doesn’t form like a normal rosette but rather a kind of ground-covering vine. Looks fabulous in a shallow pot on my kitchen windowsill and also in a hanging pot!

  • Myrtillocactus geometrizans!