Objects of Desire: Salmiana, Mexico
Whenever I move house I haul a growing collection of pot plants with me. There’s a rescued magnolia, two gardenias, a fiddle leaf fig, geraniums, orchids, philodendrons, a glory bush (Tibouchina urvilleana) and a football team or two of potted succulents.
For me, a big part of feeling at home involves creating an indoor and outdoor wilderness to live in, so when I move the plants move, and bend and adapt to their new surroundings. It’s hypnotic to watch them settling in: reaching towards new sources of sunlight, and climbing into new corners. These delicate, sometimes barely perceptible gestures are amongst the things that Juliana de Lasse of Salmiana loves about living with plants, too.
My house is full of plants!” Juliana admits, whole-heartedly. “There’s a corner near the window where the plants are so happy. I have a vine, a Dioscorea, which is invading the entire ceiling in my lounge room.
This kind of radical takeover is welcome in Juliana’s world, where plants are king. Through her creative business – Salmiana, based in México City – Juliana explores the unique qualities of plants, and how to design pots (or macetas, in Spanish) that are a compatible match. “Indoor plants fill spaces with life and a distinct energy. If you pay attention, you can observe how they grow, and how they thrive when you put them in the right place.”
In its other life, a salmiana is one of the 200-odd species of agave you’ll find in México. Its common name is the giant agave – it grows up to two meters high and four meters wide. It’s a monster of a maguey, which, under ideal circumstances, will take your garden hostage one basal sucker at a time. The sweet sap from the plant, known as aguamiel, is tapped and fermented to make pulque – a rather soupy, slightly skunky relative of tequila and mezcal. I’ve sat down to drink pulque in taverns in México City, and can tell you now it’s an acquired taste – whereas the delicacy of Juliana’s work instantly wins hearts.
At Salmiana, Juliana focuses on two things: pot design and all round garden services. “On one hand, I work in the design and production of pots specially tailored to each client,” she explains. “I say specifically tailored because I like to make each pot very personalized, so my productions are not on a grand scale. I like to think that each pot is special and different, and I hope my customers feel the same way. On the other hand, I offer services like landscaping, terrace gardens, consulting and maintenance of plants.”
In México City most balconies are sprawling jungles of potted plants. Then there’s Chapultepec forest in the middle of the city – twice the size of New York’s Central Park – and more reserved spaces, like Luis Barragán’s backyard. So, despite its mega-population, the city still manages to be a plant-lovers’ paradise, and a place where you can find bucket loads of botanical inspiration. Juliana’s design work takes cues from all of these versions of nature: the private, curated realms, the spontaneous collisions between plants and concrete, and the wilderness.
“I love the gardens of El Pedregal in southern México City,” Juliana says, as a reference point. “The plants there grow on lava fields created by the eruption of the Xitle volcano in 5000 BC. The area is the home to incredible vegetation, and I’m inspired to imitate that rocky and wild beauty in my work.” Another go-to spot is her grandparents’ garden, where she spent time growing up – and which now doubles as her outdoor office. “It is the perfect place for me,” says Juliana. “I’ve been interested in nature since childhood, though unconsciously at first. I loved to climb trees, explore and walk for hours. My grandparents’ garden was always part of my life … and now it’s where I work!”
Most days that involves designing pots (using materials like clay, cement, rocks, metal and wood), sourcing plants and talking with clients. “I’ve designed many pots with my boyfriend, who is an architect and furniture designer – so we make a good team,” muses Juliana. “When I work alone, I like to experiment to see what works visually, but above all my designs focus on the plant. That is, I spend a lot of time first deciding what plant I want to use, to make a pot in which it looks beautiful.”
The conversation that results between pot and plant is a profound one: ferns and orchids spill from aged terracotta globes, and young succulents are made the unwitting captains of wooden vessels, set adrift on México City windowsills like miniature, floating gardens. The creations are intelligent, soft, and give the impression of having been freshly uprooted from the natural world.
Juliana sources her plants from all over México, with this un-done aesthetic in mind. “I buy from different places – even if it means going long distances for them – because every nursery has an individual way of caring for and propagating plants. I search out nurseries where plants grow in a wild way, where the roots burrow into the ground and grow freely, and where each plant twists and turns in search of sunlight. I like to appreciate life through the movement of a plant, and I love finding plants with their own, unique story.”
All photos supplied by Juliana de Lasse/Salmiana