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I feel closest to my grandmother when I’m watering my flowers and plants.

I sadly never met her because she passed away before I was born. But my mother tells stories about how well she took care of her plants – talking, singing to them.

I didn’t start growing houseplants until last year but more than a year later I have two healthy pothos. Both of their vines are overflowing from their pots. One of the pothos looked very ill when I got it, but I nursed back to health.

As Southerners, we have a deep connection to our land. During pre-apocalypse 2020, the soil became our solace as the world started to shut down and solution to food insecurity. In an effort to stay sane, we flocked to our nearest nursery or gardening center to satisfy our new hobby for houseplants and flowers. Community gardens made sure no neighbor went hungry.

So this week’s Black Joy is all about that plant magic.

-Starr

Meet the Botanical Black Girl changing the plant world

Audriana Osborne

Stephanie Horton is the “plant-fluencer” you need on your Instagram feeds.

The 34-year-old St. Louis, Mo., native put down roots in Huntsville, Ala., in April 2018. Her ombre purple afro resembles a flower amongst luscious green foliage as she manages Botanica, a local houseplant shop.

Founder of Botanical Black Girl, LLC, Horton is on a mission to make sure every plant parent, no matter their demographic, has access to the knowledge needed to keep their plants thriving. She also helps small businesses make sure their interior design is on point with plants.

Horton’s green thumb came from her father, who grew up in Mississippi. Growing vegetables and houseplants was the norm when she was child. But Horton didn’t become serious about the plant game until she bought her own home a couple of years ago and started filling it with houseplants. In order to protect her investment, she started researching how to keep her plants alive. She’s been hooked ever since.

So I hit up Horton with to talk about changing up the dynamics of the planting community so that everybody has access to some high quality greenery.

So how did Botanical Black Girl LLC get its start? 

As an Instagram handle honestly. I wanted to be very clear on who I was because if you take time to try to find out who is in the plant community, as a Black woman, it was a little difficult to find other Black women who were into plants. I was finding the hashtags and searching all through Instagram. It was just very difficult. So I said, “Okay, if anybody’s searching for a person that’s into botany, and they’re Black, and they’re a woman or girl, I’m going to be the first person that pops up.”

I firmly believe in using social media for building a community that actually interacts with one another. I’m not just looking for followers just for followers. I try my hardest in developing a good sense of community because when I first started my Instagram, it took a while to find that. It kind of snowballed into an LLC very quickly because on the side, I was answering a lot of questions via email, Instagram DMs or people coming into the shop asking me to help them with their plans.

On your website, you say you’re dedicated to making planting and plant knowledge accessible to all people. Can you talk about what causes the lack of accessibility and what it looks like? 

The lack of accessibility, I think that just kind of speaks to economics in general in America. A lot of minority folks aren’t seeing themselves in the online planting community. They’re seeing that everyone has all of these rare, expensive plants that can cost you $500. But they’re not often seeing a lot of minority folks in these influencer roles or getting these freebies and all of these things.

At the height of COVID-19, and even now, houseplants became very trendy and that drove up the cost on a lot of common plants. Two or three years ago, big-box stores may have charged $15 for a regular palm or something. But because everybody’s looking for them, they’re significantly upping the charge.

So how are you tackling those accessibility issues? 

I just give cuttings (of my own plants) away to folks who I know are going to care for it. I have no problem shooting you some information about someone who may be willing to give you a smaller plant or seed or something. There are ways to get you that access without you having to spend a mortgage on a plant because it’s ridiculous, in my opinion, that some of these plants are that much to begin with, but you know, capitalism.

I also don’t want anyone to think that interior plant design — consultations, installations — is something that is out of reach. I’m able to work on a sliding scale. If someone wants to introduce some sort of greenery into their space, be it their office or home, I want to make sure that I’m able to provide my service to anyone.

How do you see Botanical Black Girl flourishing in the future? 

I want to be the mother organization for something that will expose primarily Black middle and high schoolers to agriculture. Many HBCUs have agricultural roots. Every time I have like an exceptionally great week at work, I’m like, ‘Gosh. Hindsight is 2020.’ Had I known in high school that I really enjoyed plant sciences in this way, that would have saved me a world of headache.

Right now with my daughter and her friends, I try to leave little nuggets here and there about plants being cool. And they think plants are cool because it is the trendy thing, but showing them what you can do in agriculture and botany. I think that’s opened their eyes a little bit more showing them, “Hey, I know Black botanists now.”

What Horton knows

Horton is a proud mom of about 120 houseplants. So, best believe she has the tips to keep your greens thriving.

  • Dust the leaves. The leaves of your plants are like your face – prone to blemishes if unwashed. By dusting, you help the plant receive the energy it needs from the sun and it gets rid of potential or existing pests mites, which are hard to see with the naked eye.
  • Water larger plants in the shower once a month. With larger plants making sure the soil is completely and evenly saturated can be difficult. By watering in the shower, you’re making sure the plants are draining adequately versus a pot that you’re just pouring a cup or two of water in and it’s not really evenly distributing.
  • Invest in grow lights even if you believe that you’ve got perfect, natural light. It’s always good to have a nice cute floor lamp, and a good quality grow light bulb.

What Horton grows

Hogoè Kpessou

  • Snake plant: “You don’t have to be super attentive to them. I also love that they come in many different varieties, heights, colors and shapes. Generally speaking, they’re pretty accessible.”
  • Monstera deliciosa: “They have these beautiful large split leaves, or “fenestrations,” and they’re pretty much on par with general plant care as far as maintenance is concerned. So medium-to-bright light. Water every seven to 10 days depending on how dry the soil is. But they’re really beautiful plants they grow very quickly.”
  • Pothos: “They’re common enough to where you can find them pretty much anywhere, but there are a lot of different varieties, patterns, textures, shapes and even colors. They’re also not a huge expense.”

More plant-based inspiration

Lovers of fresh herbal scents should head over to the Atlanta-based HOAM Candle Co. and snag “Plant Daddy.” The Birmingham, Ala., native who founded the luxury, homemade candle business said the scent was special to him because it reminds him of his grandfather who loved houseplants especially pothos. Also, each candle has a playlist!

BLK+GRN is a an online marketplace offering environmentally friendly, Black-owned brands. It’s a hella cool place where you can ditch the toxic products and switch it out for the Black magic.

Now go forth and find your Black joy!

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Until next time! ✨