Ikebana. Kokedama. Check out her rare and magical plant designs in this holiday pop-up.

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The pandemic forced Yunice Kang to close his rare plant store and ceramics workshop, Sanso, in Frogtown last summer. It reopens this week as a holiday pop-up. (Al Seib / Los Angeles Times)

It is the last in a series we call PLANT PPL, where we interview people of color in the plant world. If you have any suggestions for PPL to include in our series, tag us on Instagram @latimesplants.

Yunice Kang’s Sanso (Korean for “oxygen”) isn’t your typical herbal store. To forget low maintenance pothos and trendy fiddle leaf figs. Here you will find persimmons strung over a bouquet of rose hips and amaranth, kokedama and rare tropical beauties like Kohleria and the “Euterpe” hibiscus pruned and displayed in an attractive way, just like the works of art in a museum.

Feeling nostalgic for the community after months of selling plants on the edge of his studio in Lincoln Heights, Kang offers in-person shopping again starting this week, with a holiday pop-up lovingly installed in an office behind. Cafe Maru in Los Feliz.

“I want to focus more on the business side of my business and create a space for visitors,” she says of the location on bustling Hillhurst Avenue. “I wanted to create a plant and flower store specific to this location. “

About ten different plants, exhibited in custom-made stoneware.

Plants exhibited in custom-made sandstone in Kang’s workshop. (Al Seib / Los Angeles Times)

In his latest retail business, Kang plans to offer rare plants, handmade stoneware vases, gardening accessories, Korean fabric bojagi wrappers and fresh flowers. But don’t expect elaborate arrangements. On a recent visit, Kang donated “fresh flowers that you can easily take home” such as zinnias and dahlias, lemon balm and sorrel bouquets, orchids and lion tails.

Recently, I spoke with Kang about the new pop-up, why she doesn’t have a favorite plant, and how her father’s death prompted the former photographer to seek solace in plants.

An exhibition of hanging flowers and persimmons.

Persimmons and flowers greet visitors to the Sanso pop-up. (Lisa Boone / Los Angeles Times)

You spoke of the grief you experienced after losing your father. Can you share how this influenced your connection to plants?

Plants gave me joy when I mourned the passing of my father. During this year, plants have had an impact on my life. I was literally Google searching “how to cope” because I didn’t feel grounded. I tried therapy and books on grief and meditation. My mind was in such a different place because of the grief. I absorbed and felt things very differently. The connection with the plants was made naturally by organizing flowers and traveling through California and discovering different landscapes. I think a lot of people are feeling that right now because of the pandemic.

So it started with travel?

I took road trips to heal – my dad was a great explorer and he showed me a lot of places. While traveling, I discovered so many different plants that were interesting. I was hypnotized. Then I went to nursery, and everything looked the same. So I started to research plants and explore different events. There is a large horticultural circuit in San Diego. I started to visit a lot of gardens and annual plant shows where I met a lot of collectors and started collecting plants.

Yunice Kang forms a kokedama plant made of earth and covered with moss.

Yunice Kang forms a kokedama plant made of earth and covered with moss. (Al Seib / Los Angeles Times)

How did your Korean heritage influence Sanso?

Sanso has always been the reflection and the by-product of my personal journey. Family, history, and location are all a big part of what drives my curiosity and interest. I am Korean and American. I find it a privilege to move freely between the two and to have a sense of belonging and not having to belong at the same time. It is truly amazing that the Sanso community as a whole has such a genuine enthusiasm to be a part of our cultural expression, and we feel totally supported in our desire to bring Asian businesses and BIPOC together in our LA community.

What prompted you to open a ceramics workshop in your plant store in Frogtown?

Ceramics was born because I couldn’t find planters that I liked. Everything had a high glaze or was decorated. If it was simple, it wasn’t quite right. I wanted to bring out the plants. I trained in photography and lived in New York for six years, and when I came back to LA I met artists who were making things in their studios with raw materials. I asked to visit some of these studios and took a series of photos of people making things with their hands. Not fine sculptural art, but functional things. I’ve photographed a lot of materials, tools, spaces, and I’ve learned so much to relate the two. I spoke with someone who made motorcycles by hand, stone carvers, carpenters and ceramists working with clay. It just made the connection that you can take clay and build something like a planter. It wasn’t about ceramics for me, it was about creating the environment and the experience that you get from being in nature and growing something. I decided I was going to focus on bringing all of these things together. I found ceramists to work with to see if we could produce things together.

A plant grows from a brick red sandstone container.

A plant rises from a handmade stoneware container. (Al Seib / Los Angeles Times)

How do you design the jars?

We design specifically for each plant’s shapes and textures and what makes them most beautiful.

Yunice Kang assists a client in her Sanso pop-up in Los Feliz.

Yunice Kang assists a client in her Sanso pop-up in Los Feliz. (Lisa Boone / Los Angeles Times)

Your plants are so unique. How do you choose them?

I select all of our plants by hand and my eye translates into the final piece. I work with a lot of collectors who grow crops at home or in small greenhouses. I drive to the greenhouses and talk to the growers while I select things. This is how the transaction goes, and I have the impression that this is what translates into our shop: we present many different plants in one place. We can never guarantee the stock of a specific plant, just as the growers we visit do not have a production schedule. There are so many variables that play into what I find. I try to find something that strikes me and in good shape. Over the past three years, we have come across a lot of different plants, and many of them are unique.

Do you have a favorite plant?

No. There’s too much. I often give people this answer: this is not the type of plant that I like; it’s more about how I spent time with it. If I have had a particular plant for a long time, the attachment grows. This relationship means more to me than anything rare.

Yunice Kang inspects plants in her plant design studio.

Yunice Kang inspects some plants in his workshop. (Al Seib / Los Angeles Times)

Why open a pop-up now?

There is something different about entering a space in person and being able to see something. Our goal is to bring people inside. We must have done so much online during the pandemic.

Tell me about the pop-up.

The concept is site specific. I want people to be able to stop in their neighborhood and buy some fresh flowers for their home. Hope this turns out to be a full in person experience. This is how the Frogtown space felt. I want to create a space where you really feel good and where people feel rejuvenated. Plant life really kicks off that feeling. We live in a city where many of us live in apartments. Having something from nature is super important. It is not something that I can design on my own.

Sanso, 1940 Hillhurst Avenue, Los Feliz. Open daily from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. until December. (323) 798-9789. sanso.la

This story originally appeared in Los Angeles Times.



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