One Wednesday in early June, we were invited to experience something incredibly rare: an urban oasis in a Richmond alleyway. Bales of rolls of sod were rolled out for members of the press, and creeping ivy climbed the fire escapes – giving the appearance of a farm, without having to endure bumper to bumper traffic on the way out.

This event, crafted by Strongbow and with help from Canadian plant guru Sam Normandeau, aimed to reconnect frazzled city-dwellers with their roots in nature. The event was part of a larger brand initiative, dubbed #NatureRemix, which is currently being replicated in urban centres across the globe.

Screen Shot 2016-07-05 at 12.32.12 PM

We got a chance to speak with the anchor of the event, Sam Normandeau. Normandeau is the general manager of By Nature Design and spends his days creating living walls and other products that help bring the outdoors indoors. His background is in plant production technologies and the impact of horticulture on the environment. Here are his answers to our questions, as well as some sage tips on what it means to live well in an increasingly fast-paced world.

SDTC: Tell us about your journey and how you came to work with plants.

SN: I’ve always been fascinated with nature since I was a kid. Just seeing how things grow and how life works. I always wanted to live surrounded by plants and for a long time I thought that would mean I would live in the countryside, but now I find ways to live in proximity to plants in an urban environment.

How can someone who lives in an urban environment access some of that growth and vitality in their life?

What I would recommend is to have more plants around. Find ways to have more than a couple of pots – maybe a living wall. Dare to try larger installations with plants.

Any tips for those of us who rent?

I’m a big fan of plant frames. You can do picture frames with plants and hang them on your walls.

How would you water a vertical plant?

Every system is slightly different, but I would suggest taking them down first so that you don’t ruin your baseboards, or putting a towel down to catch any drips.

Screen Shot 2016-07-05 at 12.31.42 PM

Let’s talk about succulents. A lot of people have them, as they’re quite trendy right now.

What’s really important with succulents is to make sure that they dry out between waterings. They do need water, but they don’t need as much as most plants. So the key is to make sure you water thoroughly, but also make sure that it doesn’t get soaked.

Do you think that gardening helps with the digital clutter in our lives?

Definitely. When you want to disengage, you want to do something that doesn’t involve screens. Getting your hands dirty lies at the opposite end of the spectrum and certainly helps to increase focus. A lot of cities are built on top of green space and try to live independently of the life that was there before, but what’s really important is that you can’t, and we’re realizing that now.

The people at Strongbow and By Nature Design will be donating the plant life from the space to The Laneway Project – a local organization that looks at alleys and laneways as a blank space to be revitalized with plants and art. Strongbow will also be giving back to the local Toronto community and will improve neighbourhood spaces with their donations to the Laneway Project.