Plant Therapy

Plant Therapy

Dogs Joplin and Gino, their chain collars jingling, are the first to greet me as I enter Anika Stewart and Georgina Gross’s Hamden home, where shelves holding carefully positioned plants climb half the perimeter of the living room. The plants’ stems are maroon, light green, deep green, and their tendrils snake among the shelves, winding up and around one another. Some of their leaves are grand and sturdy, others small and delicate. In the middle of one shelf, a circle of moss foraged from Hamden fills a glass pie dish, a sprout of alehoof rising from the middle.

The seeds of what became Your Queer Plant Shop were sown as the pandemic was blooming. “Things got very elitist quickly in the plant community—overnight almost,” Gross says. “Plants that were worth $30, because of COVID, all of a sudden were worth $30,000. It was a gross way to see plants used. We wanted to make these plants more affordable and more accessible.”

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The business began as a “plant purge” posted to a Facebook group. (Plant purges, popularized during the pandemic, are effectively flash sales of plants via social media, whether by individuals or businesses.) Two years after Your Queer Plant Shop’s first posts, Gross and Stewart, who personally grow most of the plants they sell and each have day jobs, operate YQPS both online and in-person, with the website, where the store is effectively empty at the moment, “on hold bc it’s popup szn!” according to their Instagram. Their next appearance is scheduled for December 17 during a “Freak Show” at Bregamos Community Theater, and while they’ve discussed opening a brick and mortar space, for now, operating out of their home allows Stewart and Gross to grow in a way that keeps them free and flexible. “We put together a business plan, that we did not follow by the way. We’ve made so many plans and then let this take us so many different directions,” Stewart says.

Gross’s love for plants developed early, in childhood. “I grew up in Baltimore city. My dad, who also deals with mental illness, has always been really into bonsais. Our basement was covered in bonsais, our whole backyard, our third-floor loft. I think watching him find peace and be peaceful at something was what attracted me to it,” they say. Stewart’s passion for plants developed later, as an adult. She had filled her own apartment with plants before meeting Gross, but Gross’s infectious passion brought it to another level. “The love and tenderness and joy that I saw plants gave to Georgina definitely rubbed off on me,” she recalls. Soon enough, the couple had collectively accumulated over 200 plants.

An opaque zip-up greenhouse tent in the basement houses the more tropical specimens, nursing them with specific humidity and temperature and light. The plants here range from pink princess philodendrons to orchids to monstera albas. “I do personally love the thrill of a plant that wants to live in an Ecuador rainforest,” Gross says. “Can I grow that in a dry house in Connecticut?” Describing Gross’s favorite plants, Stewart says, “When I first met Georgina, it was succulents, then ferns, then philodendrons, then it was succulents again, and now it’s orchids.” Gross outstretches their arm, revealing a new black-inked orchid tattoo.

Spending so much time with plants, they say, has benefited their brains. “There’s such a connection between mental health and plants, and they can teach you so much. Plants can teach you how to put things down for a while and find peace,” Stewart says. Gross says plants help them to be mindful. As a psychologist who struggles with their own mental health, Gross says plants help them be mindful and present.

Toward the end of our conversation, Gross pauses, then recalls an insight from the Buddhist teacher Lama Rod Owens. “Owens talks about how you’re never alone and how things are supporting you even if you don’t know they are. The ground is supporting you and plants are growing right here with us as part of our family. All you have to do is look around and you’ve got all these supports. Thats how I feel about plants. When I’m in a room of plants, I don’t feel alone.”

Written and photographed by Lindsay Skedgell.

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