Have you ever walked by a plant and thought, I wonder what that is exactly? I have. All the time actually. As a plant lover, I often find myself pondering these little life questions. Nowadays, there is an array of technology options at our fingertips that allow you to take a picture of the plant in question and receive an answer on its identification. Pretty neat right? The ID technology is fantastic, but there is something we cannot get from them…a human connection.
In 2012, Wendy Freed of Long Beach took to Facebook looking for fellow plant lovers. In the winter of that year, she had experienced a loss of most of her house plants and was looking to restart her garden. She hoped she could find a local page where she could trade or share plant cutting. After joining several gardening groups, she still felt they were missing something. She wanted a group that felt more relaxed, a friendly laid-back place where locals could build up their plant collections in an affordable way. In July of 2012, she started the MS Gulf Coast Plant and Cutting Exchange Facebook group with that goal in mind.
Within the MS Gulf Coast Plant and Cuttings Exchange group, Wendy has found her fellow plant people she set out looking for that cold winter almost a decade ago. From those early days in 2012, the page has grown to over 7,000 members and is continuing to grow, averaging 50+ new members every week. Wendy is continually surprised at the size her “little group” has grown to. She remembers being thrilled when the group reached 500 and now with 7500+ members on the horizon, she is looking forward to the group progressing. From her initial goal of creating an affordable plant exchange and conversation place, she realized early on the page participants were learning from each other and building long-lasting friendships.
According to Wendy, plant people are the nicest people. She believes that one of the reasons the group does well is the fact that when gardeners start chatting about all things plants with a non-gardening friend, their eyes tend to glaze as sheer boredom takes over. But within the group, a picture of sprouting zinnia seeds can foster 200 likes and get 86 comments asking to keep them posted.
Wendy knows the members being local (South Mississippi mostly) makes a difference. They know how to grow in our area. To capitalize on this local growth knowledge, the group meets in person twice a year (spring and fall) for a plant swap. The plant swap is a much-anticipated event with over 200 people attending the most previous one. An event with lots of hugs, friend reunions, light refreshments, door prizes, and a “trick or treat” type of setup to swap plant cuttings. Some members have met up for smaller crafting types of events and are looking to do more events in the future.
With the continued growth, Wendy has leaned heavily on a couple of folks to assist her (Butch Beeman, Tracy Cates, and Debbie King specifically) in ensuring the group remains a welcoming place for plant lovers. She has seen the impacts of her group and how this welcoming place can have a positive impact on individuals. Early in the group’s beginnings, people began sharing stories about how the group helped them or a loved one make or reunite friends or get through a rough time in their lives. She also had members tell her the page was their only link to the outside world while healing from injuries or diseases. Knowing these impacts, Wendy wants to make sure people feel welcomed and comfortable asking a question or making a joke about spending too much money on plants. Most importantly, she wants people to feel understood.
If you are looking for a place to discuss all things plants with some of your neighbors, give the MS Gulf Coast Plant and Cutting Exchange page a look. Who knows? You might find the exact plant to grow in your yard or even better a friend to grow a lasting relationship with for years to come.