Sean Partlow’s 100-Hour Work Week
Sometimes life pivots; other times it comes full circle. The path of Victoria-based landscape designer, café owner, and plant expert Sean Partlow took very much the latter route. “Growing up, my grandma grew dahlias like crazy,” he recalls. “I’d spend summers in Burnaby with her, my aunt, and my mom. They would garden and garden, and I’d help… And they were always cooking. I didn’t realize it then, but now I look back and see that is where it all came from.”
For Partlow, “it” is an organized chaos of cooking, collaborating, and cultivating greenery through full-time work and side projects—all rolled into an 80-to-100-hour work week. There’s his day job at a landscape architecture firm, which is joined by his role as owner (and sometimes-chef) of Back in Five café on Pandora Street in Victoria, which used to be his pop-up project but now functions full-time as a plant shop, restaurant, and party space. Another gig finds him decking out serene spaces with leafy plant life, a side hustle that has taken him from private homes in Los Angeles to Vancouver co-working space, Werklab.
Image by Brit Gill
Rewind the clock to 16 years ago, when Partlow was working in landscape design and felt an itch for something more. Blanching at the high costs of culinary school, he signed up for a $100 cooking class instead and volunteered with local chefs. That piqued an interest in growing food and led him to a horticulture program at Royal Roads University—which he took while still working full time. “That’s really where my super work ethic started, because I saw how much you could do in a day,” he says. This also led him back to landscape architecture and a desire to “design a place to host people, grow food, cook outside and all that.”
These days, the green guru will deftly divulge his expertise on how to keep home succulents alive as quickly as he offers a hot take on current plant trends: “for interior plants In L.A. right now, the weirder the better—like, a wonky plant stretching across the room to get light is really sought after... but they are tricky to source.” For some projects, Partlow is called in after the interior design is complete to warm up a space with big pots overflowing with living greenery. For others, plants are awarded top priority. At Werklab, for instance, he worked off the floor plans of the light and airy space before even a lick of paint had hit the walls.
When deciding where to place, say, a red-edged dracaena or a monstera deliciosa, Partlow looks for spaces that may need screening or dividing and dull corners that need a pop of life, taking natural light into consideration along the way. “I think if you’ve done well, the plant life just becomes a natural environment that you don’t notice—a blend of the indoors and the outdoors, ” says Partlow. And, for the non-green-thumbs out there, Partlow offers some general words of wisdom:
“water everything once a week, mist absolutely whenever you feel the urge, and dry out your snake plants, succulents, and cacti. If you think about it, they live in the desert, so they soak up all their water in one torrential rainfall—if they are constantly wet, they’ll rot and die.”
It might be too easy to chalk up Partlow’s wild productivity to an abundance of greenery. After all, an oft-cited 2011 study in the Journal of Environmental Psychology shows that the presence of office plants boosts one’s ability to focus and pay attention. But Partlow acknowledges that his busy schedule may come from means other than the green fronds he surrounds himself with. “I really can’t stress it enough, but it’s my friends, my whole surrounding group of people, are the only reason I can do the stuff I do.” That close-knit community is always around to help, be it with photography, web design, or chopping onions at 2 a.m. for an upcoming Back in Five brunch. “Also, I’m also starting to realize that I’m the type of person who doesn’t need that much sleep,” he says. “Five hours a day is just fine for me.”
Partlow admits that a key to his sanity is fully unplugging for chunks of time, whether taking a jaunt to L.A. for a long weekend, or eating good food and sipping wine with friends on a Sunday night. “During those times, my mind can be totally blank. I could even be missing an important meeting, or phone call…” he admits. “But I think that’s what keeps me sane. I work really hard, but I work hard to focus on those moments when you can allow yourself to totally unplug and just enjoy.”
Maybe it’s time to coin a new saying—work hard, unplug hard? We’ll drink to that.
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