A new generation inherits a passion for houseplants

Jess McIntyre came by her love of houseplants naturally.

“My mom, she always had a house full of plants,” the 29-year-old recalls. “It was just honestly a lifestyle, not so much a hobby or something I did.”

She recalls helping water, rotate, and tend the plants. “I’ve been doing this whole thing ever since I was a kid, but I’ve been really actively collecting for the past year and a half,” she explains.

By the time she and her partner bought a house in Upper Mount Uniacke last year, the collection had grown to about 50 plants. “It’s a great conversation starter. I have a large monstera in my living room, so people are always commenting on that” says McIntyre.

At first, she kept her green thumb to herself. “I kind of kept it a secret for a little bit because I thought that it was weird,” she says. “But little did I know that this community is like hundreds of thousands of people all over the world.” When she started an Instagram account she discovered she wasn’t alone.

McIntyre says she’s connected with a group of local women who call themselves “plant moms.” Although they aren’t all women; a diverse group of people are active in the online plant community. “We talk plants, we exchange plants, we have a glass of wine and just catch up,” she says. “So it really does bring people together.”

Jess McIntyre. Photo: Victoria Walton

She’s met people from across Canada. “I actually met a friend in Winnipeg through plants and we send each other plants all the time,” adds McIntyre. “It’s cool to get plants from different places in Canada that I might not be able to get here.”

As a stay-at-home mom, McIntyre values the sense of community. “Any time somebody has a baby shower or a birthday, I just propagate a plant, give it to them as a gift, throw a little bow on it and ‘Happy birthday,’” she says. “Sharing is one of the best parts about plants, because there’s always enough plants to grow around.”

In downtown Halifax, houseplant junkie Jennifer Lee is half the duo behind the Instagram account @housefullofplants. For her, it started in when she went to buy a plant for her university dorm-room. “This is the very first plant I got in Halifax,” says Lee, gesturing to a jade plant she affectionately calls Carl. “He’s been through some stuff. But this stupid plant has made it with me through the years.”

When Lee first got Carl, it was only two little stalks. Now, after seven years of shuffling around Halifax apartments, it’s grown with her. “I just really liked the idea that you can bring a little piece of something that is alive with you,” she explains. “I’m really proud of it because it was so small. It was just two little stalks, and now it has seven years of growth.”

Lee created @housefullofplants with her housemate Robyn in 2018. “We both started accumulating plants because we had these huge south-facing windows,” she says.

But similar to McIntyre, Lee’s love of plants has family roots. “My mom had this hoya that completely took over this one corner of our kitchen,” says Lee. She has clippings from that same hoya in her living room now.

The 25-year-old has almost 150 plants in her apartment, including many propagations. That means a lot of time on plant care. Some days it’s a bit of watering, other days it means several hours of repotting. “I have kind of a once a week check-in, I try to make Sunday my day, like I’m going to spend at least a committed few hours to this today,” she says. “But it’s never something that I dread, I’m always like okay this is fun. It’s nice.”

Propagating plants from cuttings. Photo: Victoria Walton

Meanwhile, her Instagram account has grown to 5,000+ followers. “If I can actually give someone information or make someone feel like they’re a part of something or feel just a little bit better in their day, then I would say that’s definitely a success,” she says.

But even without social media, Lee says she’d still have a jungle. “I think I definitely identify as a plant person,” she says. “At this point I’ve etched it into my body.” She refers to the monstera deliciosa tattoo on her upper arm.
Having plants in her home helps give Lee a sense of community when it seems like the world is quite literally burning around her.

Even when the weather is gloomy and dank, Lee has a haven of greenery. “You read headlines that are like ‘The Amazon is on Fire’ and it’s like, well, at least I can keep this plant alive,” she explains. “I can come home, light some candles, chill out with my planty babes. It’s just dark and cold out so it’s like may as well make a little oasis for myself, and find some semblance of calmness.”

Back in Upper Mount Uniacke, McIntyre keeps most of her plants in the bedroom, where the best light is. “But it is spread out throughout the house because really each plant has different needs, different wants, different lighting. I really just cater to what they need,” she says.

Now that she has a daughter of her own, McIntyre sees her green thumb as a potential legacy. “It’s something that I definitely want to pass down,” she says. “I think ultimately it’s about taking care of the Earth and the planet and how to properly grow your own food.”

And now, McIntyre says she’s getting more and more requests from friends who want to take up the hobby. “A lot of people come to me for plant advice and how to get started. I feel like a plant mom is that sense of nurturing the new people and trying to get them started,” she adds. “To walk before they run.”

As for Lee, she’s on the way to turning her plant passion into a business. Back last summer when she downsized living spaces, she held a plant sale in her driveway. “I made like almost $1,000 in a day,” she says. “It was awesome.”

Now, Lee has a wholesale connection to order specific plants for people and envisions a future working as a plant consultant. “Now I have a wholesale plug, and that comes directly from the nursery into my house,” she says. “I’ve done things where I went to someone’s house, checked out their situation and set them up with plants.”

But Lee’s real goal is to have a public space in the city dedicated to plants all year round. “I want to organize a group to build a botanical garden where the old library is,” she says. “That’s truly my dream, to have a giant house full of plants in the middle of the city.”

Starter Plants

If you’re looking to up your houseplant game, there are lots of opportunities to start collecting some common plants.

Lee recommends plants like pothos and philodendrons for beginners.
“[They’re] pretty cheap, and you can propagate them fairly simply,” she says.

For those with a busy lifestyle, McIntyre says lean towards plants like succulents that don’t need as much attention.

“You can water them once and leave them for a month,” she says. “When you’re busy, the plants that thrive off neglect are the ones for you.”

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