Bright Side of Business: Entrepreneur shares her love of nature to help others thrive

Alexis Ashworth
“I always thought of plants and gardening as a hobby,” Alexis Ashworth says. “I never considered that (it) could be a career path.”

The Bright Side of Business is presented by Star Motors.

Alexis Ashworth has turned a lifelong green thumb into a flourishing business that helps people from all walks of life get more from nature.

Ashworth, a former CEO of Habitat for Humanity Greater Ottawa, has always been a nature lover, but little did she know that, one day, she’d take that passion and turn it into a business. 

It all started when the pandemic hit. “I found myself turning to houseplants in the winter months to stay centred and grounded,” Ashworth says. 

Guided by an executive coach, Ashworth began exploring whether her green thumb could be the ticket to a potential career opportunity. “I always thought of plants and gardening as a hobby,” she says. “I never considered that (it) could be a career path.”

With a bit of research, Ashworth found there was a big gap in Ottawa for horticulture therapy: a practice that uses plants to promote well-being. On top of that, she realized that there were many people like herself who were experiencing high stress levels as a result of the pandemic and seeking solace in the outdoors. 

“I thought there's an opportunity here to keep that connection to nature growing strong,” Ashworth recalls.

In September 2021, after seven years at Habitat for Humanity, Ashworth launched Root In Nature, a social enterprise that supports the community through horticultural therapy, nature-based programs and employee well-being.

For a few months, Ashworth was working at Habitat for Humanity while launching Root in Nature. “When I left Habitat, as much as I loved that role, it was such a relief to just be able to focus full time on Root in Nature,” Ashworth says. 

Root in Nature offers both online and in-person sessions. For employee programming, Ashworth partnered with medical adviser and naturopathic doctor Dr. Owen Wiseman to put together a one-hour presentation, “Nature as a Workplace Ally.” Recently accredited by the Law Society of Ontario for professional development hours, the presentation goes through the practical things that employers can do to bring nature into the workspace, from redesigning the workplace to planning team nature walks and in-office sessions working with greenery. 

Despite a background in finance and plenty of leadership experience, Ashworth describes setting up a business as an “extremely intense process.”

“I worked with another coach (whose) main focus is helping women set up social enterprises,” she explains. 

Ashworth rallied her community around her to get Root in Nature off the ground. “I had a great little team, a few women who came together in the early days who helped me out, and I have an extremely supportive husband,” she says. 

It didn’t take long for the business to flourish. Today, Ashworth has nine employees, including horticultural therapists and social workers. As well as accepting corporate clients, Root in Nature works with community organizations such as women’s shelters, veteran’s organizations and seniors centres. 

The future’s bright — and green — for Root in Nature. The social enterprise is expanding its programming to include eco-anxiety courses led by social workers and psychotherapists, as well as programming for children and youth with autism spectrum disorder. 

It doesn’t end there. As part of Mental Health Awareness Week May 2 to 8, Root in Nature will be hosting a Mind, Body and Soil series for businesses, with clients like Great West Life Realty Advisors already signed up.

For Ashworth, taking time to smell the roses has been well worth it. “I'm so energized — I just love what I'm doing so much.”

The Bright Side of Business is an editorial feature focused on sharing positive stories of business success.

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