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Omaha Magazine

A Green Thumb Blooms at The Green House: Christina Mainelli gets her hands dirty

Oct 29, 2020 08:53AM ● By Lisa Lukecart
Christina Mainelli sitting in her shop

Photography by Bill Sitzmann

The Green House merchandise [3 Images] Click Any Image To Expand

Parents often struggle to strike a delicate balance. Walking the tightrope between being overly attentive and too hands off can be tricky, many times hinging on how well a parent knows their children. Don’t worry, Christina Mainelli can help. Well, not with humans, but with plants. 

In her business, The Green House, Mainelli has dealt with helicopter parents, or those who can’t resist the urge to smother and end up drowning plants by overwatering them. She’s also worked with busy working parents who forget entirely about their plants until they wilt and die, like dehydrated men in the middle of a desert. She helps both types find middle ground.

Mainelli first discovered her love of greenery when she moved from a house to a studio apartment and purchased plants such as a sleek dracaena, a verdant philodendron, and a waxy Zanzibar Gem. Mainelli missed her yard, and plants gave her a sense of bringing the outside in.

“It is important to foster a connection to nature. Plants are a good way to do that,” Mainelli explained. 

She found a jade plant at the farmer’s market, plucked a cactus from a broken rock, and picked up a guardian at a store. Mainelli tried to sneak a few more past her fiancé, Jake Dunwoody. But after amassing about 100 plants, she recalled him telling her, “Yo, you need to calm down and sell some of these.” Although Dunwoody teased her, he, too, developed an affinity for the plants, she said, even playing music for them on his guitar.   

The more Mainelli brought home, the more  her friends became impressed by the décor. People on Instagram began responding to her plant posts. In one photo, Mainelli pulls dead leaves off a plant. A messy bun, blue jeans, and a soft sweater add serenity to the scene as sunlight streams over jades, aloes, and other succulents.

“Teach me your cacti ways! The one I’ve had for five years is deflating,” one follower commented. 

“Can you teach me your ways, so I don’t kill every plant I have?” another asked. 

Mainelli realized plant parents needed her green thumb. It inspired a concept to create a business centered on foliage installations, workshops, and maintenance. In August 2016, she partnered with another plant lover, Katherine Gillespie, and the two came up with the name The Green House. The business grew organically (pun intended) out of her Omaha home. 

“It clicked in my mind that this is the thing I want to market and sell. Plants connect to nature and a cozy lifestyle,” Mainelli said. 

Gillespie eventually left to pursue other interests, allowing Mainelli to focus on her sole vision for the venture. She made leather and wood hangers for businesses like Forno. Sometimes inspiration led to innovative ideas. Mainelli took a kokedama out of a pot, shook off the extra dirt, and wrapped it in sphagnum moss. In a similar process, she took staghorn ferns and mounted them to a piece of wood with a fishing line. They grew and connected themselves to the wood. Some clients purchased her creations, while others hired her just to water. 

The house plant expert learned macramé to give buyers another option. Mainelli already made leather journals, so crafting wasn’t a new skill. Macramé seemed simple since it’s all about tying cords into knots to form decorative shapes, or in this case a plant hanger. The art form was popular with hippies and beatniks in the 1970s. Mainelli taught herself a variety of knots, assembling them into patterns. The first time she twisted an ugly brown polyester cord from a craft store. One side hung too short, lopsided, since she didn’t count the knots properly. 

“It was a mess,” Mainelli confessed. She eventually got the knack of it. 

Mainelli is a believer in sustainability, so she began to utilize recycled cotton cords from the yarn retailer Ganxxet. After six months, she felt comfortable and confident enough to begin making her own patterns and teaching others the craft.

Two years later, Mainelli was teaching workshops out of her apartment, five people at a time. Christmas wreath classes were another big hit.

“She has a warm spirit and tries to make everyone feel included,” said Dani Revis, who took both lessons. 

Brides began asking her to decorate their weddings. Carlin Van Holmes wanted a sustainable wedding, choosing pothos, evergreens, and palms over traditional lilles and roses. 

“Christina was creative and flexible. She made me feel like I had known her for a long time,” Van Holmes said. 

Mainelli planned to open her home and garden specialty shop downtown when the pandemic hit. More tragedy struck when Dunwoody, 31, died in a motorcycle accident in May. 

Devasted, her plans were put on hold. 

“Jake was such a big part of it all. It made it hard to go back,” Mainelli said. “But that’s what he would want...to see this thing through.”  The shop held its grand opening in Omaha’s Little Bohemia neighborhood in September.

Mainelli makes sure the plants still listen to Willie Nelson and Black Sabbath. In her shop, she’s placed a chair and a caladium with red showy leaves facing the south window in honor of Dunwoody. Her chihuahua, Scully, lays in the sunshine next to it.  

For more information on The Green House, visit the shop at 1234 S. 13th St., Suite 201, or go to thegreenhouseomaha.com.

This article was printed in the November/December 2020 edition of OmahaHome. To receive the magazine, click here to subscribe.