If you have a plant in your home in Los Angeles, you might owe Justina Blakeney a shoutout.
The designer and author is known for her bohemian decorating sense, with a strong emphasis on plants as a living and ever-changing part of the home environment. Forever captivated by Californian living and the indoor-outdoor lifestyle in L.A., Blakeney pioneered and helped make the Los Angeles boho movement mainstream.
Blakeney is the founder of Jungalow, a project that began as a blog and a room full of plants. It’s since grown into a “jungalicious” ecosystem of products for purchase on the Jungalow website — including planters (or “planties”), boho-inspired bedspreads, wall décor, wallpaper — plus a line at Target and the fodder for her 2021 book “Jungalow: Decorate Wild.”
If it can be plant centered, in Blakeney’s world, it is plant centered. At the heart of the bohemian identity and style is deep affinity and respect for the natural world that surrounds us. Jungalow’s designs favor the multiculturalism — and the love for plants — that have been part of its founder’s world her whole life.
“Plants just have been a central part of my own identity for a long time, and part of my decor sensibility,” Blakeney said. “I’m a maximalist, so I’ve always been drawn to spaces that are lush and layered and dense and storied; places that give you a vibe where you walk in and you’re like, ‘Yes, I feel this energy, I feel these colors, I feel these plants.’ Things that capture your imagination. And plants have just always been a big part of that.”
She can trace back her awe for plants to her childhood. Blakeney hails from the Bay Area, but spent long stretches of her life in Europe before moving to Los Angeles.
We caught up with Blakeney, perhaps the plant person in L.A., to talk about her life spent “enamored with plants.”
Tell me a little more about the healing power of plants and how that’s affected you.
Discovering your own wellness at home has been something that I’ve always just been really curious about. Like, how can we create spaces that support our growth? I know that I thrive when I’m in an environment that I feel good in, and I think plants can be a huge part of that. In the same way that a lot of people feel companionship and and get a lot out of having a pet, I think you can have a similar experience with plants if you’re tuned in to it.
Plants enhance our lives — whether it’s the beauty, the smells, the food, the ornamental nature of plants — just being indoors and watching them grow and thrive. Plants are so generous and such an incredible part of our planet and our world that don’t often get enough accolades. It’s just such a beautiful part of life.
What does mindfulness with plants look like?
There is such a symbiotic relationship between plants and people, and I think it’s easy to ignore it, but once you you’re tuned in to it, you see how much plants give to us.
Just the life cycle of plants — I find to be a very meditative experience. Taking time to notice the new buds as they begin to to come out of the leaf, and how they do so, and how they shed their own leaves — just being present to that experience is, for me, something that slows me down throughout my day and gives me moments of mindfulness in my everyday routine. I think we need that. So much of our “free time” is spent scrolling and is spent trying to fit in all the things of the modern day world. So having moments where you’re just staring at a plant, I think, is really healthy. I think we need more of that.
Some credit you and your boho Jungalow movement in part with the plant craze in L.A. What has it been like to watch plants really take off?
Well, that’s very kind — I’ll take it!
It’s been wonderful. Life is hard, and there are so many challenges, especially during the pandemic — it’s constant. I think plants hold so many secrets and wisdom, and so being able to have more people tap into that is only going to be healthy for the whole world.
Has your relationship with plants changed at all this past year?
A little bit, I think. We purchased a new home fairly recently, and we’re not quite moved in yet, but we have been learning a lot about the outdoor plants that are existing on the property. I know way more about indoor plants than I do about outdoor plants. That’s a whole new world for me. Right now I’m just geeking out on trees, because I don’t know that much about trees, and trees are so incredible.
One of the beauties of plants is their accessibility. Do you prefer ones that are easy to care for?
I do, honestly. I think it can be frustrating when you’re going against what your space will allow. You want your plans to thrive, it sucks when they die, it sucks when they’re on the verge of death — so I really like to lean into plants that are easy to care for and just tend to thrive in indoor environments.
So yes, I love a good pothos, I love a good mother-in-law’s tongue, I love a good ZZ plant, a philodendron. And these are all plants that are tried and true. You’re going to be successful growing them indoors.
And then, sure, like I like to take on a fun challenge now and again with a more difficult plant to care for — but I have never been successful keeping a maidenhair fern alive. Doesn’t mean I won’t try again, but there are certain varieties that just don’t do well in certain environments because of humidity or sunlight levels. So I do [recommend] leaning into the types of plants that do well your own home environment. And then, yeah, experimenting a little bit here and there.
What are your go-to spots in L.A. for plants?
I do have lots of local spots where I like to go plant shopping, especially when it comes to finding weirder varieties, or just learning more about plants. I go in and talk to the folks at the different nurseries or plant shops, who have such a vast wealth of knowledge, and there are so many new and different varieties popping up all the time. I just like doing that as a fun outing.
What are you trying to grow at your new home in terms of edibles?
We have a lot of citrus; we have a pomegranate tree, which I’m really excited about; we have an avocado tree; we have figs. So there’s a lot of fruit, and then there’s also a lot of herbs like rosemary and things like that that are growing a little bit more wild.
I just absolutely love rosemary. Rosemary, lavender — all of those [are] really fragrant but kind of grow wild on their own — I’m really into those.
Do you have any personal plant rituals?
I don’t know if this is such a ritual, but I definitely talk to my plants, definitely sing to my plants.
Growing up, the housekeeper that we had cleaned the plant leaves off with beer. I don’t know why she did that, but sometimes when I’m drinking a beer, if I see a leaf is dusty, I’ll take a little bit and clean it off with the beer. Almost just in homage to her a little bit, but also because, who knows, maybe there’s some secret sauce there that I don’t know about.
But I don’t have set watering days. For me, it really is just about just being in conversation with the plants every day and sort of sticking my finger in the soil, seeing what they need, checking in. We do daily check-ins, I’d say. ‘You cool? You cool? You a little dry? You need a little something something?’
Do you have any favorite plant memories?
Growing up, we had quite a few plants in our home as well, and there was this one indoor pine that was around for our entire childhood. I’m Jewish, so we didn’t really celebrate Christmas, but every year during the holidays, we would decorate that little pine. It’s fun to think about how plants can play a role in holidays and in marking different occasions and celebratory moments in our lives.
Something I will always remember about this place, the house where where we live now in Frogtown, is that we have a pikake plant right on our porch outside, and every year it flowers these incredible-smelling flowers. And so every time I leave the house and I come back, I take a second to smell the flowers. So that scent just always going to remind me of this home.
Is your family really into plants also?
My husband is in charge of our edible gardens and does such an amazing job. He gets really geeky about the irrigation, all that stuff, which is not really my shtick. That’s been really cool, and he’s gotten my daughter super heavy into that stuff as well, so that’s really fun. And my daughter has been traipsing with me around nurseries and botanical gardens and all the plant trips that we do. Anytime we go on a trip, if there’s a botanical garden in that city, we go. Even nurseries, we visit everywhere, because it’s so fun when you travel around to see what different plant varieties they have. So yeah, as a family we’re pretty plantastic.
Do you ever end up wanting plants you can’t take home from a trip?
That does happen. I do take a lot of photos and so that sometimes can at least take the place of [the plant] if I don’t get to take it home.
I will say I have been known to bring cacti on airplanes. Between my legs, like, holding a spiky cactus. So sometimes I get seduced and just have to have something and bring it home.
Finally, since this is Plant PPL, what’s your favorite plant?
I feel like every single time I get asked this question, my answer is different.
Today I’m going to shout out the bird of paradise. I love the bird of paradise as an outdoor plant and as an indoor plant. The gigantic leaves, the incredible sort of erotic and beautiful flowers. The colors of the flowers are so vibrant and gorgeous and then the plant itself, with it sort of really sculptural, large leaves — it just makes a beautiful, beautiful indoor plant and such a wonderful plant to watch. I have one outside my window here in my office and the hummingbirds come through all the time doing their thing with the flowers and it’s just so magical.