Between July and November 2018, four local boutique plant sellers set up shop in permanent homes within a few miles of each other from downtown into North Charleston — Hægur, Plant Babe, Meeting Green, and Roadside Blooms. They’re lush green spaces with personalities ranging from bohemian to prehistoric. Flora of all varieties line shelving along the walls and dangle from the ceilings. You feel like you can breathe easier by simply being among them. It’s this last quality — the sense of peace that keeping and caring for plants can instill — that’s inspiring a movement everywhere. The emergence of Charleston’s indie plant shops is indicative of a larger trend. Jungle-esque interior plantscapes reminiscent of the 1970s are back, and though plants are for the joy of all, millennials are running this market.
Of course, millennials’ every move can many times be connected to internet trends, and this one is no exception, as hashtags like #urbanjungle, #houseplantclub, and #jungalowstyle swarm on Instagram. There are innumerable “plant-influencers,” as Kyle Barnette of the Charleston Horticultural Society calls them, offering up photo gallery inspo of “their own personal urban jungles.” Images feature twisting vines that spill lazily from the tops of human head-shaped ceramics; air plants peek out from macramé hangings; lush fiddle-leaf fig trees are the focal point in any chic, minimalist interior with impeccable use of white space. The influencers’ guidance, says Barnette, makes plant styling “attainable and not so mysterious. They are offering information in a new, approachable way, making it visually appealing but also informative.” Barnette is even teaching a Tuesday night class called “Getting Social with Your Garden” on Aug. 27 as part of the Horticultural Society’s Summer Workshop Series.
So, sure, plants absolutely have a presence on the ‘gram. But for those who participate in the green thumb community, plants are as much a rebellion against the pervasiveness of technology as they are a part of it. It’s one of the many contradictions that this generation endures. Social media may plant the seeds of interest, but the greater truth is that millennials, including our aforementioned shop owners, consider plants a way to unplug. While businesses in other sectors race to create the latest “Uber for X” cloud-based service products, these Charleston plant retailers are opening stores that require you to seek them out and walk in the door to pick up that pretty variegated something-or-other to put on your porch.
“Plants pull us out of the social media world and into reality,” says Toni Reale, owner of Roadside Blooms. “They provide a way to connect with the earth and with other people. I love that people are getting into plants in this way because I feel like it brings more awareness of the world around us and our place within it.” Her shop started in a 1971 British ice cream truck that she retrofitted into a mobile plant shop — hence the name. Now, in their permanent home in Park Circle (4610 Spruill Ave.) that also serves as a workshop for event work, Reale and her team sell assorted indoor and outdoor plants among quirkier selections of locally grown carnivorous plants like Venus fly traps, pitcher plants, and sundews.
“Plant people are really special people who connect with each other,” Reale says. “It’s bigger than just seeing pictures on Instagram. It’s a connection to the plant and to other plant people. There’s a lot of joy present when people start talking about plants together.”
For Hægur owner Bj Stadelman, plants provide time for personal reflection and ritual. “Hægur has always been the shift that allowed me to create space for myself and grow within myself,” he says. Before Stadelman opened his shop, he was working (somewhat unhappily) as a hairstylist. Plants and plant styling were about personal expression, contemplation, and refuge. “Hægur started as … Well, I don’t want to say it was ever intentionally supposed to become what it is now. For me, plants have always been an escape from my daily routine.” But his natural passion propelled what would later become his business. Like Roadside Blooms, Hægur started out on wheels — a more affordable route to grow his business. These days, he also helps educate others on self care through plants from his shop at 1102 King St., which he views as a wellness hub. He shares the space with Ann Miller, who runs the holistic wellness company Modern Apothecary.
Meeting Green Gardens owner Kendal Leonard set up shop at 1455 Meeting Street Road after noticing the momentum of the plant trend and the absence of local places to buy them. “I think everybody kind of saw the opening at the same time,” she says. Her greenhouse space is bright, humid, and dense with plants. She’s a seamstress by trade, but helping people build their plant collections is her calling. “Everybody wants to go straight for a fiddle-leaf, but that’s one of the most difficult houseplants,” she says. She tells rookies to steer toward philodendrons. “I have some small ones in the greenhouse, and then I have these massive ones that are crazy looking, like prehistoric. And everybody likes rubber trees. When people ask what they can’t kill, I tell them philodendrons or snake plants. Oh, and pothos is another good one.”
“I think this all has a lot to do with our day-to-day,” says Jesse Nersesian, who opened Plant Babe at 1836 Meeting Street Road in 2018. “We’re always on our phones, on our laptops. We’re not outside as much as we used to be as kids.” Her words echo studies that examine how millennials’ tendencies to delay home buying and parenthood correlate to plant trends. Millennials embrace entrepreneurship and independence. They travel extensively. They live in apartments in urban areas. Plants are compatible with a busy lifestyle and still provide the fulfillment of helping something thrive and serve as that connection with nature we may be otherwise missing.
“As much as people want to talk crap about millennials, it’s like, ‘Hey, actually, we recognize that our dependence on technology isn’t the greatest thing ever, and we’re improving our lives with what we have available,'” says Nersesian. “I want to help create a space where you can really soak in the good vibes that plants give off. There are a ton of studies that tell you how good plants are for you, but you don’t need those to know that plants … they just make you happy.”