“When folks come over, they’re like, whoa, you’re really into plants,” laughs houseplant expert Christopher Griffin, aka Plant Kween. They live in a colorful Brooklyn apartment with more than 225 “green gurls,” but since each plant is strategically placed, the space feels more airy than crowded. Here’s a peek inside…
On a sweet-smelling home: My apartment feels like a lush rainforest. Whenever a plant blooms, my space is filled with scent. Plants release moisture into the air, so after watering them, the humidity level in my apartment goes up. Actually, a friend recently said that my apartment felt dewy. And I was like, okay, I love that.
On the origin story: When I was young, my grandmother introduced me to her love of gardening. She was raised on a family farm in Georgia, where they grew their own food. When I brought home my first houseplant — a Marble Queen pothos — seven years ago, it felt so beautiful to give her tender loving care and watch her grow; and that one relationship sparked this adventure.
On meaningful decor: Each plant is associated with a memory. I have some that I’ve collected on trips; or maybe it was simply a beautiful day and I was like, you know what, I’m going to get a plant to hold the memory of this day for me. I don’t describe the process of bringing plants into my home as ‘decorating.’ Instead, I think of it as writing a love letter to my past, present and future self.
On family acceptance: My neon ‘love’ sign is a constant reminder that my journey started with love. I exist in the way that I do because of my family — their love liberated me to experiment with how I wanted to show up in this world, knowing that no matter what, they would support me. There’s a Maya Angelou poem called ‘Love Liberates,’ and I modified it to read for my mother’s funeral in September 2020. I am who I am — and I will be who I will be — because of love.
On getting outside: In addition to Plant Kween, I lead diversity work at a tech company. Since my jobs are remote, I try to get outside every day, biking around Prospect Park or walking to the Brooklyn Promenade to watch the sunset.
On meditative gardening: Every day, I need some time to just be. So, I’ll put down my phone and laptop, and turn to my plants, like, let me see what’s happening with y’all. I like the term ‘meditative gardening’ because meditation is whatever you need to do to feel present in your body. Sometimes my body won’t let me sit still, but I can garden.
On staying curious: There’s no such a thing as a ‘green thumb.’ I don’t believe that there are intrinsic skills that one needs in order to care for a plant — it just takes time and curiosity. The biggest tip I give people who want to start this plant journey is to do an environmental assessment of the space you intend to green up. What’s the average temperature and humidity level? What direction are your windows facing? How much sunlight comes in? Then you can figure out which plants will thrive there.
On plant shopping: When you arrive to the lushness that is your local plant shop and a green gurl catches your eye, ask one of the fab folks who work there to see if you’ll be able to provide her with her optimal environment. Then find a pot that’s at least two inches larger than her nursery pot. She’s going to need room to grow, hunny. She may also go through a period of stress as she gets used to her new home, so be patient with her.
On sharing tips: I wrote my book You Grow, Gurl!, to help make plant care accessible and fun for folks. It’s a playful, campy and colorful window into life with plants.
On lessons learned: It’s important to give yourself grace. I’ve killed tons of plants and it’s been a process of taking notes and learning from those mistakes. As long as they’re not pest-infested, I compost them so they can be returned to the earth. If at first you don’t succeed, try, try again!
On self-care: Like plants, we need water, sunlight, nutrients, and room to grow. But you can’t always water yourself. I have a community of loved ones, including my given family and chosen family, and I’m learning that it’s okay to lean on them. I’m in therapy and my therapist holds space for me to explore my needs and desires. And, finally, my green gurls remind me to always keep growing.
On morning sunlight: My apartment has five south-facing windows and lots of direct natural light. It always gives me a bit of a chuckle when people don’t know which direction their windows face. For me, sensing how sunlight comes into a space is intrinsic. It’s not just for my plants, it’s important for my body, too. I like to wake up with morning light peeking through the windows.
Pennant: Rayo & Honey.
On creating a sanctuary: I have a real, deep relationship with this apartment. I’m very intentional about what, and even whom, I invite into my home. As a Black, queer, nonbinary person, existing unapologetically in this world is a beautiful thing, but, unfortunately, it’s also a very dangerous thing. When I walk out the door, I’m not sure how I’ll be perceived, especially knowing that more than 450 anti-LGBTQ+ bills have been introduced in U.S. state legislatures, and most of those bills are anti-transgender legislation. And so, for me, my home has to be a place where I can rest easy, rejuvenate myself, and engage in healing. I’ve had to make a sacred space to come home to so that I can go back out into the world the next day.
On family photos: This picture with my mom, my dad and me is literally my favorite photo. If there were a fire in my apartment, it’s the first thing I’d save.
On life-changing books: On top of my book stack is All About Love by bell hooks — I think the world would be a much better place if folks’ actions were rooted in love. But because of when this book was written, it’s very gendered. As a nonbinary person, I have to consider how I fit into it. So, I’m taking my time with this one. It’s also a book that will read you for filth. When you’re like, damn, maybe I am the problem, you know that’s a good book! I’d also recommend Audre Lorde’s Zami: A New Spelling of My Name. It’s about a person who is going through her life trying to figure out who she is and understanding that there are so many intersections of her identity. She tries to find home only to realize that home is within herself.
Thank you so much for sharing your space with us, Christopher! We love you.
(Photos by Christine Han for Cup of Jo.)
Note: If you buy something through our links, we may earn an affiliate commission or have a sponsored relationship with the brand, at no cost to you. We recommend only products we genuinely like. Thank you so much.