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Start-up Spotlight: Jora Dahl

The series »Start-up Spotlight« by sisterMAG features interesting start-ups and their ideas. This one is dedicated to Jora Dahl and her design studio for garden and product design. Read the feature to find out more about the brand and the person Jora Dahl and her philosophy.

Start-up Spotlight: Jora Dahl – Gardens and Plantations

  • Industry: Garden products, garden design
  • Location: Berlin
  • Founders: Jora Dahl, Carsten Becker

Who are you and what do you do?

My name is Jora, I live with my husband and two children in Potsdam, and founded a studio for garden and product design last autumn. We develop special plant collections and modular planting plans that are sold via our online shop. We also advise garden owners on how to transform their gardens into flowering oases without extra costs or hassle.

How did you get the idea to start a business? What is your motivation behind Jora Dahl? What do you think makes gardening difficult for some people?

Until ten years ago, I didn’t know anything about gardening and was a certified city person. Then I moved to Potsdam and for the first time, I had my own garden in front of my door. It was unkempt and featured a lot of concrete, but I quickly started digging and planting every free minute. Over the next three years, I would visit the garden centre, spend a lot of money on kitschy plants, plant them in the wrong places, and basically start from the beginning again the next year. Although I read a lot about the topic, it took years until my first perennial bed looked really good. It’s not easy to start from scratch. The selection of plants is huge, but only a few are really beautiful, robust, and easy to maintain. The same goes for gardening books: Very few provide useful tips with the aesthetic to match.

What do you think is missing in the flower seed market? What products do you have that you can’t find anywhere else?

I first discovered how wonderful and important annual flowers are for one’s garden through the “Slowflower Movement”. In the United States, England, and, most recently, in Germany, cut flowers are grown regionally and organically to counter florists’ flowers from overseas, which are full of pesticides and grown in poor conditions. The varieties used are bombastic: subtle vintage colours, beautiful pastel tones – the exact opposite of the abrasive colours found at the garden centre. Until now, it was complicated to order these varieties online from abroad. I wanted to change that!

How many people are on your team?

I am in charge of creating the products and garden consultation. But there are things I can’t really do. My husband who owns his own company takes care of the numbers. And when it comes to garden redesign, I’m happy to have Christiana Helth in my team. She is an experienced landscape architect who shares my love for flowering gardens. The most important thing in recent months, however, has been working together with the graphic designer and illustrator Marion Rekersdrees. Her beautiful floral drawings and design style are a main characteristic of the Jora Dahl brand. Even in stressful times she has always been my sparring partner; her creativity and easygoing approach really enrich our company.

How did you get to your current job? What did you study/learn? 

I don’t have a background in gardening. This is often an advantage because I can put myself in the shoes of my customers. After studying philosophy and completing an internship as a journalist, I spent years as a creative director designing interactive exhibits. I designed multimedia spaces and communicated complicated content and brand messages in an accessible way. That sounds unrelated, but it’s not. Basically, I’m doing the same thing now – only with plants instead of media. And that feels much better!

This evolution arose out of a crisis situation. After the birth of our first child, it became clear to me that I cannot simply return to my old job if I want to be a part of my child’s life. Working hours in the creative industry are brutal. I knew I had to knit my own job to meet all my needs. Now, five years later, I’m totally grateful and can’t imagine a better job.

What are modular perennial planting plans? Why do you need them? 

To lay perennial beds is really a high art, although perennials are usually very easy to maintain. There is, however, an incredible number of them, all different in height, flowering time, demands, colour, shape, etc. They flower over many years, are much easier to maintain than lawns, and create an incredible atmosphere for your garden. Our planting plans allow you to save long book studies and initial failures, as well as expensive garden architects. They are scalable to almost any size and show exactly where which plant is positioned in the bed. The combinations are extremely robust and aesthetically pleasing. We have been working on them for more than two years together with a botanist and perennial expert and are proud to have created something new and unique. You can be incredibly creative with it. My hope is that we make it easier for garden owners to access these incredible plants!

Where do your seeds come from? Are you also involved in the development of the seeds?  

We buy special seed varieties exclusively from traditional Dutch or British companies. So far, we have had everything made in Germany. The seeds are filled in bags here and distributed to workshops. Since automated filling always requires large quantities of one variety and I would like to experiment with unusual varieties in smaller quantities, we are looking for a way to efficiently fill the seeds by hand. It’s not that easy. Antique seed measuring spoons, which are no longer produced and must be sourced at the market, are suitable for this. In principle, we would like to be more independent and flexible in our production and in this sense see ourselves more as a manufacturer.

What does a working day look like for you? Do you spend a lot of time outside or do you have an office life?

I often work inside in front of my MacBook, which isn’t much different from my old job. With the birth of our first child, I set up a small coworking office in our house and try to be outside in my garden and experimental field as often as possible. It really is a luxury to walk through the tulip field on business calls. I meet Marion and Christiana for meetings and once a month, I torture myself and my husband with taxes and numbers. I basically try to work in such a way that I can spend a lot of time with my children. That would not be possible in my old job. I want to prove that you can also – or even just – be a successful mother!

Who are your customers? Where do they come from and how do they find you?

The first design projects started years ago, when I didn’t even have a website and was simply endorsed by friends. Meanwhile, the number of clicks is increasing, especially through Instagram. I’ve never been the social media type and I’m discovering this world all over again. Now I just have to learn to put my phone aside. The urge is enormous. Otherwise, we have always relied on brick and mortar retail. I love browsing specialty shops and want to do something to preserve this sensual, analogue world.

My target demographic is frighteningly similar to me. Female, around 40, children, and a great desire for a stylish yet simple life. Inside as well as outside.

What are your goals for the next five years?

I’d really love to write a book. One that I would have needed when I started gardening. One which shows that most of what’s in a garden is superfluous and which is aesthetically inspiring. I want to continue to develop many new products around my plant collections and help garden owners to create flowering and really easy-to-care-for gardens.

What is the garden design process? What questions do you ask customers?

It all starts with cleaning up for me. Often I suggest a garden deconstruction. Do you need two terraces if it is much nicer to simply place the deckchair on the lawn, exactly where it is best at the moment (in spring with the fragrant lilac, in autumn under the glowing red sumac tree)? People should make the whole garden their own. I also make people aware that the garden is a link between the house and the surrounding landscape. You create harmony by appropriating elements from these two spheres. So please: No Japanese garden in Bavaria! Of course, a primary part of my work is to bring the right plants in the right place. This is one of the very few instances where more truly is more!