The Garden Apothecary: Cultivating beauty
by Joli Allen
You could say Jennifer Segale loves dirt. She owns her own landscape business and if her blog is any indication, she revels in all things that muck in and around terra fina. So it seems fitting that she also owns a second business, Garden Apothecary, where she makes organic bath and beauty products using what comes from the earth.
Segale’s inspiration for creating her Garden Apothecary beauty products ranges from the god Eros to Casablanca lilies and the vernal equinox. But the philosophy behind her business is harnessed to one aspiration: to heal and educate through plants. This has been her goal since she was 13. “I always knew I wanted to immerse myself in the plant world, and found the growing environmental challenges we face very important to acknowledge,” she says.
With a background in horticulture, Segale initially worked with flowers and farmed locally. Twelve years ago she created her landscaping company, Wildflower Farms, and specialized in designing organically sustainable gardens. Her second venture, Garden Apothecary, grew from her landscape business. “I’ve always been obsessed with everything to do with plants, so crafting bath and beauty products I love, with organic plant bases, was an easy transition,” she says.
All of Segale’s products are made with whole botanicals. She says: “I remember being at a farmers market in San Francisco and seeing some ‘vanilla’ sugar scrub. … Upon further inspection of the ingredients there was no vanilla to be found — only ‘vanilla fragrance’ which, technically, can be anything. I thought to myself, I can do better than this!” The experience sparked her quest for creating luxurious chemical-free products to refresh and nourish the skin. “I love the process of making my products,” she says. “The research and creation is the most fun — tinkering with the different oils and organic flowers, seed pods, beans, stems and leaves. I’ve created a laboratory in my home where I make the products, and I hang out there constantly.”
Segale does meticulous research of all things botanical and natural. “I write professionally for multiple publications in the fields of natural science. So spending late nights researching random seeds, flowers and bugs allowed me to amass an unreasonable amount of info about plants,” she says. This midnight obsession translates into creating products with varied properties. Her online shop includes notes on the ingredients and their properties as well as her inspiration for creating each product. Her commentaries often include whimsical mini-facts for her users; for example, she notes that anise seed has been used to bait mice. For her rose petal scrub she notes that even though there are 250 species of rose, and over 10,000 different hybrid varieties, only three are used for oil extraction.
Some Garden Apothecary specialties are the organic sugar scrubs that exfoliate and moisturize. Segale’s favorite is the Eros scrub, inspired by the god of sexual love and beauty and made with ylang ylang, vanilla bean, anise star pod, bergamot and vitamin E. The French clay mud mask is used for drawing toxins from the skin and also has antibacterial properties, according to Segale. Since our skin’s cell membrane absorbs substances molecularly small enough to pass through it, some rather nefarious chemicals enter. So getting a little muddy with the mask can be a very good thing. Other products include botanical bath powders, water refreshers and tea baths. All are handcrafted in small batches so that they stay fresh and at their full potency.
As if she wasn’t already cultivating enough activity in her life, she also writes a “Dirty Girl” blog about — what else? — all things horticultural. Things like the secret life of marino algae, which form a ball and sink and rise in a column in water. Her observations and asides about bee’s wings, the beautiful but deadly Fly Agaric mushrooms, and gopher attacks on a pittosporum tree reveal her passion for nature. Her blog educates her readers, adding humor and wit to the mix.
With so many occupational pursuits, Segale has to consciously make the time to fit them all in. “Having a slight degree in OCD helps,” she says. “I prioritize my time constantly, multi-task, and know when to delegate work when I need to. I can find myself getting lost in research almost every day — so I created a little sign by my computer that reads ‘Is this income-producing activity?’ It helps me stay on point.”
“I like everything about owning my own businesses,” she says. “The transition has been tough and so much more work than I expected. But having two companies keeps me on my toes and since they are both related to science, I don’t ever feel like I’m doing double work. They really go hand in hand. Being around lots of flowers, dirt, and growing things is not a hard day at the office!”