Trade you my Tillandsia pup for your green zebra tomato seedling? Call it the new sharing economy: Plant swaps are coming to a neighborhood to you.
Plant lovers have always shared the bounty over the backyard fence or at local garden clubs. But these days an upstart generation of houseplant lovers on Instagram is fostering a fast-growing movement of plant swaps as community-building, green-business-sponsored happenings: flower power powwows for the 21st century.
A pied-piper of the movement is environmentalist/model/entrepreneur Summer Rayne Oakes, who staged her first swap last spring in NYC and followed up with a how-to on her Homestead Brooklyn website and YouTube channel. Since then, swaps have been popping up near and far, and Oakes is gearing up for her second swap next week in NYC. Here’s the lowdown.
What exactly are plant swaps?
Plant swaps are events where plant enthusiasts of all stripes meet in person to trade plants or cuttings and knowledge. Think clothing exchange turned plant party. Some are casual gatherings—a few people in a library parking lot—but more and more are ticketed forums that take place in indoor settings, such as co-working spaces and brewpubs. These typically begin with a meet-and-greet to check out each others’ plants followed by a Q&A session on plant care (sometimes live-streamed on Instagram), and finally the bartering. How that happens also varies: At some, participants walk around and strike trades; at others, all the offerings are arrayed on tables, numbers are doled out, and each person gets up one at a time and picks.
I spoke to several swap organizers and each emphasized that the vibe is low-key and inclusive: No grabbiness allowed. Oakes says she and her confreres make this possible by bringing extra plants to share and seeing to it that no one leaves empty-handed. “There’s a huge plant community on social media. These swaps are a way to get people to leave their four walls and meet each other,” she says, adding that #plantfriendsIRL (IRL for “in real life”) “is the new hashtag.”
What are the best plants to swap?
Healthy, pest-free plants of all sorts are welcome. Cuttings (also known as “starts”) and baby plants (“pups”), rooted or planted, are also good; at most swaps, you also can trade planters and seeds. (At the Fresh Start Portland swap, a new mother sent all her potted plants, so they’d go to homes where they’d be loved and tended.)
Whether the focus is on indoor or outdoor plants depends on the locale and time of year, but the majority of swaps of late are in urban settings and attract a jungalow-obsessed crowd looking to trade houseplants. For admission all you have to bring is one of something (but in most cases, you also have to have secured an advance ticket—and because space is limited, these go fast).
What are the popular plants to swap?
That, too, differs by location. A Dutch swapper commented recently on Instagram that you couldn’t give away a Pilea peperomioides in Amsterdam because they’re so ubiquitous. In the States, though there’s no longer a shortage, one of these Chinese money plants might get you a rabbit foot fern in a kokedama ball, says Oakes.
At Sarah Scott’s Victoria, Canada, March swap—where by group consensus everyone drew straws to decide the picking order—she reports, “A beautifully rooted Monstera delicosa cutting was the first to go. In general, there was a good balance of generic plants (jade, spider plants, pothos, succulents, dracaena stalks) and some really interesting/desirable things (a queen of the night cutting, hoya, cardamom).”
Tagging offerings is becoming standard practice—Columbus, Ohio, visual merchandizer and swap organizer Katie Schultz of @designandflowers came up with a swap sheet for participants to fill out with basic plant info. She also left space for the story behind the specimen, and that detail can make all the difference: at Oakes’s first swap, a hot item was a cutting of a “perfectly ordinary” Plectranthus: It had come from President Barack Obama’s Oval Office.
How is money raised at plant swaps?
A fund-raising element is often, but not always, added to these events. Oakes charges a nominal fee for tickets ($5 last time and $7.50 for this month’s event) and donates the proceeds to a good cause (this year, the money is going to help build the Los Sures senior services center chicken garden in Williamsburg). Ticketing ensures people show up and supplies a head count, so the space isn’t overcrowded. Equally important, her many sponsors supplying food, drink, and swag know how much is needed. (Oakes’s burlap gift bags are filled with things like Heath Aid Kombucha bottles turned into planters, basil seedlings, garden shears, and $5 coupons for The Sill.) Fresh Start (@startfreshfreshstart) is a nonprofit that helps organize plant swaps all over the country. Its founders—longtime friends Alison Hawley, the manager of a Seattle shoe store and Carina Oney, a Portland, Oregon, surgical nurse—offer raffle tickets to participants. At the Portland swap, their first, they made $980 for PAALF, the Portland African American Leadership Forum. Prizes were donated by area businesses: Allison Burt-Tilden reports that she bought six tickets for $20—and won a $500 bag and an $85 bottle of perfume.
Where can I find a plant swap near me?
Word about most swaps is spread on Instagram: Type #plantswap for the latest (you’ll also see many variations that may be of interest, such as #plantswapparis). Facebook is another source: Search “plant swap” and groups all over pop up. Plantswap.net is an old-fashioned digital bulletin board that lists events as well as individual plant want ads and offerings.
Here are a few upcoming plant swaps on our radar:
- April 14 in NYC: Summer Rayne Oake’s event this weekend sold out instantly. Watch @homesteadbrooklyn for announcements about her next NYC swaps tentatively being planned for June and September.
- April 21 in St. Louis: For the details, including how to register, go to @designandflowers.
- Early July in Seattle: Fresh Start is planning its next swap close to home—with other locales to follow.
- Fall and spring in Victoria, Canada: Follow @botanic.creative.co for the alerts.
How do I organize my own plant swap?
It’s a fledging movement and everyone involved is eager to trade info—and easy to reach via social channels. Oakes’s How to Organize a Plant Swap Like A Pro is, so far, the g0-to primer; also watch her video Plant One on Me: How to Organize a Plant Swap in 10 Easy Steps.
Oakes herself can’t get enough greenery: see How to Turn a Brooklyn Loft into an Urban Oasis and our followup visit at Living with Houseplants: Four Years Later in a Brooklyn Apartment. See more ways to connect with plant lovers:
- 10 Houseplant Lovers to Follow on Instagram
- 10 Garden Ideas to Steal from Instagram
- Curb Appeal: 11 Front Garden Ideas to Steal from Brooklyn