Staying home—with plants

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Johanna Dominguez behind the counter at Put a Plant On it (summer photo)

While it’s widely acknowledged that gardening exploded during 2020—as much a result of the safety and satisfaction of being outdoors creating beauty (or trying to) as any stay-at-home order—another plant-related trend also burgeoned during the pandemic. People found that bringing plants inside the home was another way of bringing beauty and contentment into their lives at a disturbing time. Here in Buffalo, plant stores are bustling, even expanding. Where once houseplants were consigned to certain sections of the big box stores and garden centers—where they still are—there are now at least four shops that sell nothing but houseplants and related accessories. I talked to the owner of one of them, my friend Johanna Dominguez, who opened her store, Put a Plant On It, in July.

“For the most part the pandemic has helped my business as it has other gardening, landscaping, and plant shops,” Dominguez says. “More people are staying at home, which means more people have more time for plants and want to beautify their spaces. People are finding a lot of stress relief and comfort in being able to keep plants.”

She notes that certain supplies are difficult to get now, including anything in spray bottles and that certain shipments have been delayed, especially those from other countries. Dominguez caters to the houseplant addicts who have been riding the wave of plant collecting since the trend gathered strength over the past few years as well as newbies buying their first monsteras.

She doesn’t find, however, that indoor plant-keeping leads to outdoor gardening. “I do carry product for outdoor gardening,” she says, “but most people are coming in for indoor gardening needs and houseplants. I stocked product that could be used for outdoor gardening—birdhouses, pollinator houses, sculpture—but the folk coming in are mostly focused on indoor gardening.” She adds, “I went the other way around in my plant experience. I started outdoor gardening and did outdoor gardening for years before I got my first houseplant. I can see some people going from houseplants to outdoor gardening, but a lot of these people with houseplants have smaller spaces —apartments rather than houses.”

Dominguez has close to 400 houseplants herself and maintains a diverse urban garden, complete with espaliered trees, a living outdoor wall that gets refreshed each year, many native plants, and a catio.

If reading all this is making you tired, I get it. I look upon winter as a time to rest from the garden and keep busy with my bulb-forcing. When a houseplant dies, I secretly rejoice because it’s one less to take care of, though I am keeping a few dozen alive most of the time. But if garden centers aren’t stepping up their houseplant game by now, they better wise up.

This trend ain’t going away.

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Elizabeth Licata has been a regular writer for  Garden Rant since 2007, after contributing a guest rant about the overuse of American flags in front gardens. She lives and gardens in Buffalo, N.Y., which, far from the frozen wasteland many assume it to be, is a lush paradise of gardens, historic architecture, galleries, museums, theaters, and fun. As editor of Buffalo Spree magazine,  Licata helps keep Western New Yorkers apprised about what is happening in their region. She is also a freelance writer and art curator, who’s been published in Fine Gardening, Horticulture, ArtNews, Art in America, the Village Voice, and many other publications. She does regular radio segments for the local NPR affiliate, WBFO.

Licata is involved with Garden Walk Buffalo, the largest free garden tour in the US and possibly the world, and has written the text for a book about Garden Walk. She has also written and edited several art-related books. Contact Elizabeth: ealicata at yahoo.com

13 COMMENTS

  1. Glad to see Joanna’s’ business is thriving. A rare phenomenon these days. I have summer and winter gardening, just transfer my attention to the houseplants come winter. Most of them do double duty as outside container plants then back in the house. It’s reassuring to see the renaissance in houseplants and in gardening overall. A far better hobby than drinking or eating.

  2. I am glad that your friend is doing well. I am in awe of anyone who can manage 400 plants indoors.
    I think of my house plants as temporary residents. They are outdoor plants that prefer to snuggle indoors with me over the winter. By the end of March, they are leggy and cranky to get out, so back to the patio they go.

  3. My local landscape plant nursery had a full greenhouse of tropical house plants end of season which was quite unusual for them. One big reason was they couldn’t keep landscape plants in stock. They needed something, any kind of plants to sell.
    I eyed those house plants warily for a couple months, then hatched a plot to trade some voodoo lily bulbs for a Madagascar Palm I did not need. The deal was consummated with a tray of rooted Angel Wing Begonia cuttings I had no homes for.

  4. I totally agree with your thoughts in the last paragraph. A hard frost is usually welcome. Time to plan for next year.
    My pest/disease strategy for the indoor plant…the great outdoors!

  5. I myself love different plants. And I keep more than 45 pots at home. Not everyone likes it, but for me it is like meditation for many. Some people need to lie down to rest or do yoga or meditation. And I just walk to see my plants. for me they are the best relaxation. I understand this girl very well. I’m glad that her life is not standing still! This means that people still need it and it is relevant! And it’s very cool, when a person does what he likes, then the chances of success in business increase!

  6. I remind myself these days of what a very wise person (me) told me: whatever you buy will some day require your attention. So I know just what you mean about houseplants, which do need more attention than just dusting.

    But I am also, contrariwise, hoping that the renewed interest in houseplants, true in the UK too, means that I no longer need to desperately try to keep my coleus alive, as there may be new ones to buy in the spring.

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