A Conversation with Plant Guide, Jacque Kirila
It’s spring! Time to celebrate the flowering of life as winter thaws, latent seedlings awaken, and new buds sprout. In previous articles, we have explored the science of biophilia, or our innate attraction to natural elements. Biophilia inspires tranquility, focus, positivity and joyfulness. At Delos, we harness the benefits of biophilia by integrating Naava Green Walls into many of our indoor wellness ecosystems. Not only do these ‘life stations’ bring in beauty and promote well-being, they also provide the health benefit of natural air purification, cleansing the air we breathe day in and day out.
Today we’ll speak with Jacque Kirila, our in-house plant guide and hydroponics expert who facilitates Naava Green Wall installation and management trainings for Stay Well Meetings™, hotel spaces, offices, and homes across the United States.
Talk to us about plant care and spring planting rituals.
JK: Plants create this beautiful verdancy in any space. I have over 20 plants at home and love seeing what they’re doing all the time. If you’re interested in house plants, spring is a great time to either buy new ones or repot the ones you have, as needed. The weather is usually moody so it’s a nice time to brighten up your home and prepare for the summer. The fall can also be a good time for planting, before hibernation sets in, but you’ll see the most growth in the spring. Herbs are very easy to grow at home if you have a windowsill and some sunlight. You can buy basil or mint seedlings in a pot and just let them do their thing.
In terms of plant care, make sure your pots have enough drainage so that the soil can dry out properly and the roots won’t drown. Drooping leaves probably means your plant needs water, and you’ll see a difference within 24 hours. It’s normal for a couple of leaves to be yellowing – ideally you should wait for the leaf to fall off on its own or dry up enough that you can easily remove it. In terms of repotting, check the edges of the pot near where the roots are. If the roots are all bound up, that’s how you know it’s time to move the plant to a bigger pot. Generally, the more interactive you are with your plants, the better they will do.
When I’m out in the field installing Naava walls, hotel guests always stop to ask if the plants are fake or real. They want to know more about the system and why it’s there, and they ask if it can be set up in homes. Our objective is to show people that we can create a biophilic environment anywhere, both to enhance green space and to promote air quality.
Would you recommend the Naava plants for regular home use?
JK: Absolutely. Naava works with 8 varieties of plants that do well in hydroponic systems. All of them are great options for house plants.
The easiest and most common plant is the Philodendron. They come in a couple of varieties. The Brazil Stripe is easy to take care of, it’s beautiful to look at and it’s fine with lower light so you can keep it in any house or apartment environment.
The Schefflera, or Umbrella Plant, is also fairly easy to take care of – you just have to make sure you have the right light. When it goes into the Naava wall it’s really small, but as a houseplant it’ll turn into a little tree, which is pretty fun.
The Dracaena, or Dragon Tree, loves a tropical environment and does well in some apartments or houses. It starts off as a bush plant, and then becomes tree-like when it’s older.
The Anthurium, or Flamingo Flower, is a common house plant in the Peace Lily family. It grows quickly and fairly large with beautiful pink or white flowers. We usually place it at the top of the Naava unit for maximum light to ensure that it keeps its flower, but as a house plant it’ll do fine in medium light and should still flower in the spring. It doesn’t like to be moved around and can get upset when repotted. It might look like it’s dying but it typically comes back and thrives, you just have to be patient.
Tell us about your work installing Naava walls.
JK: This past year the Stay Well team and I have set up over 35 walls – many of them in Las Vegas at the MGM Stay Well Premier properties and Stay Well Meetings spaces. Post-installation, I’ve worked in 9 different locations to train facilities managers and in-house horticulture teams on how to care for the walls. I stay closely in touch with the teams to make sure the walls are being maintained properly and troubleshoot issues that might come up. It’s a pretty intensive process overall.
Working with the in-house horticulture teams is a lot of fun because everyone is really experienced in the field. Many people have been on the MGM team for over 20 years, some since the property was built. It is very cool to work with people who really know the industry and know the plants and have seen it all. One of my favorite projects was with the horticulture team at Turtle Bay in Hawaii, setting up a Naava wall with plants all locally sourced from Hawaii.
A lot of horticulture teams are also excited to learn the Naava system because hydroponics is up and coming in the industry. Most are accustomed to growing in soil, and hydroponic systems are totally different. The Naava system is unique because it’s a fully self-contained environment. The water is already in the tank and circulates through on its own, so you don’t have to figure out a source or do much else. The growing medium is a porous mixed rock instead of soil, which helps activate the microbes of the root system. Calcium tends to build up at the roots after the plant takes its nutrients from the water, so we place a special lava rock in front of the pod to prevent buildup. So it’s a one-unit system that gives us complete control of the plants in that environment rather than having to rely on potentially temperamental elements like sunlight.
How did you get into plant-work, and hydroponics?
JK: I’m always excited to be doing anything with plants, even just changing out the soil or water. But for me it started with food and paying attention to what I ate – I wanted to eat seasonally and locally. This helps support farmers during growing periods because they operate on a seasonal schedule, and it also supports growth for the local community. So I started working with restaurants and a small grocery store, sourcing directly from local farmers. That got me interested in farming work, specifically urban farming because I wanted to be in a city.
I found a Farmer Training program through Square Roots in Brooklyn and learned how to grow culinary herbs in a system of hydroponic towers built into the walls of shipping containers. Naava’s wall system works similarly, with one tank of water flowing through the hydroponic drip system and some cleaning and maintenance involved. There are now a lot of hydroponic systems available on the market where you can grow herbs under a little light on a kitchen counter.
Delos was ahead of the curve when we started working with Naava. These days, plant walls are everywhere. People are always sending me photos of them in restaurants or other public spaces. They look beautiful, and they’re also actively purifying the air. Naava’s growth medium actually allows for the roots to purify the air more than a plant in soil is able to, with fans inside the walls pushing the air flow down to the roots to produce purified air in any environment.
Thank you for speaking with us!
Well, this conversation has definitely planted some new ideas for how to celebrate the season. Between the little pots of herbs displayed in local shops and favorite summer foods that can easily be seeded, we’re excited to get started on tending some home gardens!
Next up in our Biophilia series, we’ll speak to how our relationship with Naava came to life. Stay tuned!