Local plant shop creates sensory experience for customers


Daily file photo by Zoe Marlin

Cultivate Urban Rainforest and Gallery, owned by Louise Rosenberg, is one of many small businesses in Evanston owned by a woman.

Zoe Malin, Reporter

Upon stepping into Cultivate Urban Rainforest and Gallery, the temperature changes and the humidity rises. Even the smell is different, resembling a mossy fragrance.

Louise Rosenberg founded the plant shop, located at 704 Main St., in 2015. It’s covered floor to ceiling in green leaves, immersing customers in a sensory experience. Rosenberg said owning Cultivate has been the “coolest and most wild ride” of her life.

“Cultivate increases the fold of people who value houseplants,” Rosenberg said. “We’re building community and sharing love.”

Rosenberg’s first love — her cats — inspired her to open a plant shop. Many plant varieties are toxic to animals, and Rosenberg struggled to find a resource that noted which types are safe. She eventually came across the ASPCA Poisonous Plants list and began rebuilding her collection accordingly.

Around the same time, Rosenberg decided she was ready for a change in her life. When the storefront became available, Rosenberg knew it was meant to be. It formerly belonged to Dave’s Down to Earth Rock Shop, a store she grew up visiting. Rosenberg called the building’s landlord and later opened Cultivate’s doors.

The plants at Cultivate are sourced from wholesale distributors across the country. Some come from local growers, while others are transported from Florida, for example, to Evanston by truck. Rosenberg fills Cultivate with a unique selection of aquatic plants, ferns and succulents, but said it has the largest selection of tropical plants. She aims to carry varieties customers can’t get in “big box stores.”

Lee Hanten works at Cultivate as a plant care and sales specialist. He said his role is to keep plants “alive, healthy and thriving.” This is quite a feat considering the number of diverse plants in the store, and new additions each week.

Hanten was a long-time customer at Cultivate before becoming a staff member. He thought he knew about houseplants at the time, but quickly learned otherwise. Hanten said there is a lot involved in owning plants, which he is “loves” sharing with those who come into the store.

Zoe Malin/The Daily Northwestern
The plants at Cultivate are sourced from wholesale distributors across the country. Some are from local growers.

“We help customers thrive in their space,” Hanten said. “Not everyone knows that more than a plant store, we are a resource.”

Beyond selling houseplants, Cultivate also sells retail items like jewelry, posters and books. The store also offers workshops, which Rosenberg said are BYOB and open to those of all ages.

Plant Parenthood, a how-to class on plant care, takes place every month. Sessions help attendees choose the right plant for their lifestyles and teach skills like how to avoid pests and water plants correctly. Rosenberg said indoor plants come with less instruction tags than outdoor plants, and often, people don’t know how to keep a plant alive when they bring it home. Plant Parenthood educates new and experienced plant owners alike.

“Plants help people learn how to take care of things,” Rosenberg said. “Along the way, they might even help people take care of themselves a little better, too.”

Additionally, Cultivate hosts hands-on terrarium building workshops. Rosenberg believes an important aspect of creating is using materials that speak to the individual, so she has attendees customize their terrariums right down to the color of soil used. Rosenberg provides an array of plants, glass and other materials while she explains how to construct the terrariums. She said the workshop lets people get their hands dirty and destress.

Plant-lovers can also engage with one another during the store’s plant swap event. People bring healthy indoor houseplants or rooted cuttings to Cultivate and exchange them for someone else’s.

Zoe Malin/The Daily Northwestern
Cultivate hosts workshops and plant swap events. It also showcases work by featured artists.

Where there are no plants covering Cultivate’s walls, Rosenberg carefully curates art for the space. The shop exhibits different artists’ work on a rotating basis, but pieces are always themed around the natural or ecological world. Each artist featured gives a gallery talk. Exhibits have an opening celebration and closing reception.

Katherine Gotsick, executive director of The Main-Dempster Mile, said Cultivate is the “definition” of a neighborly business. She admires the care staff show customers and the store’s ability to gather people around nature. Gotsick said Cultivate is especially “refreshing” to visit during Evanston’s grey winter days. She always leaves feeling “brighter” due to the plants and the people who work there.

“Louise is the real deal,” Gotsick said. “Cultivate embodies her living her passion out loud.”

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