In our second edition, we sat down with Micheal and discussed plant connections, representation in the plant/gardening industry, and the healing power of plants. An inspiring conversation filled with realness and humor. It was a reminder of why documenting black people with their plants and in nature is so important!
What do you do in the city?
At first, I was working for a community garden then for the City of New Orleans Health Department. Now I work for a hotel in the middle of the night. I actually just got off a shift at 7 am. Took a nap and now doing this interview at 11.
What got you into plants?
I first fell in love with growing from my aunt, she landscapes her yard. Because she was older I did all the grunt work. Once I moved to New Orleans I started accumulating plants.
One of my friends Ben always had beautiful plants on his porch and I was jealous of the situation. I thought - “I need to get more plants! I need to give more love to plants!" So I started buying more plants and I realized after I started buying plants it just made me feel 10 times better. Every time I have a small situation or trauma I’ll buy a plant and I put all my care into it to make sure it’s nurtured. That’s why I have so many plants now. And given the current times, they will keep accumulating. You know just what’s happening in our government and how people are dealing with all of this change.
I then started working for the community garden and my friend Ica was like, “Yea, I really need to get you up on your plant skills. This is what you need to make your own fertilizer, your own soil.” It just improved my whole plant situation. My plants started growing more and flourishing. I love how just putting your hands in the dirt changes the makeup of the plant.
How do you feel connected to your plants?
Well, it’s like a therapeutic healing situation. While having small traumas and huge traumas in my life I like to purchase plants. It’s healing for me because I can turn to my plants for inspiration and for learning. I can turn to them for that care. It’s ever changing - every season there is something new to learn about them. I am connected in a way that I take them in and I want to create a home or space that is a healing space for anyone that comes and hangs out with me. The plants are beautiful too. They are healing to the eyes - their growth, their color. People come in and are immediately like “Wow, I love the energy of your space” and it’s mostly because of the plants. That’s kind of where my life is right now - trying to heal and trying to make sense of things by caring for plants.
The bird of paradise I actually just got from a friend Ms. Hilda, she’s an elder. She had three in a pot and we broke them apart. I’m really vibin’ with the one I got from her. I’d rather move these plants from spot to spot than furniture. I’ve lost connection to those things. One of the things I don’t mind moving are my plants - they are kind of like my furniture now.
What are your favorite plants?
I like the vining plants. I love those obviously because they grow long and full. I like this Monstera - I think it’s called a Swiss cheese plant. When I got it it was so full! I have a little humidifier to keep it moist, but I need a couple more of those. I also like the string of bananas and the string of pearls. They started in small containers. I had the bananas placed in the window then I moved them because I knew you were coming. Haha! So it may drop off a little where I’ll have to put them by the window again. My favorite plant though is, of course, the Pothos. It just makes me feel like I'm in a jungle.
What are some successes and failures with your plants?
Ok so some of the failures, why don’t we start with that and end on a high note. Some failures - during the winter with all the heat on some of the plants die off because the soil gets too dry. Sunlight and trying to figure out placement is another issue. Just not knowing the temperament of some plants. That’s more of a learning curve. That’s why I keep plants because of that curve so I spend time really learning how to take care of them.
Successes. Getting a plant, making a promise to it saying "Ok, I’m going to try to keep you alive." It’s great when you do that and it grows significantly just out of the pure love of me taking a water bottle to the leaves once a day. Another success is the plant on the patio because I’ve had it for a long time. The philodendron over there I had in my office for a long time and it just grew out. I had to move all my plants out when I moved offices. I kind of forgot I had so many. Then when it was time to go I moved my plants out slowly on the sneak tip. My plants were actually dying in there. It’s important to bring them to work depending on your atmosphere - especially human services because it’s therapeutic for not only you, but your clients. It makes you feel 10 times better, like you can get through the day at least.
Do you see yourself represented in publications, media, blogs, etc. about plants?
I have not seen myself represented. The only one I really see is Justina from The Jungalow. I followed her on her blog before Instagram. All the items they sell are so expensive though. Why would I spend so much money on a planter? They’ve made it into a market, where you walk into someone’s home and it looks like everyone else’s home. It’s almost identical. And no one is really looking at what they’re getting. I don’t understand the connection - is it for aesthetics or growth?
I’d like to see more of the history of black people and their plants. What’s our history with planting, with growing, with gardening? Most of the stories I learned about my family was while helping out my aunt in the yard. There was a chunk of history I wasn’t connected to. Just helping her garden we talked and had conversations. We learned a lot about each other. It was a conversation starter and therapeutic.
I think a lot of women...black women in particular use it as a therapeutic way of connecting to the ground, or connecting to themselves. And I think that’s important. And also black men too. A lot of the gardeners in New Orleans, a lot of the great ones are black men. It’s interesting how I don’t see that information anywhere. Of course you have black women and we love to cook so we’ll grow our own herbs and vegetables. All of that was the norm in my home, but you didn’t see black men because of the absence in my life. And so when I moved here and started doing the community garden thing a black man would show up. Then you would find out the history of him, people would be like - “Oh my god! You don’t know about him. He makes his own fertilizer, his soil is crazy, you should see his yard!” I heard one man’s name - I can’t remember it now, but I heard his name from like three vastly different sources. The security guard at my job where I used to work who gave me the trout fish, told me this dude had a killer garden. Ica told me he had a killer garden! You have to meet him and interview him because everyone knows him. I think he lives on the Westbank. Those are the hidden heroes, those are the secrets, the unsung heroes. But those are the people we need to interview to figure out how we get back to that.
There are so many grocery stores...I don’t know where they get their produce, but think about how many black people that grow their own produce that could provide a store like Circle Foods with their supply. That would be awesome! And just putting it back into our communities and teaching us that we could put herbs we buy back into our yards to grow. It’s crazy that we have all these people growing all this produce here in Louisiana - absolutely no one is growing at a mass number.
So no, I don’t see us represented in publications. African-American males really need to be highlighted. There is a correlation between past traumas and African-American history that is connected to gardening. What we do to heal and the different herbs we use to heal but more so the actual technique, the act of gardening is healing. I’d love to see more of the history, more of the stories. How we can use plants to help people get out of that discomfort zone of talking about trauma. I think gardening is that connection that everyone has. When I grow produce I eat that and it makes me feel good - it’s a direct connection. That’s interesting to me. I’d love to see that more than just the beautification and aesthetics of plants. My anxiety levels are extremely low when around my plants even when talking about them...like right now!
I don’t have access to that information and to provide that information to the community, especially the black community is so important. Especially as a way to deal with and heal from trauma. How I channel my trauma is planting and now it’s turning to writing it down. So it’s important that we are writing all of this down and documenting all of this. Like how do we get people to release information, talk about trauma, because where is it going to go when you die? I think it’ll help us get our groundings back...that’s where our healing source is. To know is to move forward. Knowing where we come from should be the number one thing.
I also ask myself why isn’t this information easily accessible? Like why can’t I just go to the library or the bookstore and pick this publication up. You really have to want to find out that information and research it. You have to have the want to learn more. I know I just went on this tangent, but it’s important for us to get back to our roots. I want to know, and grow and learn and in order for me to do that I need to release these things even things that I have no recollection of, but it’s something that has just been passed down through my family lineage. That’s what I’d like to read and the information I’d like to know - those traditions in black gardening, in healing and why our ancestors used to garden and why we have certain things in our yard, just the history of it all.
What are some of your favorite gardens in the city?
The woman on the corner. She pays so much attention to her garden. I love her yard. A couple around the corner, they literally cut their grass in a strategic way where there is still grass growing, but it’s overgrown and pretty with wildflowers everywhere. It’s not manicured but maintained.
The agave plant down the street is dope! I have never seen them in their yard, but it’s out there. I wonder how they got it out there and how they maintain it. It is massive. There’s two. I love walking my dog around the blocks in Gentilly. There are so many people that have plants and maintain them and care for them because it adds to their lives. I kind of just love that.
Community gardens wise I like Ica’s idea of a community garden. She has it planned out so well. She has crops that just grow on their own. Treme Community Garden is really nice too. Someone who is doing it well is Emily at ReFresh. I like what she does. She literally has leadership from the community in the neighborhood. The community leads the meetings and everything.
What are some of your plant rituals?
The watering of course. I try to do it on Sundays. The rain has been very helpful, I’ll just set the plants out. I water the plants on the porch every other day just to conserve water. Burning incense. I don’t have any type of entertainment so I like to play music like dance and house to get all the spirits up. I feel like if your spirit is up then your plants' spirits will be up. The repotting process is a mother f*ck. It’s just so much muscle work even coming from working at a community garden. But that’s my ritual.
Collection of Collections Recommendation: Lush Vibes on Spotify - great playlist for you and your plants. As described by Spotify - lo-fi and chill instrumental hip-hop.
What would be your ideal plant setup?
My wall of plants. Literally, a complete wall where people walk in and say “Holy Shit!” I want vining plants hanging from the ceiling with mirrors on the wall. Having plants in every room - especially the kitchen. And a lush patio with a container garden in the backyard. Definitely a potted garden so that if I have to move I can bring the plants with me easily. I think I’m on my way to the ideal setup. It’s a process too maybe I’ll change it down the line.
Really when you come home from anything, even just being outdoors or driving around and dealing with people and their energy you want your home to be a solid space. As soon as I walk in I feel comfortable. I think it has a lot to do with the plants I have in here and me tending to them. It’s like my healing space. When I go out I’m always trying to protect my energy. So when I come home I can release all those energies.
Where do you go for plant inspiration?
Harold’s. I don’t know who their dealer is, their plant plug but they have some exotic looking plants. There’s some other plants I have my eyes on, but I just got the one in the bathroom because again I knew you guys were coming. :) Every time I get paid, $35 goes to plants at Harold’s.
Walking around the neighborhood. I just don’t have the mobility with my plants because I don’t own my home. I had a little garden situation at my old place with a roommate. I put the garden in the back and I know that shit is probably growing wild. In my other apartment, I planted an herb garden and I know it’s overgrown. So that’s why I’m doing pots so I can move my stuff and enjoy the fruits of my labor.
There’s a place in Chalmette on Judge Perez. I can’t remember the name of the place. I know it’s right past Home Depot. You’ll see the nursery to the left when you come around the corner. They have all the typical plants at a cheaper price. There's another place out on the Westbank, my friend Ben took me there. It’s amazing. I didn’t buy anything, but he just took me there to show me what I could be buying at a cheaper price. I choose to go to Harold’s because of their exotic collection of plants though.
What is your oldest plant?
The oldest one is one I have hanging on the patio. The newest plants you can tell because I haven’t potted those.
Advice for budding green thumbs?
Basically, take your time. Continue to want to learn about them. That’s the life lesson continuously learning. And be patient with plants. My rubber plant, I don’t want to die, but I want that pot for other plants that are alive and well and that one’s got six leaves like what are you doing for me? Haha! Enjoy yourself. If you want to buy a lot of plants, buy a lot. Always want to know more about them. The names are cool, but know more about their living situation how it makes your home feel...what plants give back to you.
Since traveling abroad I’ve created such a connection to the earth and become much more interested in the jungle. My skin felt better, the air felt better, the water. Everything was green and the people are much more earthy and simple. I love island life. That is eventually where I am going to retire. Island life is for me. I’ve never been a person who wanted too much other than learning. It has a different type of value, it’s not money, it’s about the constant pursuit of learning, trying to figure out who we are in this life and how we get to the next step in our lives, finding ways mentally we can actually elevate ourselves and our people. That’s the type of lifestyle I want to live and that’s also why I surround myself with plants. Right now I’m exploring South and Central America.
What do you look for in a plant before you purchase it?
The stand out qualities of a plant - the different colors, the shape of the plant. The growth potential of the plant. I buy them at different stages of their life - young and old.
We later discussed the different ways to acquire new plants for free. These are secrets and may or may not be revealed. If you know us then maybe we’ll share, but there are just some things we have to keep for ourselves. ; )
Further discussion: Dreaming of poisonous plants and how we interact with them. What does dreaming about poisonous plants mean, anyone?
All photographs taken by Collection of Collections, unless otherwise noted.