Green Initiative

P lants fill the living room, the dining room, the kitchen. This is Bark & Vine, a new indoor plant shop at the corner of Orange and Crown Streets, but you might think at first you’ve stepped into the home of owners Ralph Saldi and Luis Galindo. There’s a kitchen sink for watering and a countertop for potting. There’s a dining room table and chairs for future classes in plant care, repotting, propagation and Latin taxonomy. For good measure, there’s even a living room with a fireplace, a sofa, a coffee table and an armchair. The work of local artists covers the walls and shelves. And there are plants: for beginners and collectors, living spaces and home offices, lots of sunlight and very little. There’s even a wall of pet-safe options.

As nearly anyone who’s tried to grow houseplants knows, they can be finicky creatures. A quotation on the Bark & Vine website—“I can’t keep anything alive!”—is attributed to “Everyone.” But sometimes you come across a plant that nearly grows itself. That was the case with an innocent gift—an aloe vera plant that Saldi and Galindo were given by a friend. Saldi put it on their dining room table and watered it when he thought to, which wasn’t often. “I didn’t realize how fast it was growing until we moved two years later, and I happened to see a picture of when I [got] it as a gift,” he says. “I didn’t even care for it,” but then he wondered: what if he had?

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That aloe vera was the “gateway” into a self-education on all kinds of plants. Saldi opened an Instagram account to document his journey and collected a small but dedicated group of followers. When he and Galindo bought a home in Bridgeport, they dug a garden in their new backyard, and Saldi marveled at the evolution of small tomato seedlings into thriving plants bearing produce they could eat. “It’s such a mundane thing to think about, right?” he says. “But when you’re actually experiencing something that you’ve cared for and now you’re getting to harvest the fruits of your labor, it’s a lot more satisfying.” When winter came and their first gardening season ended, the logical progression was to bring the hobby indoors. “Anyone can collect anything,” Saldi says. “We just happen to be collecting plants.”

That might have been as far as things went. Then came COVID. A visual merchandiser by trade, Saldi figured as soon as people started losing their jobs that he would be one of them. He was right. Still, when Galindo suggested one evening that they open a plant business, he laughed it off. The next day, he asked whether his spouse was serious. “He goes, ‘Yeah, look at our house. We have so many plants.’” Even if they just clipped each one and propagated it, Galindo suggested, they’d have enough to start a business. Saldi’s best friend, Raquel Cude, agreed. “You have the knowledge to do it,” she told him. It turned out that Galindo, a construction manager in New York City, had already researched the paperwork required to open a business.

The couple, with Cude’s help, started looking for wholesalers and propagating their own collection. Plants crowded them out of their Bridgeport dining room, so they built a greenhouse in the backyard. They launched Bark & Vine online, shipping throughout the continental US, and ran a popup shop at home. The business took off, leading to the new store, which had its soft opening last weekend and has a grand opening coming on February 13.

“Plants give you something that you don’t realize you need,” Saldi says. COVID quarantines have further underscored the point. “Now we’re actually spending time at home and want to look at pretty things, and so houseplants became that missing piece that people wanted in their home.”

But Bark & Vine (the “bark” is, in part, an homage to Saldi and Galindo’s little Shih Tzu/King Charles Spaniel, Coco), is more than a COVID business. “It had to always be bigger than the current situation,” Saldi says. The shop—formerly home to Fresh Yoga—enjoys essential southern exposure through a wall of windows on Crown Street that look down Orange toward the Connector. Sunlight crosses homey throw rugs and illuminates a long work bench tiered with sun-loving plants. Here, you can pick up popular houseplants like Hoya carnosa “Chelsea,” otherwise known as “porcelain flower” ($21)—a tropical climber that will eventually bloom with clusters of delicate flowers. They’re Saldi’s favorites, featured on Bark & Vine’s T-shirts. Or maybe it’s the season for Hoya kerrii variegata “Heart” ($13), a cute little heart-shaped plant that resembles a cactus for your valentine. Shelves hold pothos and peperomia, scindapsus and sanseveria. Plants with a trailing habit hang from chains above, including an intriguing Monstera adonsonii “Wide Form” ($40), whose leaves bear a cut-out motif, as if someone has taken a pair of scissors to them.

Separated by a wall, the “apartment” side of the shop is more evenly lit through its Orange Street windows, whose deep ledge and surrounding area display plants that prefer medium to low light: “prayer plants” ($15) whose colorful leaves furl up at night, Alocasia reginula “Black Velvet” ($22) with soft, fuzzy leaves that earn the name. Bark & Vine also sells necessities like potting mix, fertilizer, fungicide and small tools. You’ll find plenty of plant-adjacent gifts as well, many the creation of local artists: note cards, soap, burlap plant pots, candles, tea towels, jewelry, cutting boards and more. During the outdoor growing season, the shop will carry herbs and vegetable plants.

Would-be “plant parents” nervous about caring for a living thing can get advice from Bark & Vine so they bring home the right plant for them. The biggest mistake people make, Saldi says, is overwatering. He’s done it himself. “Water is the most accessible thing that we have,” he says, so it’s a knee-jerk solution, even for a plant that’s drowning.

Those who already know their plants may recognize a few treasures at Bark & Vine. Some rare varieties are in high demand, and collectors will pay hundreds of dollars for them. Saldi tells the story of one woman who wandered into a greenhouse popup sale and immediately spotted a specimen Saldi had been skeptical would sell. She hurried home with it before anyone else could find it, then returned to do the rest of her shopping.

You probably won’t find a visit to Bark & Vine quite so competitive, but you definitely will find yourself crowded by plants. For Saldi and Galindo, at least, that makes it feel like home.

Bark & Vine
49 Orange St, New Haven (map)
Tues-Sat 11am-7pm, Sun noon-6pm
Grand opening with sales, giveaways and raffles on Feb 13
(203) 836-0962
Website | Instagram

Written and photographed by Kathy Leonard Czepiel.

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About Kathy Leonard Czepiel

View all posts by Kathy Leonard Czepiel
Kathy Leonard Czepiel is Daily Nutmeg's associate editor. She's also a fiction writer, writing teacher and book club troubleshooter. Her perfect New Haven day would involve lots of sunshine, a West Rock hike, a concert on the green and a coffee milkshake.

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