Horticulture Skin Care

Garden Glow: Juree Sondker of Horticulture Skin Care on the Powers of ‘Plant Potion’

Studio photos and portraits by Shawn Linehan.

A few months ago, our friend Juree Sondker launched her beautiful new skincare company, Horticulture. Dig the name, right? Well, wait until you hear about the serum

Like “liquid gold” in a bottle and aromatic silk on your skin, Plant Potion is basically a who’s who of skin-nourishing botanicals. Green tea seed oil, rosehip seed oil and baobab oil are among the fourteen active botanicals that promote cell turnover, more even skin tone and less apparent fine lines. The scent (to me) is kind of an earthy, soulful citrus, originating in the blood orange and neroli essential oils, mellowed out by a special lavender cultivar. Not to mention…putting on this serum is just pure pleasure.

Horticulture Skin Care

The skin-rescuing Plant Potion serum by Horticulture.

Horticulture Skin Care

Juree Sondker, founder of Horticulture. She’s also the brains (and beauty) behind Plant Potion. Portraits and studio photos by Shawn Linehan.

Of course I bought a bottle. Applied every day, Plant Potion has made my skin so bouncy and smooth that my fingertips didn’t even recognize my own face at first. I love the roller format of the 0.35-oz option. (The 1-oz bottle is a dropper design.)

We met Juree through garden lifestyle publisher Timber Press, where she’s the acquiring editor, and you all know how much we love their books. Juree lives in North Portland with her husband Courtney and their daughter Elodie, and they were recently in La Jolla for vacation — so Juree and Courtney joined us for breakfast and tangerine mimosas in our garden under the guava tree.

Be sure to check out Plant Potion in Sunset’s new April issue! Below, Juree answers our Qs about botanical books leading to botanical skincare, why “anti-aging” is a problematic term, what she grows in her garden, and the best plant products you can put on your skin.

Did you grow up around plants? Gardening?

I grew up in Kansas City until I was 12 and had a standard turf grass lawn, but definitely had an affinity for the more traditional rose gardens that were common among the lovely old-world homes nearby.

It was when we moved to La Jolla, California, that I started to realize how much my experience with plants and their fragrance could really capture a specific place and time. Scents like heady night-blooming jasmine, deep minty eucalyptus, and honeyed ceanothus really set me on the path of being crazy about natural fragrance.

Three generations of great skin. Juree with daughter Elodie and her mom Jill.

Elodie and Juree at Birch Aquarium during their recent visit to La Jolla, where Juree spent her teen years. La Jolla was where “heady night-blooming jasmine, deep minty eucalyptus, and honeyed ceanothus really set me on the path of being crazy about natural fragrance,” she says.

Describe your day job. What was your path to becoming an editor?

I am an acquiring editor for Timber Press, which means that I am lucky enough to get to work with amazingly talented people to create beautiful, useful books on the natural world. At Timber, we develop most of the ideas in-house so we get to be very hands-on with the ideas at the heart of each book.

I moved from NYC to Portland for the job at Timber and really didn’t know anything about plants, but have definitely fallen in love with them over the years that I have worked here. I have always felt most grounded when I was out in nature, but it was only when I came to Portland and was able to create my own garden that I really noticed how transformative it can be to surround yourself with plants every day.

What inspired you to start Horticulture? What kind of research went into Plant Potion?

I have always been crazy about skincare, and I had fallen hard for plants and their amazing qualities working at Timber, but it wasn’t until I started working with author JJ Pursell on The Herbal Apothecary that I fully understood how medicinal plants could be, and how that could actually be applied to skincare. I was also turning 40, and I really wanted something for my skin that was natural and nourishing, but that was also extremely active. I decided to see if I could create a “best-of” botanical formula for myself, and basically geeked out on studying plant oils from around the world to find the ones that worked together in the most potent way.

Being mom to a toddler, I also loved the idea of having one go-to skin super-food to use day and night that felt simple, luxurious, and pretty much did everything I needed it to do.

I have had so much fun immersing myself in this world — trying out so many different combinations of oils on myself and my friends and family. It was a much more complex quest than I first imagined to find just the right balance between the intense, active oils and the calming, healing oils.

Horticulture Skin Care

Plant Potion brings together 14 active botanicals to even skin tone, diminish the appearance of fine lines, and help your soul GLOW. The serum’s handcrafted in Portland, Oregon.

Horticulture Skin Care

“It wasn’t until I started working with author JJ Pursell on ‘The Herbal Apothecary’ that I fully understood how medicinal plants could be,” Juree says, “and how that could actually be applied to skincare. I was also turning 40, and I really wanted something for my skin that was natural and nourishing, but that was also extremely active.”

You’re not a fan of the term “anti-aging.” Why is it problematic?

The most radiant women I know are the ones who have embraced their age. The term is so counter-intuitive when you really think about it. We all want to live a long, fulfilling life and our physical bodies are bound to reflect that reality. I think the key is to nurture both your external and internal self with plants — they really have an incredible life force energy.

What plants have skincare powers that might surprise people?

One of my favorites is baobab oil, which comes from an African tree that can live up to 5,000 years. It is packed with high doses of vitamins A, E, and F, which are really powerful for fine lines and sun damage. I also adore pomegranate oil — it is such a great example of the idea that these incredible oils really are food for your skin. It is wonderful for regenerating skin cells and is packed with antioxidants that protect against free radicals and are also anti-inflammatory. It’s all about the right blend to deliver these benefits to the skin in the most effective way.

We met up for breakfast and tangerine mimosas in our yard when Juree’s family was in town.

What surprised you personally during the development of the Horticulture brand, and Plant Potion?

One of the most wonderful things has been the incredible support of other women entrepreneurs/business owners who have been generous with their advice and wisdom. There is a big learning curve when you start your own company, and I have been so grateful to have these wise, wonderful ladies in my corner.

How have people been reacting to Plant Potion? What’s next for Horticulture?

I have a full-time job that I love and I have a toddler, so I wasn’t originally setting out to start a company, but once I started giving Plant Potion to family and friends, I was pretty overwhelmed by their reactions. One big “aha” moment was when I saw my friend’s rosacea virtually disappear after using Plant Potion for a couple weeks. It’s one thing to hear people say they like something, but that result felt pretty game-changing. I don’t know that Plant Potion will clear up rosacea in anyone who has it as everyone’s skin is so different, but I’ve had enough positive responses from people of all ages, with all types of skin, to feel very encouraged about the formula’s effects.

Horticulture Skin Care

I am already thinking about my next project (stay tuned!) but want to have Plant Potion out for a while before I start working on anything else, so I can give the testing stage for whatever is next as much care and attention as I gave Plant Potion.

What’s your garden like? What do you grow?

It is a bit wild and weedy, but has a lot of energy! I love the naturalism of designers like Piet Oudolf and have a similar palette of grasses, sedums, salvias, and coneflowers that go crazy in our PNW climate. I am not a big fan of watering, so have learned to love the drought-tolerant plants that keep on keeping on without much maintenance.

Horticulture Skin Care

Scenes from Juree’s North Portland garden during sunnier seasons: Sedum ‘Autumn Joy’ and the hardy geranium ‘Rozanne.’

Horticulture Skin Care

Plus, drought-tolerant ‘Red Velvet’ salvias, variegated sage and Phormium ‘Sundowner’ in containers at life to Juree’s outdoor space.

Horticulture Skin Care

Toward the background, pink echinacea pops behind the purple hardy geranium.

Horticulture Skin Care

The stars of this amazing flower bed: Euphorbia ‘Tasmanian Tiger,’ purple salvias, Russian sage and Karl Foerster feather reed grasses.

What are some of the drought-tolerant plants you grow?

I love salvias, particularly the bush habit salvias that tend to bloom for seven months of the year in Portland. I really like the ‘Hot Lips’ cultivar as well is the ‘Red Velvet.’ I am also a big fan of sedums — I grow a fair amount of ‘Autumn Joy’ and ‘Purple Emperor.’ Grasses are great for movement and structure—I have a fair amount of ‘Karl Foerster’ grasses, ‘Morning Light’ miscanthus and Mexican feather grass.

What other parts of your life does your garden inspire?

We are so lucky to have a great outdoor living space that we use any time the weather is halfway decent. Because we get so much rain from October through April, by the time May comes we pretty much live outdoors until September. We eat and grill out on our deck almost every night and just savor every moment that we can until the weather turns in the fall.

—TH