By Molly Weybright
Shades of green — a gradient so expansive that you didn’t know so many variants of the color existed. Colors that look like the way a granny smith apple tastes, like the feeling of damp grass between your toes, like petrichor — the earthy smell after heavy rain. Over 100 different species of plants hang from the ceiling, rest on shelves against the walls and nestle into nooks around the floor. Succulents and ferns surround you in the 400 square foot space that holds almost 700 plants. They’re impossible to avoid.
Not that you would want to.
Stepping into The ZEN Succulent, a small store in Durham, N.C., is like entering another world. It feels like Neverland — wild and untamed but also carefully crafted — every plant has a place where it belongs. It is the type of place Peter Pan would long to call home. The greens and browns and organized chaos exude wanderlust and magic; any minute a fairy might flit out from behind the large leaf of a philodendron. If Tinker Bell were to ever find herself in Durham, this is undoubtedly where she would end up.
Megan George has crafted her small store to be more than just a plant shop. She has created, as if by magic, an atmosphere of natural, easygoing relaxation that is impossibly inviting. She wants to create a community of trust and creativity and believes that The ZEN Succulent and her plants are the best way to do it.
“Plants bring me joy, inspiration and happiness,” she said, and through The ZEN Succulent, she is able to share that with the community.
A roundabout past
Megan George grew up in Raleigh surrounded by plants. Both of her parents were ardent plant-lovers and they often took her to greenhouses and nurseries. Her love of plants is founded in the deep history that she has with learning about plants and how to care for them.
“The seeds that were planted way back when,” she said, “how I’m able to use them now, it’s crazy.”
She moved back to Raleigh in 2011 after graduating from business school at UNC-Greensboro. Yearning for small-business jobs, she realized quickly that there were very few available. She found herself working for the North Carolina Education Lottery.
She did not enjoy the job — her creativity was being stifled. So, in an effort to combat her frustration, she started an Etsy page selling succulents and terrariums.
“Through my frustration in not being able to implement all of the things I learned at school,” she said, “that’s how [The ZEN Succulent] came about.”
And she never looked back.
Megan’s passion continued to grow as she developed ways to increase people’s knowledge about houseplants, succulents and terrariums. She has since worked with HGTV, published a book titled “Modern Terrarium Studio” and opened The ZEN Succulent.
When Bakara Wintner, the owner of Everyday Magic, which now adjoins The ZEN Succulent, offered her the 400-square-foot space, Megan said she felt like it was fate rather than chance.
“At that point, I’d never said the words ‘I want to have a shop’ out loud,” she said. “Even though I really wanted it, I’d just never had the opportunity. But [Bakara] gave me that opportunity and I thought, why not?”
As soon as she knew she had a space to expand her passion, she jumped headfirst into building the business she always dreamed of having.
“In 20 years I can say ‘I did it,’” Megan said, “instead of saying ‘I wish I had done it.’”
Sarah Riazati, who works at Everyday Magic, was there when Megan signed the lease. In less than a month, she said, Megan transformed the small, box-filled space into a “luscious, green, amazing-smelling little store.” Sarah said she couldn’t believe how fast Megan created the green wonderland.
“That was really when I saw her design sense coming out,” she said. “There are so many pieces that go into it. It showed she had a really strong vision.”
Megan’s design sense and her business intuition work perfectly together to create a cohesive and thriving store where customers feel at home upon their first visit.
Megan said she wants shopping at The ZEN Succulent to be a very personal experience where customers get one-on-one attention to help their plant journey be as successful as possible.
“People can go anywhere to get plants,” Megan said, “so why do they come to me?”
One reason is the holistic approach she takes when dealing with the store. She believes that if she has all of the things people need to create their terrariums or potted plants, then they will be more successful. So, if a customer buys a plant and a pot from The ZEN Succulent, Megan will put them together for free.
Megan’s sole employee, Julie Ragsdale, described her as knowledgeable and business-savvy as well as hilarious, kind and generous.
“I couldn’t imagine finding a more enjoyable person to work with,” Julie said.
When it comes down to it, those qualities are what make Megan and The ZEN Succulent so successful. She is more than just a business owner or a plant lover — she is a people lover who wants to impart happiness and serenity upon everyone she meets.
Thriving in the present
Since opening the store Megan hasn’t stopped trying to involve members of the community with her business. Her newest idea is to hold workshops at The ZEN Succulent.
She has collaborated with local artists to host watercolor painting, spoon carving, floral arranging and calligraphy workshops. Megan herself hosts succulent terrarium building workshops where up to 10 people can make their own terrariums, each unique to the individual creating it.
“At all of the workshops everybody leaves with their own creation and something extra to recreate the exercise again,” she said. “They are leaving with something to continue their journey.”
From her terrarium workshops participants will leave with their newly made succulents as well as instructions on how to recreate the experience in their own homes.
Her first workshop, hosted on Tuesday, April 18, sold out in five days with little promotion. Megan said that she was thrilled at how quickly the workshop sold out — she wants to help people discover the joy of owning and crafting indoor plants.
“We’re not just putting plants in glassware,” she said, “we’re making a landscape.”
As the 10 participants began to arrive on April 18, Megan put the finishing touches on the workshop spaces. Each person would have a glass bowl; soil, sand and rocks; six succulents; and the tools necessary to put it all together.
She began the workshop by talking about how the succulents are low maintenance plants, which is what makes them ideal for small spaces with little natural light.
“I went into a low-maintenance business for a reason,” she joked.
But, unbeknownst to the 10 women participating, Megan had just spent the previous three hours getting ready and setting up for the workshop — on her day off. The ZEN Succulent is closed on Mondays and Tuesdays, but that doesn’t stop her from tending to the behind-the-scenes work that makes the store so magical.
For almost three hours she flitted around the store preparing the setups for the participants, vacuuming and running out to a nearby shop to purchase complimentary wine for the women.
But Megan doesn’t mind. In fact, she loves it.
“When you enjoy what you’re doing you really want to excel,” she said.
Many of the participants were first-time plant owners looking to find some low maintenance yet beautiful plants to liven up their living and work spaces.
Diane Ditzel from Durham lives in a small apartment and wants to garden but has no land. She heard about Megan’s workshop and felt like it was the perfect solution to her lack of space. As the workshop progressed Diane realized that creating the terrarium was almost its own form of gardening. She was taking living things and putting them together to create her own miniature garden.
“It’s like art,” she said.
Other participants felt that the idea of creating a succulent terrarium from scratch was daunting, but they found that once they got started under Megan’s instructions, everything fell into place.
Kim O’Brien, a participant from Wake Forest, prefaced the workshop by admitting that she had no idea what she was doing, but by the end felt that the experience was incredibly therapeutic.
“She’s good,” Kim said of Megan’s ease with plants and people and putting the two together.
And she is.
Megan said she purposefully doesn’t make a terrarium during the workshop so that the participants can make the terrariums in their own way.
There is no wrong way to create these landscapes, she said, and the freer people are to work on their own, the more they will appreciate the creativity and uniqueness of the results.
She also lets the participants pick six out of the hundreds of succulents she has available so they can pick the plants that they are most drawn to. Megan emphasizes that plants are not just decorations, but are living things that individuals can connect with. She said the terrarium building process is a “very organic experience.”
Many of the participants were thrilled and astounded by the wide variety of plants they could choose from, including Cassidy Johnson from Chapel Hill.
“I’ve never seen some of these before,” she said. “It looks like something out of Dr. Seuss.”
Some of the plants are fuzzy and some are smooth. Some are long, skinny and loping while others are squat and round. There are pink plants and teal plants and red plants and blue plants. Looking at the succulents side by side does seem like a small world out of the mind of Seuss himself.
Cassidy first noticed The ZEN Succulent as she was walking around downtown Durham, and when one of her coworkers at the Carolina Women’s Center heard about Megan’s workshop, they decided to check it out.
She said that she was thrilled about how relaxing the workshop was and how much she got out of it.
“We all have pretty serious jobs,” Cassidy said, “so it felt pretty nice to come do something like this.”
That’s exactly what Megan strives for — people discovering the serenity of working with plants and taking that discovery with them when they leave.
A wide-open future
When it comes to running a small business, Megan said she feels that passion is one of the most important aspects to finding success. Her love of plants and her business skills create a perfect niche where she finds joy and success. She described owning and running The ZEN Succulent as an “honor, privilege and responsibility.”
Her biggest piece of advice?
“Do something that you love and be authentic when you do it.”
Striving for that authenticity is something that she says she does every day. She knows that she needs that authenticity as she continues to build and expand upon her ideas.
“I’m very aware of the mortality of my business,” she said, “because this is something that I need to take to another level, otherwise it’s going to be very static.”
While she is always looking forward to see what she can do to expand, she can’t help but reflect back on how far she has come.
As the anniversary of opening the shop approaches in May, Megan said that it’s hard to believe how much has come out of her passion for plants and her knack for business.
“It could have happened to anyone,” she said, “but I’m glad that it happened to me.”
She is not sure what her next step is, but as far as she can see into the future, Megan sees herself with The ZEN Succulent.
“I enjoy what I’m doing,” she said. “This could be a forever thing.”
Edited by Bridget Dye.