February 25, 2014

The Sill Brings the Outdoors In

Eliza Blank never gave a thought to the common houseplant—until she found herself in a cramped Manhattan apartment without a living green thing in sight. Looking back, the Massachusetts native admits she had taken for granted the tree-lined streets of her childhood and her mother’s garden. But while she had fallen hard for urban life, she had a new perspective from the brick-wall-facing window of her sixth-floor walk-up: She needed green. And she needed it bad.  

But one person’s seasonal affective disorder is another person’s business opportunity. So she created The Sill, a company that seeks to bridge the gap between people and plants in the concrete jungle by bringing nature indoors. Since its founding in 2012, The Sill has grown like kudzu all over the greater New York area, helping individuals select and care for plants that suit their homes, their lifestyles, even their workplaces.

Eliza Blank of The Sill making a delivery (left) and attending to an office plant in Chinatown (right).Eliza Blank of The Sill making a delivery (left) and attending to an office plant in Chinatown (right).

We talked to Eliza about her budding business and how it works.

Zipcar: What need did you think you could fill that wasn’t already being met elsewhere?

Eliza: Sure, anyone can go to a supermarket or Ikea and buy a plant for $2. But in the city that has everything, I couldn't find a good resource for helping you choose the right plants for your home and lifestyle, deliver them to your door, and show you how to care for them.

Is keeping a houseplant really about aesthetics?

No, not at all—it’s also about health. NASA has conducted studies on the physical benefits of houseplants and has shown that they filter toxins out of the air. Plants also improve the humidity levels in your home, boost your productivity and creativity, and reduce common ailments...all these amazing things that people don’t even know about.

What holds most people back from buying plants?

If you don’t know how to choose one that will thrive, you could end up with the wrong fit, or a bad experience, and decide you have a black thumb, and you’ll feel so bad about it, you won’t try again. I try to assuage people’s guilt—they’re plants, not puppies! And for the very hesitant, we suggest starting with a small practice plant.

Plants improve the humidity levels in your home, boost your productivity and creativity, and reduce common ailments

So how does it work?

We can come to you (it’s usually me and a horticulturalist) to assess the space, lighting, get a sense of what you like, and then we make our recommendations. We provide and deliver hand-potted plants, staged the way you want, and show you how to care for them.

What does that cost?

You can always start with a single hand potted plant delivered to your door, for as low as $38. You can even have your very own windowsill garden delivered for $175, which includes five potted plants. All the ceramic planters are made locally. For those with a bigger budget, you can email in for an online consult or bring The Sill team on-site. On-site design projects usually start around $500, and can go into the tens of thousands! No matter the budget, The Sill has something that fits.

So you’re obviously in your car a lot.

Yes! Since I started this business myself, I didn't have the money to buy a box truck or van, which we need to visit the nurseries. We were so psyched when Zipcar launched the cargo Zipvan just as our business required one. It’s such a breeze! I don’t have to worry about gas or insurance or parking. It has probably impacted my business success in more ways than I can quantify.

If getting around is easy, what’s the toughest part of being a small business owner?

The toughest moment is when you realize all the big decisions are on you. It can be exciting, but also super scary, because you’re responsible for all these people. But it’s also the most rewarding job you can have.