A high-end interior plant design company grows in Germantown post pandemic

By Hollie Deese
Portrait photography by Pamela Monaghan
Interior photography by Erin Hines

Alesha Sebie arrived in Nashville in 2015 from Wisconsin to get her master’s degree in social work. She finished, through the UT-Knoxville satellite campus, with a concentration in substance abuse, mental health and HIV, and she was determined to use her degree in a nontraditional way that made a difference. Not getting bogged down personally in other people’s problems was a priority for her own mental health, too, so she worked at the now-closed Green Pheasant while she considered what was to come next.

It was there she met visual artist and plant enthusiast Aijeleth Boda, who had moved to Nashville from Colorado in 2018. Out West, Boda she had spent years working in a nursery, cultivating a love for plant care and design that wasn’t so far removed from her childhood among gardeners, landscapers and arborists.

“I needed this, to switch some things in my life,” Boda says of moving to a city she saw only once on a quick day trip. It wasn’t long before she met Sebie. “It all just kind of fell into place, as life tends to do.”

When Nashville’s service industry was hit hard by a tornado/pandemic double whammy, it forced the two of them to really think about what was next.

“A group of people had gotten together, a support within the pandemic and the tornado. There was just a lot of loss associated with that within our lives,” Sebie says. Throughout it all their friend Kate Ross continued on with her plans to open Hearts Café, and she needed some plants for the space.

“She knew that I had a jungle in my apartment, so she asked me to help her buy some plants for the space,” Sebie says. “I brought Aije to help me build a design plan, and we installed everything together.”

People started asking who did the plants, and when it became clear they had a viable business model, Zion Botanical was born. Since then, clients have been a mix of residential and commercial and include Joyland chef Sean Brock’s personal home, which they secured after completing Audrey, another of his restaurants; the Of Note influencer house; Lockeland Table; the Eleven Willow creative work space and Two Ten Jack.

They have worked with Katie Vance, lead designer and partner with 10Powell Architecture and Building Studio, and more and more frequently, they say, other interior designers have been in touch for help incorporating live plants into their designs.

“There is that interior design aspect of it, but we can help include plants and have them actually thrive in a space,” Sebie says. “Not just incorporate them in the design, but to know where the best spot for them to get light is, or if there’s a draft here should we switch it out? That’s where we come in with the knowledge and background to work with the client to make sure the plants live.”

First, they meet with clients for about an hour to get a feel for the lighting, size and aesthetic of the space they will be working in, as well as budget and maintenance requirements for the plants they will be bringing in. Based on that consultation they will come up with an estimated rendering of a design plan for hanging installations, shelving units, planter customization and grow lights.

“To create some beauty within your home now that you’re spending all this time there, or to bring some plants into a restaurant to create warmth in the environment with everyone six feet apart — we just love creating that changing environment,” Sebie says.

All installations include a two-week follow-up to ensure that all plants installed are adjusting to their new environment. Clients who love the look of live plants but can’t keep them alive can add on maintenance services, establishing a watering schedule, pruning, repotting as needed, rehabilitation as needed and client plant education.

“We’re working with a client right now who’s been gone for two and a half months. She has over 60 plants, so every week we go in and take care of them on a maintenance contract,” Sebie says.

They source their plants as locally as possible from places including Gardens of Babylon, Bates Nursery, JVI Secret Gardens, 615 Nursery and Garden Center and Lawrence and Clark Cacti Co.

It was cross-country trip to Zion National Park, combined with her love of plantscapes and textures, that ultimately led Sebie to plant therapy — despite previously being unable to keep plants alive.

“I felt like I killed every plant I was interested in, but then I just came to realize I needed to start smaller and start with plants that were low maintenance,” Sebie says. “The jungle kind of came from that. Then one day I realized I had had this one stick plant for six years. And that little tiny aloe plant I got from the grocery store four years ago? It’s massive and in a gallon pot. And you just slowly come to realize that no one has a black thumb. You just have to be honest with where you’re at with plant care and the time that you have.”