Name: Ralph Saldi
Occupation: Founder and General Manager, Bark & Vine
Location: New Haven, Connecticut
Bark and Vine started as a pandemic project in 2020. I remember seeing the space empty. I told myself that a cool store should take over that little corner spot. The realtor called, saying, “Hey, there’s a spot that I want you to see.” It was this exact spot. I think it happened because everything that’s happened in my life was forming for this to happen.
The plant shop is an amalgamation of everything I’ve learned in my life. Photography has been a huge part of my life. Plants are a huge part of my life. Design is a huge part of my life. I get to marry them all together under one roof, and it’s an amazing thing. I didn’t have to forget about my other passions in order to fulfill one thing. I didn’t have to forget about photography to give more attention to my plant shop. It became an organic part of the entire thing.
I went back to the Philippines for the first time in ten years. I wrote a little post on Instagram when I was on a layover in Hong Kong: “As I take this picture in Hong Kong after what feels like an eternity of a layover, it has allowed me to readjust to the familiar ways of my life in the United States. I’m constantly two different people: an Americanized me and a Filipino me living two separate lives that don’t feel quite at home anywhere. It’s a feeling that I know only immigrants who migrated as children can relate to. For us, home is where you currently are and where your heart wants to be simultaneously.”
I essentially bought this camera for my trip. I wanted to capture the Philippines as a photographer. It was my first time being back as a photographer. I shot everyday life from my grandma chopping vegetables, to the public transportation, these little “hut-huts,” street food, and a walk at the beach at five in the morning—this little kid was already fishing. I haven’t seen this scene in forever, you don’t see this in Connecticut. I captured that exact emotion from that day.
I love photography. I studied photography in college, and it’s something that I’ve loved ever since. I don’t leave without this camera. Whether I’m at the shop or I’m just doing my daily thing. This is what I use to capture all of our social content for the store.
This is a fixed lens, it’s only a thirty-five-millimeter equivalent,but thirty-five, for me, is really good. That’s exactly what the eye sees in real life. If I want to zoom in, I just move forward. If I want to zoom out, I just move back, but having that limitation allows me to shoot more rather than thinking, “Oh, should I grab my fifteen-mil lens? Should I grab my eighty-five-mil lens? No. There’s nothing here, I only have thirty-five.” It allows me to just shoot rather than think about how I achieve this picture better.
When I have this camera I don’t feel like I’m working. Yes, I may use it for work, but when I’m holding it, taking a photo, it doesn’t feel like work. Having a camera makes me feel good. When I see something beautiful, I can capture it.
I love the act of writing. Whether it’s making notes, making bullet points, or writing whatever I have to do for the day. It’s become part of my very ritualistic process in the morning. Writing allows me to really visualize a project. I’m usually writing things that I need to visit later on in the day, or things I thought of during the day. If I need to dump some thought I have, I’ll grab this really quick, and write it down. It might not live anywhere outside of that, but it’s there.
I’ve always worked in retail. Sometimes, after working twelve-to-fifteen-hour days, you come home and your brain is still operating that retail space. You want to relax, because you have to go to bed in a few hours, but your brain is still thinking. I found writing allows me to slow my brain down. Plants entered my life for that same reason. Plants give me a time during the day when I’m forced to slow down by watering plants, checking on the leaves. Writing does the same thing for me.
I always carry hand cream. Why more important now than ever? I work in a plant shop. We’re always dealing with dirt. I’m always washing my hands every five seconds, and then I look down on my hands and it’s as dry as the desert. I never leave without this. We actually stock a store lotion for everybody, but this one is just for me. I remember seeing this and I was like, “Oh my gosh, this smells good!”
This is new-ish in my bag. 2023 hit and I realized I haven’t picked up a book in years. I’ve been living this life of always on the go and don’t have time to spend with myself. I wanted to change that, since November of last year. I don’t leave the house without a book, or at least an audiobook.
Ever since I moved to the United States, I found myself wanting to be open to this whole new world, not just in reading, but just in general. Books are just so accessible. Public libraries weren’t a thing in the Philippines. I was in a public library every Saturday morning with my family. It just became this whole new world that I had access to. Back when I was a kid, I went through phases, reading for months at a time and then stopped for months at a time. This is the first time where I’m consciously making that choice every day. I want to keep reading because I know it has already changed something in me that wasn’t present before.
I’ve dedicated February, Black History Month, to black authors. Leila Motley is a nineteen-year-old novelist. The way she writes, you can hear her adult voice and her child voice simultaneously. I’ve never read anything like that.
The joy of reading is the joy of escaping, you know.
This is by a local artist, Matt Shaffer. He’s an archetypal artist nearby. When we were building the shop I had this huge wall spot that was open for a piece of artwork. I didn’t want to just go to Ikea or HomeGoods and buy generic art. I want it to be organic whatever I put in there. Matt stopped by and was like, “Hey, as a welcome to the community here’s my drawing. I would like you to have it. Congratulations on opening up a storefront.”I got it framed. Then a few months later, he was like, “I’m gonna make a tote bag out of them,” and I was like, “I would love to carry them in the shop.” So that’s my daily tote bag. This was his pandemic project. He drew this during the pandemic. He finished it, I think, just a few months before we opened the shop. It’s very fitting because I knew I wanted something that tied in with the shop. What better way to do that than with a New Haven print?
I wish I could consider myself a minimalist, but dang I love stuff. I wish I could only live with like five things. No, I need a bunch of stuff, but these are the things I gravitate toward.
Holly Harwood is a staff writer for Blue Muse Magazine
Header Image Courtesy of Holly Harwood