Finding that corner with optimal sunlight, the perfect pot, and the trick for guiding a little sprout to its full, wild potential—is there anything more gratifying than helping a leafy, living thing thrive? In our new Plant Parents series, we spotlight flora lovers who share their tips and tools for raising happy, healthy buds and blooms.
New York City’s Financial District is not known for its green spaces—quite the contrary. The neighborhood is filled with towering, gray skyscrapers, all steel and concrete. But on the 34th floor of one of those buildings sits a small bit of paradise. The tiny speck of green that hovers on the skyline belongs to Domino’s executive creative director, Kate Berry, who transformed her apartment and surrounding terrace into her very own garden in the sky (she even has a hashtag for it).
Inside, you’ll find a flourishing fiddle-leaf fig tree and mind-bogglingly lush begonias. Outside, though the season’s just now winding down, are rows of terracotta pots growing a full-on farmers’ market’ worth of produce: tomatoes and eggplants, green beans and Persian cucumbers, pears and every type of herb. To call it Eden-like, especially in contrast to the surrounding concrete jungle, wouldn’t be an overstatement.
Though she’s a dutiful gardener, Berry gives her real-estate rarity credit for her bounty: She found a spot in the city that practically overflows with natural light. Growing up in California with a family of fellow plant lovers and starting her career as a floral designer gave her a natural green thumb. Here, she invites us over to see exactly how her garden grows—working off instinct and sharing a few keys lessons picked up along the way.
I’ve always been into plants, but I got seriously into my outdoor garden last summer. The year before, there was scaffolding outside so I couldn’t really use our terrace. I’ve had tomato plants since Quinn, my 6-year-old daughter, was a baby—she would always pick them to eat. That’s why I think she’s adventurous with food.
Last summer, my friend Kimberly, who is a landscape designer, said, “I’m going to take you to some nurseries.” We went out and stuffed every frickin’ tree and plant into her SUV. We had branches sticking out of the sunroof, coming out of the back. Her business, Kimberly Von Koontz Landscapes, is based in the Financial District and she stores her soil in her office shower, so my husband, Ian, went in with a big cart and filled it with tons and tons of soil, then brought it back to our apartment.
Plant I’ve Had the Longest
My fiddle-leaf fig tree was the thing that kicked it off. I got it in the flower district and have had it for about three years. For a while, I just had the tree in this one position and it was glorious. But then I noticed that the right side wasn’t getting direct sunlight and the side that was getting full-on sun was taking over. I rearranged my furniture and moved the tree so the right side faced the light. It’s trial and error. This guy could also be like, “Screw you,” and go into shock. So I’m in there every day talking to my tree, asking how it’s doing.
What I Say to My Plants
I don’t know, but I think it does help. I clean the leaves and I say, “Baby, come on.” I pull off the dead parts, like, “I get it, I get it.” I don’t know if it’s just helping me deal.
When I Water
Sometimes I run late for things because I see my plants are droopy and have an actual sad face. They’re as important as the humans in my life. Sometimes I’ll realize Quinn’s going to be late for school, so I’ll have to apologize to her and say, “I’m sorry, this guy is thirsty and is not going to make it till the end of the day.”
Best Plant to Give as a Gift
I started propagating my begonia because my friend Spencer posted an Instagram story and said, “This plant is so cool.” I replied that I had that plant and I’d propagate it for him, because I had some broken pieces. I stuck them in water to see if they would root and they did. Then my friend Adrian said, “Can you give me one of those babies, too?” It’s funny—people really want them. I don’t think there are any hard-and-fast rules, because everyone’s house is different, but begonias really like indirect, bright light and to stay moist. I had some out in the rain, though, and when their leaves get wet they’re not so happy.
Plant I Saved
I had this begonia outside with everything and it was just not doing very well. I brought it in and cut it back (I think pruning is good) and realized it loved being in the living room. Then the other night, I had a dinner party and I moved it by the window and forgot it there. I came home and saw that the leaves were burnt, because the sun was shining directly on it all day. So I cut those leaves off and brought it back. Now we both know where it’s happy.
Usually, for Memorial Day, I go up to Maine with Martha Stewart. That’s when she kicks off the summer and plants her terrace. She has her gardener drive up a big trailer truck for her greenhouse plants. We go to all the nurseries—I love them, because in Manhattan, a small (4- to 6-inch pot) begonia is $75, and there, a massive (8- to 10-inch) one is $49. There’s this place called Surry Gardens that has every type of beautiful tree, rare things, all the vegetables, all the berries.
My Tool Kit
I have a spray bottle that is so satisfying. It’s a hairstylist’s spray bottle—when you squeeze it, you’re like, “Oh, I want to keep squeezing this thing.” I also think plant food is really, really good; I have different plant food for outdoors and indoors. I add it every month or so, and that’s how the plants get to be really Little Shop of Horrors level—especially the begonias. For my outdoor plants, I give them—especially the tomatoes—a mix of fertilizer. I usually don’t like wearing gloves because they are often a bulky layer and I want to feel what I’m working with. But Martha gave me this pair that I like—when you don’t want black soil underneath your nails, they’re snug and really protect your hands. I use them all the time.
Most Chill Plant
The aloe vera that’s in my daughter’s room—I haven’t watered it in a month and it seems to love it.
Best Plant Art
All the art we put on the walls is plant inspired. Our photographer friend Jason Frank Rothenberg made us this giant print of a greenhouse in Maui with all these bromeliads that sits above our piano and makes the apartment feel like an actual greenhouse. Another photographer friend, Chris Baker, made a beautiful gelatin print of a fern. I also have these antique prints that were art samples made into textiles and patterns from some garment factories. And then we have a Marc Chagall pastel drawing of a flowerpot on a tablecloth that’s from Ian’s grandmother. So it’s a real mix of old and new.
Why I Love Plants
It’s just good vibes, you know? My home is very eclectic—I have a lot of hand-me-down furniture and a bunch of textiles, but these plants are actually a good design medium because they bring things together. The greenery adds an extra layer that’s so nice. When you sit on the sofa and a plant canopies above your head, it’s like being completely immersed in a painting. It’s kind of awesome.
Berry’s plant kit: