To most people, cacti and succulents may be nothing more than a prickly delight for the windowsill. But for Gynelle Leon, owner of London’s first cactus boutique, they are a work of art. And Leon is on a mission to spread her love and knowledge of these plants across the nation.
Leon, 30, has a career background just as unique as her business idea. A former fraud analyst and award-winning photographer with a Master’s in forensic science, she packed in her full-time job two years ago and took up a year-long internship at a florist in Bethnal Green.
She even sold her home as she embarked on the cactus journey across the world that brought her to the opening of Prick on Kingsland Road, Dalston, last month. With more than 150 types of cacti, and a range of accompanying ceramics available from her own terracotta ‘Prick Pots’ to pieces crafted by local artists, prices range from £3.75 to £475.
“I find that there are things in life you just end up being really attracted to,” she explains. “I think it’s just the wonder of them. To me they look like art. They’re sustainable, low maintenance, and really suitable for city living. You can leave them while you’re travelling without worrying about them, they can last for years, they’re so hardy and just all-round amazing plants.”
Leon’s love for cacti and succulents began to grow after her first visit to the Chelsea Flower Show four years ago. When she realised there seemed to be nowhere else to buy such a diverse range of rare and exotic plants, a Prick-shaped gap in the market was staring her in the face.
“I just put everything into getting this place open. I wanted to learn so much more, so I joined the British Cactus and Succulent Society,” she says. “I went on businesses courses and I travelled all over the world, like the deserts in America. It was just so beautiful seeing these plants in their natural habitat.”
So what makes Prick different from other garden shops and florists?
Leon puts it down to the boutique’s fundamental focus on art and design. Though only a tiny little room, it is clear to both the regular customer and the experienced interior designer just how much effort has gone into the design and layout of the store.
Leon explains: “I wanted something clean and clear where you can focus on the form of the plants, not too much overhanging or too much choice, but a good variety of stock. I wanted each individual plant and its form really showcased. I wanted it to look more like someone’s home than a shop, with a modern interior, so you could see how it would look in your home. The shelves were even purposely made for different sizes of plants.”
And Leon wants to spread her passion to her customers. “A strong part of the shop for me is teaching people about what they’re buying – how to keep them alive, the names of them and where they actually come from. I don’t see it as just stock to sell,” she says.
“That feeling I got all those years ago at Chelsea Flower Show when I was amazed because I had never seen anything like it before – that’s how I want people to feel. I want people to know these things exist. It’s nice that I’m able to bring this range to the mainstream so that it’s not just something for specialists anymore.”
As Leon chats to customers wandering in and out of the store as if they are her friends, the personal and genuine nature of her customer service is clear. “I think it makes a difference if you’re able to go into a shop and actually talk about what you’re buying. I read a lot and talk to people with more info than me so I can constantly learn and keep up to date.”
So what’s next for this little store?
“I’m going to start selling plant-related books and journals, things like that. I would love to hold different events and talks on plant culture, symbolism and art, and very much be big on the education side of things. From speaking to my customers I’ve realised I’ve united a lot of plant lovers,” she says. She wants Prick to be the go-to place for all things cacti. “I’ve always said I wanted Prick to be a brand, a creative space that can be a part of people’s lives, something they can learn from and engage with, not just a shop.”
You can find Prick at 492 Kingsland Road, Dalston, E8 4AE, open 6 days a week from Tuesday to Sunday.