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Q&A: Plant Kween on Bringing the Great Outdoors Inside

Christopher Griffin, aka @plantkween, shares tips for plant parenting and self care, and why they turned their NYC apartment into an indoor garden paradise

Q&A: Plant Kween on Bringing the Great Outdoors Inside

Author

Brandy Brooks

Photographer

Courtesy Plant Kween

Brandy Brooks is a Los Angeles-based writer, mother, and lover of the great outdoors.

From earthing to ecotherapy, no shortage of research shows many health benefits of being outdoors. The Japanese exalt shinrin-yoku, or forest bathing, a simple concept of spending mindful and intentional time around trees. And in Norway, you have friluftsliv, a cultural concept on par with hygge that describes a way of life that is spent exploring and appreciating nature.

But New Yorker Christopher Griffin, who's recently taken the internet by storm as Plant Kween, doesn't ascribe to these therapeutic modalities. Instead, they bring the outdoors indoors, in a most remarkable way, reaping the same benefits from inside their NYC apartment—which houses well over 160 distinct plants, by the way.

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Plant Kween as a concept and an IG account feels a little like Billy Porter meets Little Shop of Horrors. On Instagram you can find them in natty blazers and kitten heels sashaying down aisles of uptown garden centers as if they were walking the runway on day two of New York Fashion Week. If Plant Kween is the face of their impressive platform of devoted followers (256k at time of publishing), then Christopher is the brains steering this whole planty ship. Their journey with their "green gurls" they so playfully call their indoor plants, started as an exploration of learning something new outside of their work as a full-time educator. This endeavor ended up as a crash course in plant care, and in return, their indoor garden became the mirror they needed for proper self-care.

What makes Christopher's transformation into Plant Kween so captivating is how they've come to find the thrill in unabashed Black Joy while teaching the world how to care for one plant at a time. Listen to our conversation here and read on for a condensed transcript below.

We write about the great outdoors. You demonstrate the joys of the great indoors. Do you consider yourself outdoorsy or indoorsy?

I think I can fit myself into both. I enjoy hiking, and I probably would do it more if I had greater access. I'm very good at adapting to my environment. New York didn't offer the opportunity to be as outdoorsy as I wanted to be, so I brought the outdoors indoors.

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You're known for having over 160 plants in your New York apartment. Do you see a connection with the concepts around Nature Therapy and your own plant practice?

When I started on this journey about four years ago, I was really searching for a new adventure for myself. I'm an extrovert, so I get a lot of my energy from other people, which I enjoy. I think I was looking for an opportunity or a moment where I could nurture myself by myself. Really, my grandmother started me out on this journey. I thought of her and her passion for her plants and gardening and how she had such inner peace. She was just this magical being that had amazing energy. She always looked at her garden, she was always around other people, but you could tell she was nurturing herself in her garden.

"Plants are so still and patient and slow. It's like putting a mirror up to how you care for yourself and how you treat others."

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So, I thought of her, and I was like, well, okay, maybe plants are the thing that I'm going to try. And so, I bought one plant, and I still have that plant to this day—it was the Marble Queen Pothos. She is one of my longest plants. She's a vine plant, and she started growing, and it's so simple, but it feels so good. I was like, let’s get into this! I started going to a bunch of different plant shops. I would hop on my bike and I would have dates with myself. I would go to these plant shops and research plants and it was an opportunity for me to escape all of the other conversations I was having in life and focus on something that was just for me while still catering to my love of nurturing something. It was the best of both worlds. I was like, this is great. Like, I don't have to nurture another person, I can nurture this little green creature…

The world we're living in right now, social interaction comes with so many anxieties. So, I've been spending a lot of time indoors with my plants. In those moments, when I do experience stress or anxiety, I go to my plants. You know, obviously, I check on my friends and loved ones, but when I don't feel like talking or hopping on the phone or looking at a screen, I have 160 possibilities.

In the outdoors, especially on the trails, it's been my experience there isn't much diversity. Is that the case for the house plant community as well?

When I started on this journey, I wasn't on Instagram. I wasn't sharing my experiences on Instagram. But I found myself taking little photos like, this is the plant before repotting, and this is the plant after repotting. And someone was like, you should put this stuff on Instagram. I think a part of me wanted to put myself out there, but I felt a little intimidated. But after a while, I found myself enjoying it, and I wanted to document that. Like, I want to document my joy. As an educator, I want to share what I'm learning and things that I've benefited from because we all need to grow.

"If house plants are your connection to understanding that we all have a part to play in taking care of the environment, then let house plants be that bridge."

I just didn't know there was this robust community of folks that are into plants. And I got excited! I was like, “They like planting as much as I do?!” The folks that I started seeing initially didn't look like me. And a lot of that was based on social media algorithms. But now I have plant friends from so many different backgrounds, who have so many different stories, and so many different identities. It’s beautiful. So yes, the plant community is extremely diverse, talented, and botanically brilliant. But when it comes to visibility and representation, that's a whole other conversation.

Your photos are such a vibe. You use plants as your backdrop, almost acting as your runway. People can go on Instagram and see you wearing fierce heels with all of this greenery behind you. Why do you feel this joyful imagery is so important to share?

I've really come a long way in terms of my own identity, my own, gender expression. While I was a college counselor of the nonprofit I was working for, I would come into this space, you know, as I was. I grew up in a household where my parents let me express how I wanted to express myself.

My grandmother was the first person who allowed me to wear her church kitten heels at the age of like three or four. So, I grew up in a family that allowed me to express myself in the way that I wanted but also making me aware of what came with that. Because I think doing this unapologetically also comes with consequences because it's a tragic world in which we live. We could go into a conversation around cyberbullying, but for the most part, online is a little safer to exist and create the image that you want.

When I was working as a college counselor, I had a student come up to me, and he was like, I've just never met a college counselor like you. You're Black, you're queer, you're femme—you show all of it. I see possibilities in you. I know I can come dressed how I want to in this school because you're a leader in this school and you're who you want to be. I feel like I kind of do that on Instagram as well. I'm bringing all of myself, and it's rooted in me being creative with myself.

"I think especially for Black folk, we have to remember that our joy is revolutionary. Our joy is necessary. It is needed; it is radical."

Plants are political, from coffee beans to deforestation. Why do you think it's so important that you advocate for plants and nature in general?

Yeah, I mean, we have been gifted with this amazing and beautiful planet. Nature nurtures us—we cannot survive without it. If house plants are your connection or bridge to your understanding that we all have a part to play in taking care of the environment, then let house plants be that bridge.

I want folks to know you can learn so much from plants—they’re simple. Simple but complex and intricate, and we can learn so much about ourselves through how we care for plants. Plants are so still and so patient and slow. It's like putting a mirror up to how you care for yourself and how you treat others. I've learned so much about myself. I've learned so much about how to better care for my body. Am I drinking water? Am I getting sunlight? Do I have the fertilizer I need to grow my foundation and roots? Are they strong enough to take me to the next level? I mean, the analogies could go on.

The ongoing pandemic has forced many outdoorsy people indoors. What are three tips for embracing the great indoors in a healthy way?

Yeah. So, obviously number one, get a house plant. You know, get a plant to green up your space. Make it a space you want to be in. I am constantly figuring out how I want to improve my space. So, I think folks should be creative and bring plants into their space.

Number two would be to have a routine. Routines are important; I have a routine for every day of the week so that my body knows it's a different day. There are days where I don't feel like doing my routine, but I know that if I do, my body will catch up, and I'll get there. It's always about really just paying attention to your body and figuring out what works and what doesn't work.

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Number three, I would say, allow yourself to experience joy. With everything that is happening, some of us realize areas in our lives where we are less privileged and areas in life where we are privileged. There's just so much happening in the world, and I think it's overwhelming. It's a lot to think about, and I think especially for Black folk, we have to remember that our joy is revolutionary. Our joy is necessary. It is needed; it is radical. To all my Black folks, let yourself have joy, experience joy, share joy, or keep it to yourself if you want to… just allow yourself to experience joy.

"As an educator, I want to share what I'm learning and things that I've benefited from because we all need to grow."

John Waters is known for saying, "If you go home with somebody, and they don't have books, don't fuck them." Should this advice apply to plants too?

I know that quote. Oh my God. Love it. Well, I mean, they definitely get points if they have plants. I'll probably go back for a second date and assess to see how well that plant is doing. And then that's probably going to tell me a little bit more about you, so watch out! But I know the kind of person that I am, and I didn't start this journey until four years ago, so I always give people the benefit of the doubt. But if they didn't have plants in their space, I'm probably opening up my compass app on my phone, looking at the direction of the windows, and making suggestions on how they can green up their space.

Let's play a game; it's called Hike, Camp, Climb. A play on the game, Fuck, Marry, Kill. So, Hike, Camp, Climb—Dwayne Wade, Zaya Wade, and Gabrielle Union?

I would want to go glamping with Zaya because I would just want to get to know her. I'm like, let's converse, let's have a conversation. Hiking would be with Gabrielle because then I'll be able to spend some time with her and get to know her. And then I would climb with Dwayne because if I fall, I could fall into his arms. Hahaha!

Published 09-28-2020

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