A Plant Business Grows in Bushwick: Meet Tula

Photos by Bridget Kenny for Bushwick Daily

Christan Summers’ favorite plant du jour is the Myrtillocactus geometrizans, also known as Blue Candle cactus.

“I think it’s my favorite because I love saying the name,” says Christan, one half of the Bushwick-based plant and design house, Tula.

In a sun-dappled, whitewashed showroom on Bogart Street, you will find the aforementioned blue candle cactus, along with other weird and wonderful species of cacti, succulents, euphorbia, palms and ferns.

Launched earlier this year, Tula – the name comes from the Buena Vista Social Club song “El Cuarto De Tula”- is the lovechild of Christan and Ivan Martinez, former marketing and advertising execs who found their true calling cultivating hard-to-find plant species. As a child, Christan sold flowers at a farmer’s market on Martha’s Vineyard and always felt a deep connection to the outdoors.

Taking into account the often-sad life of houseplants, Tula’s mission is to educate people on how to buy and care for plants.

Ivan Martinez and Christan Summers

“The first thing we ask people when they come in is, ‘does your apartment face north, south, east or west?’ ” says Christan, Tula’s resident plant doctor.

Determining what kind of light plants will receive in their new homes is an essential step in developing Tula’s signature customized care instructions, which the team provides for each of their customers. Their golden rule of plant care is to know the soil – they even came up with the witty tagline “finger your plants” to encourage plant owners to stick their fingers in a plant’s soil to tell if it’s wet or dry. (Another tip: don’t overwater!)

Tula’s Bogart Street showroom teems with rare finds from greenhouses in Long Island, California and Philadelphia. A voluminous Bird of Paradise takes center stage, while a small workstation serves as necessary potting prep.

Rather than going the traditional storefront route, Christan and Ivan opted for a showroom where they could feature their plants without working the traditional 9-5. Showroom hours are updated daily on their website, and anyone is welcome to come browse and purchase. They explain that another huge factor in having a showroom was the exorbitant cost of operating a store in Brooklyn.

“We looked at storefronts that were $12,000 a month,” remarks Christan. “[With Tula], we wanted to look at retail differently.”

As an accompaniment to the showroom, the duo has introduced a radical new way of presenting Tula to the public: a plant truck. Dark green with “Grow Wild” splayed on the back, at first glance the truck looks like another cool food truck, but instead of hawking tacos, they’re selling baby cacti.

Tulita (photo by Briana Seftel)

Christan spotted an ’87 Chevy diesel truck while out for a walk near her East Williamsburg apartment: despite its dilapidated state, an idea clicked and the plant truck was born. After extensive renovation (including removing the roof to create a sun roof, which makes the truck into a roving greenhouse), the first plant truck was ready to hit the streets of New York City.

The weekend-only truck – named Tulita – will be at the Brooklyn Flea at Grand Army Plaza on Sundays, while Saturdays will have them at The Lot Radio in May and the Renegade Craft Fair in June. So far, the reception has been great.

“People are definitely caught off guard when they see the truck. They come over asking what we’re up to and how it works,” Ivan tells me. “It’s interesting to see people who weren’t in the mindset to buy a plant stop and think, ‘oh yeah I did want a plant for my home.’ That’s the biggest difference between the truck and showroom. With the showroom we get people who’ve planned on coming over to see the collection, and on the truck we’re surprising passersby and getting them to think about getting a plant.”

Rather than just look at the business as strictly plants, Christan and Ivan want to make Tula into a lifestyle brand. Ivan has partnered with local Bushwick manufacturer Total Metal Resource to design and manufacture their own plant stands. They also plan to introduce more furniture and accessories in the coming months.

Their eye for detail is evident in everything from their clever web design to the beautiful terracotta planters they have for sale, which are made by local ceramist Jordan Colón. Each pot is unique in shape and size and each season will bring a new pottery collection and theme – this month, the concept is ‘Naked’. A recent collaboration with Barney’s and a feature in Design Sponge has cemented their chic status.

Yet what is immediately evident when you walk into Tula for the first time are the plants themselves, each one presented like a jewel.

“With Tula, we want to pay homage to the history of horticulture as much as we can by using botanical names and teaching people about their plants’ native environments,” says Christan.” When you understand where a plant comes from, then you understand better how to care for them at home.”

For any reluctant plant owner, Tula’s got your back. (Just don’t ask them for flowers).

Tula’s showroom is located at 174 Bogart St. Suite #304. Check website for hours. Tulita the plant truck will be at Lot Radio on Saturdays through May and Renegade Craft Fair in June. They’ll be at Grand Army Plaza on Sundays. On Memorial Day, see them at the all-vegan Haymaker’s Market in Williamsburg. (Check their Twitter and Instagram for updates).

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