He may have been thinking about it while growing up hiking across the five acres of desert landscape surrounding his home in Queen Creek. It was certainly something he considered while taking classes at Central Arizona College, creating his own schedule of botany and sociology courses, studying the impact plants have on people. It was definitely an idea that took root while he was living in Boston, a walkable city bursting with independent shops.
But it wasn't until Michael Lanier Loan III (who also goes by Michael Lanier) returned to Arizona in 2013 that the seed was planted and The Bosque began.
Lanier moved into a 600-square-foot house in downtown's Garfield neighborhood that November and immediately took up planting. His screened-in porch became an Arizona room and his front yard a tropical oasis.
"Everything grows well here as long as you have water," he says. "I have a banana tree in my front yard. I planted one and now I have five, they’re just multiplying. I had a mango tree. [We have] grapes, an orange tree, and blackberries."
His green thumb was overtaking the historic home he shared with two other roommates, so Lanier, 22, who had previously worked in both nurseries and a lab for the U.S. Department of Agriculture, decided to take his affinity and expertise public.
Garrett Miller, Lanier's boyfriend and business partner, created soy candles. Lanier handled the plants. Under the name The Bosque (meaning a cluster or group of trees), they began selling at the Phoenix Public Market during morning and evening farmers markets in March, until it became too hot to handle in May. The market, coupled with social media, was good for getting the word out, but Lanier wanted a brick-and-mortar storefront — one that would mirror the retail shops on Bolyston Street he lived near in Boston, while contributing to downtown Phoenix's own desire to become a walkable destination.
"I like Phoenix, but the walkability is still pretty slim," he says, noting that next to no one wants to walk a mile in chart-topping heat. "Now that the city redid the streets and put trees in — and there’s a big emphasis on public transport — I thought this [area] would be a cool place.
"The city's growing so fast. There are so many apartments across the street, next door, a block down," he says. "I don't think I would have opened [if that wasn't the case]. I would have stuck with farmers markets. But then I was like, apartments are coming. Let’s pull it indoors. Downtown is the place to do that."
To date, Arizona State University's campus has more than 10,000 students enrolled — many of whom live on or near campus. According to research from the Downtown Phoenix Partnership, approximately 2,000 new bedrooms will be added to the area by 2017. The 2014 annual report, the organization's most recent, declared, "the housing market is experiencing its strongest growth in years," due to projects like the Residences at CityScape and Union @ Roosevelt, among others.
Much of what The Bosque sells is ideal for these small, indoor spaces rented by those whose thumbs are more gray than green. They're the perfect apartment plant, adding life and greenery without overtaking a space or needing constant attention. Lanier says his biggest sellers are succulents ("They're super easy," he says), which tend to hover between $5.50 and $15, and pothos plants, which are known for their air-purifying qualities and cost around $40.
"I'm trying not to price anything out of anyone's budget," he says, gesturing around to a collection that includes ferns, vines, and Venus flytraps. "I don't want to offput people, but I don't want to overcharge. Once I make rent I'm not trying to get rich."
Most of his plants come through wholesalers like The Plant Stand of Arizona in South Phoenix or from online sellers. He's happy to custom order items for customer, which in the past have included everything from kiwi plants to tobacco and coffee plants. An Arabica Coffee plant nestled next to an old typewriter in the store is priced at $9.50. A coconut sprouting its own coconut tree is in a pot across the room, with a $45 asking price.
The shop itself is a carefully curated, cool reprieve from the blistering heat outside. Plants have homes in open drawers of old dressers or inside open-toped glass vases. They sit in rows on shelves that line every inch of every wall. A display case houses Lanier's most expensive plant ($60), leather wallets and goods from Bison Made next door, and a collection of vintage Phoenix memorabilia. Miller's candles, contained in vintage glassware and with wooden wicks, are displayed in the middle of the store and continue to sell well.
The space is light and airy — homey, even, especially with Lanier's 3-year-old boxer, Bennie, curled up on the floor. Though plants are the focal point, it feels less like navigating a jungle and more like browsing a boutique.
Which is perhaps why Lanier was not only able to get off the ground so quickly but has also received an overwhelming response from the neighbors and patrons of Roosevelt Row. The shop opened its doors officially on First Friday, July 3, after moving into the space only hours before — at 10 p.m. on Thursday night. The shop found itself routinely full that following evening, and the money The Bosque made almost paid for its first month's rent.
"It made me feel like, 'This is a store people want,'" Lanier says.
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It was also a store people made happen, through what he calls "Internet panhandling."
When he settled on this goal in May, and the space within Monorchid shortly thereafter, Lanier took to an online community of family and friends to help create his month-old business.
The Bosque raised $3,020 through the boutique's Kickstarter campaign. The 35 contributors exceeded Lanier's original goal by more than $1,000 when the fundraiser ended in late June, which allowed him to sign a three-month lease. It wasn't much, he says, but it was all he needed to kickstart his dream.
The Bosque, Unusual Plants + Curated Live Goods, is open from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Tuesdays through Fridays and 8 a.m. to 12 p.m. Saturdays, at 214 East Roosevelt Street inside of Monorchid. Lanier is also available by appointment, by calling 480-695-9320. Visit them online at www.facebook.com/thebosqueaz.