“Want to check out the plant shop?” I asked my friend Allan, who was in town from Mozambique and staying with me in Brooklyn.
“Yeah, why not,” he nodded. Fittingly, Allan works with plants professionally—restoring forests in his country, and has always been a great enabler and supporter of my own plant explorations—the most recent of which involves writing a book, How to Make a Plant Love You: Cultivate Green Space in Your Home and Heartand producing a daily botanical-based video serieson YouTube called “Plant One On Me” and “365 Days of Plants”.
We walked through, eyeing the plants and searching for a large enough pot to transplant an overgrown Zamioculcas zamiifolia, commonly known as ZZ plant, which I inherited from my former neighbor and friend Tara who had moved out and couldn’tbring her 15-year old green friend with her.
“How much is that one,” Allan inquired with Chris, the shop manager, pointing to the snake plant (also known as mother-in-law’s tongue), which stood straight up like a bunch of flexible green swords from its black nursery pot.
“The 10” is $60,” Chris responded. “And the 6” is $42.”
Allan blurted out a most raucous belly laugh. “Where I’m from,” he said, trying to compose himself, “they’re weeds. We sell a plant that size for about 10 metical,” he explained as he now inspected the succulent leaves with his fingers, “which is like $0.15 here.”
Plants, as Allan inadvertently pointed out, can be expensive—and what I’ve found from my travels throughout Africa, Europe and Asia, is that some of the most expensive ones are here in the states—especially now that the “plant trend” has hit a fever pitch. Plants that I had purchased once for $6.99 just three years ago—are now over double the price. Rarer plants, which were not necessarily so in demand three or four years ago—can command 10X the price. (Case in point: a cultivar of Aglaonema I purchased a few years back for $38.00 now goes for close to $400 on eBay). And just a couple years ago, Pilea peperomioides, known as friendship plant or pancake plant, was readily available and being sold in the Netherlands for about $2.00, but was challenging to find stateside up until a couple years ago and selling for nearly $80 per 2” plant.
For those on a budget, plants may feel inaccessible, but there are plenty of ways to be scrappy while still being able to fulfill your love for plants, which I’ll outline with five ideas below:
- Take cuttings from friends, family and even strangers alike. Cuttings are basically small snippings of plants that can easily be propagated. Oftentimes we have family members and friends who have plants and would be more than happy to share a free cutting. Additionally, so many storefronts (and not even plant shops) actually have large plants just as part of their display, and I’ve been fairly successful at asking for cuttings that interest me.
- Start or join a Plant Swap in your community. Two years ago I asked people on Instagram as to whether they would like to get together and do an exchange of plants. Much to my surprise, I had a flood of interest, and that’s how the first NYC Plant Swap(and later the LA Plant Swap—fondly known as “Plantchella”) was born. Plant swaps aren’t new, and the concept is relatively the same: bring plants or cuttings to share, get together in one place, and trade! Plant Swaps can be as informal or as formal as you like, and many have started to pop up around the world. So much so, that I thought it would be cool to create a community plant swap page, where people could find swaps in their hood, host swaps, and even learn how to do their own.
- Start with seeds. Though seed starting is in a league of its own (meaning, it can take practice, space, and a long time to grow a plant from seed depending on the plant), it is a really cost-effective means of plant ownership. In many cases, you can get hundreds of plant seeds for less than $1.00 or $2.00, so if you have the time, space and patience—then starting plant from seeds may be a good, scrappy solution!
- Big box store plants. Though I prefer shopping at my local, independent garden centers, plant shops and nurseries, many of us don’t even have that option available to us. Instead, the nearest plant shop is the closest Home Depot or Lowe’s. But the good news about that—at least from the customer’s perspective—is that plants—though limited in selection—are relatively affordable and easy on the pocket book.
- Be creative with your planters. Of course when we talk of plants, it’s hard not to include planters—or the pots you put them in—which can sometimes be pricier than a plant. Instead of having to invest in a nice planter, you can start planting in just about anything—from tea tins to colanders. And if you have a drill, you may want to invest in a set of diamond drill bits, which can be used to drill holes in just about any glass or ceramic cup or pot and instantaneously convert them into a usable planter.
By Summer Rayne Oakes
Summer Rayne Oakes finds joy caring for over 1,100 plants in her Brooklyn apartment. She is the author of How to Make a Plant Love You: Cultivate Green Space in Your Home and Heart; host of Plant One On Me on YouTube; and founder of the Houseplant Master class and Homestead Brooklyn. You can follow her personal plant journeys on Instagram @homesteadbrooklyn.