‘Botanical exchanges’ to help growers branch out
2020 is going to be a good year for lovers of indestructible botany: the spider plant is back in fashion.
“Lots of people new to plants want something they’re not going to kill,” said Sarah Rousseau, candidly.In the past she herself presided over the demise of several houseplants before meeting green fingered friend Fay Kenworthy at the Sheffield Steel Roller Derby.
“Spider plants are easy to look after and get hold of, and they don’t need lots of light or care.”
“And there’s nothing you can do to stop them having babies,” explained Fay, “and eventually those babies will need somewhere to go.” Hence the plantswap.
Last Sunday, 150 people brought more than 700 plants to Hagglers Corner in Heeley to swap with other local plant collectors. Succulents, spider plants, cacti, aloes, and aspidistras, along with a host of unidentifiables which will be appearing this week on social media.
“It’s about swapping and sharing plants, but it’s also about learning,” said Sarah.
When Sarah and Fay were Sheffield Steel rollergirls, they discovered many of their teammates also wanted more plants in their homes, and after a series of informal botanical exchanges, the first official ‘plantswap’ two years ago brought in 30 people to swap specimens and chat about their upkeep.
The swaps now take place every two months, in locations around the city. Participation is free, but a small donation towards running costs is encouraged.
On Sunday, plants young and old waited in small groups on Hagglers tables as expectant indoor gardeners eyed up the stock until 4pm, when Fay and Sarah launched the day’s exchange.
It was all very polite: regular swappers arrived with baskets and brought and took away small handfuls of houseplants, chatting all the while to their previous owners about what on earth it is growing out of that small urn, and how do you avoid killing it?
“You get a plant and all the advice that goes with it,” said Sarah.
Interest comes from young people with no interest in stark minimalist interiors, along with inner city dwellers with no garden, and green-minded folk who like the idea of nurturing nature indoors and out.
“It feels good to have lots of plants in your home,” said Fay. “In my own house I look out the window and there’s not a lot of green to look at, but I look inside and there’s lots of green which is really nice.”
Swapping plants is also more sustainable, she said, noting that large scale non-specialist houseplant retailers often buy their stock en masse with little interest in their condition.
“Half die on the ship, or in transit, which is so wasteful. But if you get plants propagated in Sheffield, there’s no environmental impact, they’ve often just travelled down the road to get here.”
The advice and social side of the swaps is a key draw, with growers wanting to make new friends with a shared enthusiasm for turning one’s home into a plantswap nursery.
And then there’s the mounting evidence that houseplants help your home’s air quality too, said the swappers.
Many of the favourite air-purifying houseplants of the 1970s are popular again, said Fay and Sarah: Swiss cheese plants, peace lilies, aloe veras, jade plants and spider plants are all easy to grow, and look good on social media too.
“Last week someone posted that when they first started they couldn't keep a plant alive,” reported Fay, “and now look at this, they said. ‘It’s beautiful!!’ It’s such a supportive community.”
“The whole point is to help people have plants in their lives,” said Sarah, “so if they go away with a spider plant or a mother of thousands, we’ll say maybe you can bring their babies to the next swap?”
But she did have a warning about plants with such fruitful characteristics. “Mother of thousands get everywhere,” she sighed, “and I have to be careful of spider plants, because my dog eats them.”
The next swap is from 1-2pm on Sunday March 15, at the Dorothy Fox centre in the Botanical Gardens, followed by a new ‘Plantalia’ market on April 25, at Hagglers Corner.
More information is available at @sheffieldplantswap or https://plantswap.uk