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Let It Grow: Shane Pliska and the Story Behind Planterra Conservatory

April 7, 2020

How Shane Pliska transformed West Bloomfield’s Planterra from a mom-and-pop landscape firm into one of the country’s most gorgeous venues

By Jeff Waraniak

Over the past few years, Shane Pliska has visited some of the most ancient sites in the world.

This past December, he and his partner Karl Lievense traveled to India to see the Taj Mahal and Ranthambore National Park, home to a 1,000-year-old temple and one of the world’s largest jungle tiger populations.

Last January, he floated down the Mekong River in Cambodia, stopping at places like Angkor Wat and Ta Prohm. And in 2017, he traveled to Giza to visit the tombs and pyramids in Egypt.

But whether Pliska is cruising through a jungle or hiking the Golden Circle in Iceland, as the president of West Bloomfield’s Planterra, the 39-year-old is always paying close attention to three things: the local foliage; the quality of customer service at hotels and restaurants; and opportunities to experience something new.

“Every time I travel, I feel like a part of my brain grows,” he says.

Shane Pliska of West Bloomfield’s Planterra ConservatoryPhotography by Karl Lievense

Pliska (in Portugal) has visited natural wonders the world over.

Shane Pliska of West Bloomfield’s Planterra ConservatoryPhotography by Karl Lievense

As an entrepreneur, that spirit of growth has been key to Planterra’s evolution from a mom-and-pop interior-landscape firm to an award-winning wedding venue and conservatory that has been attracting visitors from across the country for more than a decade.

When Planterra launched in 1973, gardeners and environmentalists Larry and Carol Pliska (Shane’s parents) envisioned the company as an exotic-plant and interior-landscaping business.

Prior to opening Planterra, Larry had served as a draftsman for an automotive company, but when he got fired “for refusing to cut his hair,” he turned to his love for all things nature and vegetation. “I’d always felt a spiritual connection to plants,” he says.

Initially, Carol — a trained ballet dancer who also worked at the Detroit Public Library — helped Larry source plants from places like Florida, Hawaii, and the southwestern U.S., honing Planterra’s aesthetic along the way. Together, the high-school sweethearts built a company unlike anything else in Michigan, designing plant installations for hospitals, offices, and spaces like the Renaissance Center and the Somerset Collection in Troy.

But by the early 2000s, Larry and Carol agreed that Planterra was growing stale, and the business needed to take a cue from its plants — that is, it had to grow.

Planterra ConservatoryPhotography by Abbey Moore Photography

Pliska brings his love of the outdoors to Planterra, which is known for its beautiful, exotic greenery.

Planterra ConservatoryPhotography by Jill Devries Photography

Planterra hosted its first wedding in 2010; now, the venue puts on 80 to 90 celebrations a year. Shane likens it to live theater. “You can’t redo it,” he says. “It has to be perfect from the moment you get there.”

“We all agreed as a family that it was just time,” recalls Shane, who had recently graduated from Boston’s Emerson College with a film degree and was working in Los Angeles. “Every 20 years, a business needs to reinvent itself.”

Drawing on his creative skills not just as a filmmaker but also as a designer, Shane — who returned home to Michigan in 2003 — had an idea: Bring Planterra into the production business. In addition to expanding Planterra’s geographic reach with living walls (vertical gardens with live plants) in places like the MGM Grand Hotel in Las Vegas, Shane and his brother, Zach, envisioned Planterra as a wedding venue. “Hosting an event or a wedding is similar to live theater,” Shane says. “You can’t redo it. It has to be perfect from the moment you get here.”

In 2010, Planterra hosted its first wedding — a date that took four days to prepare for. Now, the Planterra team typically sets one up in four hours and hosts around 80 to 90 weddings a year. The venue’s flawless execution has drawn raves everywhere from Harper’s Bazaar, which has called Planterra one of the 33 best garden wedding venues in the world, and Brides.com, which recently named it one of America’s best wedding venues.

Every year, to maintain that type of recognition, Planterra’s culinary and design team purges the company’s menu items and décor, tossing aside outdated chicken dishes, candelabras, linens, and vases in exchange for new ones. The team looks for inspiration for new food and weddings trends on social media, in wedding magazines and at event conferences and destination wedding sites in places like France and Italy. The end result: No Planterra wedding — despite being instantly recognizable on Instagram — looks exactly the same. For Shane, that’s part of the fun, both for him and his design team.

Shane Pliska of West Bloomfield’s Planterra Conservatory

Larry Pliska (with sons Shane and Zach in Hawaii) started Planterra as an interior-landscaping business in 1973. Since then, it’s grown into an award-winning event venue.

Shane Pliska of West Bloomfield’s Planterra Conservatory

Shane and Basel

David DiVincenzo, who’s served as Planterra’s Creative Director of Events for the past 10 years, says that Shane’s commitment to service and the freedom of the creative process have helped shaped the company into what it is today. “He really thinks of Planterra as an atelier, an incubator,” says DiVincenzo. “He trusts the creative team to do what we do and gives us the environment and the resources to be creative and experimental.”

What’s more, says DiVincenzo, Shane is equally concerned with staying relevant in an era when everyone is always looking for the next best thing. “He’s thinking about where the business can go. What’s the next direction we take?”

In the midst of Planterra’s business growth, Shane’s also made it a point to retain the company’s nature-centric principles. Since the ’70s, Planterra has been an advocate for sustainable business practices and a proponent of biophilia — the theory that humans have an innate connection to nature. The company has also been recognized for its connection between plantscaping and healing. Last year, it won international honors for the installation of a healing garden at the Parkview Cancer Institute in Fort Wayne, Indiana.

Shane Pliska of West Bloomfield’s Planterra Conservatory

For Shane, nature’s restorative properties aren’t just part of his professional life, but his personal life too. He and Karl live in a historic Bloomfield Hills home designed by Connecticut architect Edwin William de Cossy. The space is surrounded by floor-to-ceiling windows that allow occupants to feel completely immersed in nature.
“I live in a glass house. I work in a glass house,” says Shane, who adds that he’s “very attuned” to his circadian rhythm, i.e., waking up with the sun and winding down when it sets. “There’s a universal rhythm of doing things that make people feel good,” he says. “We pay close attention to [that] when making choices for the company.”

As Planterra looks ahead to its tenth year operating as a wedding venue, Shane says the company is exactly where he wants it to be — with a solid foundation but room to grow, both regionally and nationally. Within the next few years, he hopes to add to Planterra’s event offerings and expand the footprint of the conservatory, which will allow for outdoor events, ceremonies and cocktail receptions.

And when the business completes its next regenerative cycle a decade from now, Shane knows it will be time for Planterra to sprout new roots once again. “Entrepreneurship is all about embracing the uncomfortable — in a positive way,” he says. “No matter what, the show must go on.”

Planterra Conservatory

7315 Drake Rd, West Bloomfield Township

 (248) 661-1591

planterraevents.com

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