ABOVE In the early days of the pandemic, Amalia Bussard began growing thousands of plants in her Portland apartment. Now she also revives clients’ plants there, and holds workshops on topics such as repotting and caring for specific species at pop-ups in the city.
TEXT BY MICHAELA CAVALLARO
PHOTOGRAPHED BY MAT TROGNER
Amalia Bussard didn’t set out to be a plant healer. But today, two of the bedrooms in her airy second-floor apartment on Portland’s Munjoy Hill are filled with ailing aroids, ferns, indoor trees, and succulents whose owners brought them here to be revived. Browning tips, wilted leaves, pest infestations — name a houseplant problem and Bussard knows how to handle it. Over a period of two weeks to two months, the 29-year-old Baltimore native will replace a plant’s soil, detangle and prune its roots, trim dead leaves, clean and shape the remaining foliage — and return it ready to flourish.
Three years ago, the art-school grad and self-taught plant whisperer and her then-partner planned to move to Maine, find a commercial space, and open a plant shop. (Bussard spent childhood summers on Peaks Island, where her family has had a place for generations.) When the pandemic upended the store idea, she hunkered down in her new home and got to work. “I just started growing plants in my apartment — thousands and thousands of plants under grow lights,” she remembers.
In August 2020, Bussard held East Pine Plant Shop’s first retail event, a pop-up at Austin Street Brewery’s East Bayside location in Portland. Between the customers she gained that day and careful attention to her Instagram presence, East Pine was off and running. As the lockdowns wore on and new plant buyers across the country found themselves struggling to sustain their leafy friends, Bussard provided guidance over Zoom. When the world opened up, she offered plant-care workshops and began nurturing greenery at local spots, including the Boston ferns, Philodendron Hopes, and Monstera deliciosas at Austin Street.
Over time, Bussard recognized that plant healing, rather than retail, was her true passion, in part because of how it helped her deal with a breakup with her former partner. “I started realizing that in my healing journey, I was also healing myself,” she says. “Plants are mirrors for life. So often we don’t give them what they need, because we want to put them somewhere they don’t belong. Growth takes time and patience, and that’s ok.”
Visit eastpineplantshop.com to learn about upcoming events.
Amalia Bussard offers prescriptions for tricky spots.
Rooms with Woodstoves
“ZZ plants can tolerate drier air. Give them as much light as you can. Wait for the top two or three inches of soil to dry out — probably every five to seven days in fall and winter — and water thoroughly to keep their root systems from going dormant.”
“Burgundy rubber trees are a beautiful, classy-looking tropical plant. If they’re getting enough light, you won’t really run into brown tips. And drafts aren’t a big deal unless it drops below about 40 degrees. If that’s the case, move them back at least a foot from the drafts.”
“Snake plants are very tolerant of low light, which is funny because they come from western Africa. The less light they get, the less frequently you’ll need to water them. If the soil is moist at all, hold off on watering until it’s dry. Otherwise, you run the risk of root rot.”
“I love small succulents. They need bright light, and they’re fun to look at. You can also do water propagation here — take a cutting from an existing plant and place it in water, where it will grow roots. It reminds you that there’s more life going on than we can normally see.”