Before pandemic shutdowns began last spring, Shalom Parker was already a fan of houseplants.
“Two years ago, when I moved into this apartment, I started buying plants but I was in school, I didn’t have a lot money, so I only had like five or 10,” she said.
But when a new job gave the ceramics artist and therapist more spending money — and pandemic-induced shutdowns gave her more time at home — her plant love really began to flourish.
Her collection now includes more than 60 plants.
“With the stay-at-home order, it was cool to create a space in the plants to decorate was really important,” said Parker. “In the process I learned a lot about the plants, found out all the names, the caring, the humidifiers and grow lights.”
Parker says one of her favorite shops for plants is the Plant Salon in Noble Square.
“I was so excited to see a Black-owned shop. Within the plant world there’s a lot of different people and they’re doing really cool things, but oftentimes it’s Black-owned and minority-owned businesses that get left out. I wanted to be intentional about it in my plant love,” she said.
Plant Salon owner Nika Vaughan says the pandemic had a hand in her shop’s story, too. She opened her bridal beauty shop several years earlier, and decorated the space with plants. Vaughan says clients would often ask if the plants were for sale, and sometimes she would have pop-up plant sales when her private collection needed dividing.
Then the pandemic hit.
“In May 2020 it kind of hit home how long the new normal might last, the shutdown and everything. Especially for the wedding business and beauty side, it was such a double whammy,” she said. “And I think because I already felt comfortable running a small business and I kind of had those resources that pivoting and starting to look at, what does it mean to sell plant product, what are the channels I need to find out, what are the resources I can utilize in the community? We moved very quickly and the community was ready for more plants, and it really worked out.”
Vaughan uses social media to nurture city dwellers’ newfound interest in houseplants and help them care for their charges.
“One of the things I noticed when we first opened and there was such an influx of new plant parents – and there was so many, all at once — was, we live in a city, we have a lot of apartments with odd lighting situations, and people would come in so excited and then they would say: ‘I have one window in my room.’ And you’re like, OK! So you would show them plants that really meet those needs,” Vaughan said.
“We have such a great following in our immediate community. We have people that check in with me by Instagram. We have people that come in to watch plants in the private collection grow,” she said. “One thing we encourage here is that everyone comes to the door is here to talk about plants, and this is a place to come and have that conversation.”
Like many plant parents, Vaughan’s affinity for plants stems from her childhood.
“When I was a little girl, my mom used to have red geraniums and I picked the petals off to have red nails. People who love planting, it’s like – you’re proud of it, you’re part artist, chef, scientist and you know there’s no right answer – so it does encourage the idea of a community.”
For urban dwellers hoping to join the plant parent ranks, Vaughan has a recommendation – the hardy ZZ plant. Vaughan says the plant’s low water needs and unfussy light requirements make it ideal for urban living.
Parker, who has no shortage of light in her apartment, says watching her plants thrive is helping her thrive in this chaotic year.
“For me, a lot of the pandemic has been learning how to care for myself better. It’s been one of the busiest years of my life between balancing a small business, school, job, an internship,” she said. “Slowing down and taking care of plants every morning has helped me focus on the plants growth and my growth at the same time.”