My houseplant obsession – with Emily Lawlor

happy plants cushion

I am houseplant mad – I grew up with a house full of houseplants. As the child of a diplomat, we moved countries every couple of years, and my mother would put great effort into making the rental houses and flats feel homely. The way she did this was to cover the house with textiles and fill it from top to bottom with plants – I mean insane jungle level amounts of plants. I remember my father saying “Right that’s it, you’re not to spend another lire / franc / kroner on plants,” and the minute his back was turned she would sneak off to the garden centre to fill a few gaps she’d spotted in the hallway.

Since then, my houseplants have been a continual source of inspiration. From cushions, to wallpaper, to bed linen (like the palm leaf below) – you will find many of my houseplants play starring roles in my designs.

I must admit that looking after my house plants has not been on of my strong points – so I turned to founder of Happy Houseplants Emily for her top tips and plant inspired wisdom. Emily won a RHS chelsea medal for The Plant Clinic, and shares a background in home accessories with me – so we had a lot to chat about!

Read on to find out more…

Hello, Emily

Why did you start a business selling houseplants?

I have a degree in fabric design, and moved into buying and selling homewares and fashion for large retailers. My husband and I then decided to start a family, but a few days before my first child was born I lost my mum and life changed forever. I was dealing with a tiny baby and also grief. By the time I had three small children under five, technology had moved on and I felt left behind so I had to think about what I wanted to do next. I wanted to be a mum and work, but I felt that I’d lost confidence and skills.

When I started Happy Houseplants in 2018, not many people were selling houseplants online. This was well before the houseplant lockdown and work-from-home boom when everyone went crazy for online shopping. Garden centres didn’t seem to cater for young people or those without a car, so I saw a gap in the market and went for it. I am not a serial entrepreneur. Happy Houseplants is the only company I have started, so it was a steep learning curve.

How did “Happy” end up in your business’s name?

Oh that’s a simple answer! Plants bring happiness and wellness to people. They bring us joy that connects to something deep in all of us that wants to be surrounded by nature. Selling houseplants is tough; they are perishable, seasonal, hard to ship and highly variable; no two plants are the same. But I love plants and the industry and I am passionate about the happiness they bring.

I know you’re a keen interior designer as well as a plant fanatic. What advice would you give people looking to incorporate plants into their home?

Think about the light and your lifestyle. Busy people don’t want a plant that needs a lot of care and attention. Plants are living things; they deserve a few minutes of research to ensure you can keep them alive.

Start by keeping easy care plants, leaving the exotics for the hobbyist and collectors. Unless you want to add humidifiers and grow lights, choosing something resilient to cope with low light, central heating and missed waterings is best.

Any Philodendron, Pothos, Syngonium or Maranta plants will grow well indoors. I also recommend shopping at a dedicated plant shop; you won’t get great advice or support from eBay or Amazon when things go wrong. The specialists are usually much cheaper anyway, offering real discounts and specials. We send a plant and a pot with care guides, doing all the hard work for you.

Finally, let your plants wild. Wild plants look gorgeous, so avoid trimming and let your plants grow into a space. Everything looks so much better when left alone to grow naturally. We spend a lot of time talking to our subscribers and customers about letting your plants grow naturally. It takes time, but plants left to grow for a year become a focus in the room and something beautifully unique.

And if you were to share just one houseplant care tip with us, what would it be?

ALWAYS remember the saying: drench then drought to avoid overwatering. It works for my plants every time.  

I was so impressed to see that you won the Oscars of the houseplant world this year – the RHS Chelsea gold medal. What’s the secret to winning? And where do you keep your medal?

Thank you very much! It’s something special, and we are very proud of our achievement. Hard work and building a great team is the secret to winning. RHS Chelsea is the biggest flower show in the world, people travel from around the world to attend along with the Royal Family, and the pressure is enormous, so get good people around you.

We decided early on that we did not want to create just a pretty studio at Chelsea. We wanted to use the platform to help inform and influence people to care better for houseplants. So we created The Plant Clinic – an interactive space where people could learn about their plants. We pulled together a great team, including Sarah, the plant rescuer who helps rescue and rehome unwanted plants, Ben at Worcester Terrariums, Amy at Soil Ninja and Ian at Liquid Gold Plant food. All great people running terrific brands doing the right thing, helping to inform people how to care for houseplants sustainably.  

While we won and are very grateful, we feel it’s only the start of our journey. So watch this space for what we do next!

And you don’t get a medal from Chelsea; you get a certificate, so it’s sitting in a drawer at home. I have yet to frame it, but I want it to go on the wall at some point!

What are your biggest dreams for the year ahead? 

I want to help change the industry and eliminate all those dead and dying plants at DIY shops; putting all that time and energy into growing something and then throwing it away is not sustainable. We can build a more sustainable industry if we help people choose the right plants for the right space.

On a personal note, my daughter wants an Axolotl (look it up!) and has been asking for ages, so that’s going to happen even though I have no idea how we will make more space for plants and pets at home! 


What’s your star sign?
Cancer, we like cosy spaces full of plants!

Greatest life hack for running a business and bringing up a family? (I can relate to this)
The only way I can do it is with a huge amount of help. I have an amazing team at work who I lean on and my husband is hands-on at home and helps with the business, so we can be flexible.

DIY task you ace?
I love painting. When we moved into our house, the 1930’s fireplace was dark wood with gold trim, I painted it Farrow and ball anthracite and sprayed all the gold black. It’s a lovely backdrop for our plant photos.

Favourite UK garden?
Middleton House in Enfield is a secret gem with a beautiful greenhouse full of houseplants. 

Emily’s  picks

I could pick 500 products from Clarissa’s shop to style at home with my plants, but here are just a few… 😊

Thank you to Emily for sharing her plant wisdom and inspiration! And thank you to YOU for reading so far.

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