Rooted in history: Indoor Outdoor Gardener celebrates 50 years as Bay Ridge’s botanical oasis

NY: Indoor Outdoor Gardener
The Indoor Outdoor Gardener in Bay Ridge celebrated its 50th anniversary on Saturday, April 6.
Photo by Gabriele Holtermann

The “plant doctor” is in!

The Indoor Outdoor Gardener on Fifth Avenue in Bay Ridge celebrated a milestone birthday on Saturday, when the heaven for botanical connoisseurs and those in the making turned 50.  

The neighborhood institution was founded by Helena De Paolo and her late husband, Peter, in 1974. The couple met while pursuing their Ph.D. in linguistics and shared a mutual passion for indoor plants. When they moved to their first apartment in Dyker Heights, which had an indoor porch, the couple bought plants and cloned them, dreaming of opening a store one day. 

Eventually, the couple took a leap of faith, used their life savings of $2,000, and opened half a store on Fifth Avenue and 76th Street and named it Indoor Gardener. In 1977, they moved to the larger location at 8223 Fifth Ave. When customers began calling the store Indoor Outdoor Gardener, a new name was born.

In 1990, Indoor Outdoor Gardener became the first hydroponic store in the tri-state area. 

The Indoor Outdoor Gardener offer a vast variety of plants.
Family photos aand old newspaper clippings tell The Indoor Outdoor Gardener’s history.Photo by Gabriele Holtermann

“Back in the 70s, there were just florists,” De Paola recalled. “There were maybe a couple of greenhouses out all the way on [Long Island]. It just became a passion.”

When Peter passed away in 2006, Eva Landy, the oldest of their four children, filled her dad’s shoes as the resident expert on hydroponic plants, irrigation systems, and lighting. She also handles the high-tech aspects of the beloved store.

De Paolo, whose customers call her the “plant doctor,” firmly believes that everyone can be a gardener — even those who don’t have a green thumb and whose homes are where plants come to die. For the former high school teacher, it is all about proper education, and she is more than willing to share her wealth of botanical knowledge with customers at the store or via her Instagram account or YouTube channel.

The plant enthusiast’s advice to care for plants: don’t put them in a larger pot, thinking your greenery will grow faster. Plants grow faster when the roots are crowded. De Paolo also recommends only watering plants when the oldest leaves, closest to the soil, lose their shine or feel limp instead of going by how wet or dry the soil is. These are just a few of De Paolo’s recommendations, based on her 50-plus years of experience as a successful gardener. 

“When people water their plants too much, the soil stays wet. And what happens? No oxygen is going into the roots. So it’s not the water that’s killing the plant is the lack of oxygen,” De Paolo explained.

‘Plant doctor’ Helena De Paolo helps a customer.Photo by Gabriele Holtermann
The Indoor Outdoor Garden is rooted in history.Photo by Gabriele Holtermann

Every year, De Paolo attends the Tropical Plant International Expo in Fort Lauderdale, Florida, where she buys Mandevillas, different types of hibiscus, herbs (including medicinal herbs), perennials, and flower baskets, to name a few, for the Spring and Summer season. 

“Everything you read about but can’t find anywhere [else],” the self-described plant addict said. “That was our motto when we first started. So I like to carry just every little thing that I personally get my hands on, and what I like.”

The Indoor Outdoor Gardener, which carries a large variety of indoor and outdoor plants, vegetables, and herbs, was hopping with customers on Saturday, browsing the narrow aisles packed with plants, seeds, and fertilizers, while De Paolo and her staff, Giovanni and Iman, shared their botanical knowledge with old and new customers. 

Darlene Kadir, who has been a customer for 20 years,  described the store as a “little botanic garden.”

“It’s so nice just to walk back there when they have all the flowers,” Kadir said. “[We learned] how to take of our plants and add beauty to our life and peacefulness. It’s a great hobby, and it’s relaxing. [De Paolo] always helps everybody. She will educate you, and she will help you.”

Helena De Paolo (center) and Indoor Outdoor Gardener staffers Iman and Giovanni.Photo by Gabriele Holtermann
The Indoor Outdoor Gardener has everything an at-home gardener — or gardener-to-be — might need.Photo by Gabriele Holtermann

Half-a-century in, De Paolo still feels blessed and excited about coming to work because plants are her passion. The Indoor Outdoor Gardener isn’t just a business for De Paolo — it’s a way of life.  

“I’m just very thankful. It’s hard to explain, but I’m excited when the truck comes. I’m excited for the new plants,” she said.

The Indoor Outdoor Gardener is open Tuesday through Saturday from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. and on Sundays from 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. For more information, visit hydroponicsnewyorkcity.com.