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Taking Root

A self-taught botanist gets back to her roots with a new biz.

Heather Shouse at Belly Q, the site of her most recent interior landscape installation—a vertical garden made of preserved moss

You can take the girl out of nature, but good luck taking the nature out of Heather Shouse. The green thumb behind local year-old company Bottle & Branch is busy getting her hands dirty all over town with custom terrariums, seasonal botanical arrangements and green installations for restaurants, bars and homes. That huge preserved moss wall at Belly Q is her handiwork, as well as those eerily beautiful plant-filled display cases at Graham Elliot.

It was while driving home from an annual family trip to the Ozarks that the Missouri-born, outdoors-loving Shouse had a lightbulb moment. “As I started to get into Chicago, I got this weird feeling that I didn’t want to be in the city anymore,” she says. “I wanted to get back to nature.” Shouse, a well-known local food writer (she’s a correspondent for Time Out and Food & Wine, and has written two cookbooks, including one with Girl & the Goat’s Stephanie Izard), had already been creating personal terrariums from items she picked up on her hiking adventures—think branches, bits of moss, stones, acorns. “I think terrariums are a cool way to capture a vacation or memory,” she says. And, it seems, so does Graham Elliot, who commissioned Shouse to make tabletop terrariums for his eponymous River North restaurant, followed by the aforementioned wall-mounted glass cases.

Shouse has been plenty busy ever since, working with a local glassblower to design one-of-a-kind vessels and creating custom installations for restaurants such as Trenchermen, Hot Chocolate, Perennial Virant, The J. Parker and Carriage House. Putting her food background to good use, Shouse works with the chefs to make sure her work fits both the restaurant’s overall concept and the food because “the plants inside should mirror the menu,” she says.

And the gardener is just getting going. Shouse, who recently received Master Gardening certification from the University of Illinois, has a new home along the Fox River, where she has big plans for the one-acre
property’s greenhouse.