Photos by Julia E. Heath

It started with a tiny succulent. Before I knew it, there were hanging plants and a mini shelf full of Pilea Peperomioides (I literally googled “pepperoni plant” in order to track down its proper name) and pots and planters bursting with greenery. My neighbors have grown a mini jungle on their 3-by-5-foot porch.

My neighbors and I share a porch that is separated by a few waist-high wood pillars. On my side of the porch, I have two very dead plants. I water them every once in a while naively thinking that they will somehow come back to life. I promise myself that if they did, I would definitely water them this time around.

Meanwhile, my neighbors’ monstera plant is thriving and a new leaf seems to unfold everyday. I see them regularly water each pot and tend to each new bud. The leaves start creeping to my side and they go from that newborn light green to a leathery deep green of a plant properly nurtured. The other week, my friend pulled up in her car and said, “You’re really going to let your neighbors outshine you like that?!”

I really want to have a bunch of thriving plants around my apartment, but I haven’t been able to because 1) it has very little light and air circulation; 2) I literally do not know how to properly water let alone re-plant anything.

I am a plant killer … but not for long. Alli Okumura is one of Sacramento’s newest professional plant ladies, and she is here to help.

Last month, Okumura opened Propagate, a houseplant mecca in a beautiful historic building on the corner of 17th and I streets. The long-unoccupied building was once a lunch meat factory with a condensed maze of offices.

“The building already had such great bones. I could see the vision and everything. We just had to knock these walls down and bring in some plants. That’s all we really had to do,” said Okumura.

Propagate is now a huge, airy plant showroom with a kitchen and soon-to-be tea room in the back. It has sky-high ceilings, exposed brick and its original stained glass windows.

Before Propagate, Okumura and her husband lived in San Francisco for six years where she worked in public relations for tech. It was interesting and challenging, but it didn’t feel right and she constantly had the urge to nurture her creative ambitions, chiefly with plants and flowers. She started spending her free time taking floral workshops, wandering around the San Francisco Flower Market and making floral arrangements for friends. Naturally, she also started collecting house plants.

Two years ago, a trip to Aoyama Flower Market Tea House in Tokyo, Japan, changed everything. Aoyama is a tea house and brunch spot nestled in a lush plant shop; it even has an indoor greenhouse.

“I was absolutely in love with the whole concept and feeling of being there. I just thought, ‘We need to bring this to California!’ I’m going to expand into doing tea in the backroom soon,” Okumura said.

With her interests fully ignited, she scaled back on work and eventually moved back to her hometown of Sacramento.

She began working at a local cafe part time and plotting how she could make her dream business come to fruition. Overwhelmed with where to even start, she asked herself, “What can I do tomorrow?” She reached out to businesses and offered her plant designing skills because she could do that easily by herself and with little money. Her services include a consultation to analyze the elements of the space and plant interests and then the installation and weekly maintenance of the plants. You can see her work at Deeda Salon, Fitsom Studios and 3 Fold Communications, to name a few.

On Aug. 10 she officially opened her brick and mortar, Propagate. Plants line the walls high and low in the space, and fill tables throughout.

I asked Okumura which plants would be best for my space—one that lacks sufficient light and air. She made me feel way better by telling me that the stuffy apartment with little light plant problem that I am facing is very common. People like me, and people looking for cat-friendly plants, are some of the most common customers at Propagate.

She suggested a yucca plant, because it is very hardy, doesn’t need a lot of light and actually doesn’t like to be watered much. Perfect. I was also told that snake and ZZ plants are also good for my space because they are essentially the closest I can get to fake foliage, and the latter can probably even survive in a closet. There is hope for me yet.

Okumura provided me with another scapegoat for my plant killing ways: trees. Apparently the condensed amount of trees can create shade that makes it a bit harder to maintain thriving plants.

Aside from helping you find the perfect plant for your space and lifestyle, the Propagate team also has self-serving compost bins so you can only take what you need, a moss station and a drainage hole service. For $2 they will drill drainage holes into any pot you buy or bring in. A lot of pots don’t come with drainage holes, which is key to a healthy plant because the roots will essentially rot if they are just sitting in moisture. Okumura said the reason a lot of these pots don’t already come with them is because they are supposed to act like a sleeve that you set your plant in. Propagate nips the problem in the bud—more drainage now, less problems later.

You can also purchase pots and planters. Okumura has curated a beautiful selection of baskets, terra cotta, glazed ceramics and sassy little pots with cute faces so your plant can grow in style. She recently expanded the collection to include bigger options as well by popular demand.

In the very near future, Propagate will also serve as an event space. All plants will be moved to the perimeter of the room so your special event can be held with heaps of plants in the backdrop and you can get air drunk off of all that fresh oxygen. Additionally, they will be hosting English-style tea parties and dinners in collaboration with James and Kate Williams of Nomad Roaming Kitchen. The first planned dinner party is going to take place the second Saturday of October.

Propagate fills the plant needs of all. Whether you are a hardcore plant lady or simply enjoy being surrounded by lots of green every once in a while, the shop is for you. Okumura has rekindled my aspirations to keep a houseplant alive, and I am currently deciding the placement of that yucca. Who knows? Maybe with a few more trips to the shop, my neighbors might have a little friendly plant competition.

For more info, look up Propagate Sac on Facebook. Propagate is located at 1700 I St.

**This piece first appeared in print on pages 14 – 15 of issue #302 (Oct. 9 – 23, 2019)**