Shining a light on Cornwall’s pioneers, Seasalt has always celebrated flourishing local talent. Each month, in support of their creativity, we share their inspiring stories.
This month, we visited Tor Harrison, founder of Tōro, at her shop in Falmouth. Tōro is dedicated to exploring the power of plants to transform the dynamics of a space.
What’s the story behind Tōro – how did you start working with plants, and what inspired you to set up your own business?
I’ve always loved plants. I’ve been a gardener before, I plant my own veggies, and I’ve worked with plants in a variety of ways, but I never really had a plan to open a plant shop. I was travelling in California a few years ago and was amazed to see how plants were taking centre stage in so many businesses. There seemed to be houseplants everywhere – in bookshops, cafes and restaurants. I didn’t realise the impact it had on the spaces at the time.
When I got back to the UK, places felt more sterile: we hadn’t quite come to appreciate that plants can affect spaces and amplify and enhance them. I’d just moved to Falmouth and it was a bit of a whirlwind romance – I met a man, fell in love, moved in and didn’t really know what to do next. But when I found out this place was empty and up for grabs, I immediately saw it full of lush plants and greenery.
You’ve created a beautiful, calm space here. What do plants add to an indoor environment, and how do they affect our physical and mental well-being?
I feel like I can’t take too much credit for the atmosphere in here. I’m lucky that there’s so much natural light and I’ve just kept the colour palette fairly neutral, which makes the plants really sing. I could talk for hours about the benefits of plants in spaces.
Beyond their aesthetic appeal, plants bring energy, life, vitality, colour and scent. They force us to become nurturing – they demand our care and I think that’s a really healthy thing for us. Once you start feeling the benefit of having plants in your workspace or home you start tuning in a bit more to nature.
What kind of plants do you grow and sell?
I try to offer a wide variety of plants for a range of different tastes and environments: dry, arid-loving cacti and succulents, humid-loving palms and bananas, cool, shade-loving ferns. It’s nice to be able to offer something for everyone and every kind of space, including the tiniest little air plants. Even if you don’t have much room there’s still things you can grow.
What would you suggest for someone who’s keen to introduce plants into their home but doesn’t know where to start?
It’s an interesting question because there’s no one type of plant that’s low maintenance. I’ll ask a few simple questions about the space as that dictates the kind of plants that are going to thrive in that situation. If you don’t have much light or if it gets really hot or humid that will affect what I’ll offer you. By asking those questions it can help make people aware of what to look for when they’re choosing a plant. It’s not just about plants surviving – it’s about them thriving and flourishing. If they’re in a space they like it’s going to make your job so much easier.
Who or what inspires you?
If I’m looking for inspiration I go for a walk around the Helford River. I’ll walk around the creeks and the woods with my dog and my partner, Pete. We live in Cornwall for a reason and I constantly find inspiration just being surrounded by nature here.
What does a typical day look like for you?
It starts with a big cup of coffee and some form of reading. Whether it’s papers or a book, I find it’s really important to carve out that first half hour of the day to do something that quite often gets relegated. I’m definitely a creature of habit in the mornings. Then I’ll go for a dog walk before opening the shop at 11am. I don’t know if it’s lazy or lucky, but that’s really when Falmouth really starts to come to life.
There’s loads of different things I might do in the shop, from cleaning the windows to scrubbing the floors, rearranging the plants, repotting and watering. My days are quite busy, tending to customers and having lovely chats with them. I’m lucky to have a shop in the courtyard in Old Brewery Yard. It’s a lovely sociable space and there’s always people coming and going. It’s a beautiful day today and I’ll definitely sit outside with a coffee and enjoy the sunshine as well.
The evenings include walking the dog again and something else active that gets me out of work mode, like rowing on the river, and then eating a very delicious dinner.
What kind of clothes do you usually wear when you’re working?
My work isn’t particularly physically demanding so I feel quite free to wear what I want as long as I’m comfortable and approachable. One day I’ll be in a pair of jeans, the next in a summery skirt.
What’s the best piece of advice anyone ever gave you about running your own business?
I’ve been given a few great pieces of advice over the last 3 ½ years. Number one: trust your gut, which is something I definitely adhere to. Number two: you don’t have to prove yourself to anyone. It’s very easy to feel like an imposter, so it’s important to remind yourself you’re doing it for you and not anyone else.
And number three was from my partner, Pete. It’s very tempting when you have your own business to be a bit casual about things like opening hours. Very early on he said pick your hours, pick your days and stick to them. I did that, and I found I need that structure, and I need my customers to know that I’m going to be here when I say I’m going to be here. It creates trust and continuity and all those things that are important.
When you’ve got some free time, what’s your favourite way to spend it in Cornwall?
My favourite time of year is autumn – I absolutely love autumn in Cornwall. If I had a full free day to myself I’d start it camping. I’d wake up in a tent and put on a pot of coffee. I’d jump in the sea then have a very lazy long walk followed by a very lazy long lunch. There’d be some pottering in the garden, some reading, then a big fire in the garden with friends, food and wine.