Christopher Griffin, aka Plant Kween, is a champion for Black, queer, nonbinary representation in the horticultural scene. On their Instagram, Griffin blends botanical tips, self-love and fabulous fashions for a truly unique gardening experience. Now, they’re lending their homegrown expertise to a new book, “You Grow, Gurl!” INTO sat down with Griffin to talk where their love for gardening comes from, how plant care and self-care are more similar than you’d think, and why Black queer representation is so important.
INTO: So, I have to ask — It’s one thing to love plants, but it’s another thing to make plants your career. What inspired you to become a plant influencer?
GRIFFIN: It all started with my grandmother. My grandmother grew up in the South, a little town in the mountains in Georgia called Clayton, Georgia. She grew up on a farm that her mother, my great grandmother, maintained herself. It was just a farm for the family, and they produced their own food and grew their own fruits. Obviously, that had an influence on my grandmother. She eventually moved to Philly, and she brought that family legacy of gardening with her to Philadelphia.
When my mother had me, I think my grandmother knew that there was a magical, queer little flair about me. And so she took me under her wing and really shared her journey with me. She had her own little garden. She was known as the plant lady on the block.
From 6 to maybe 11 years old, my grandmother and I would go on little day dates. She would take me to some of her favorite nurseries in Philadelphia, and it was so beautiful seeing the joy that radiated from her. She instilled in me as a Black queer femme that she was the author of her own joy.
She was also a major influence in terms of how I express myself through my gender expression. She was a church-going woman, and if you know anything about Black churches, it’s a fashion show. I would rummage through her closet and try on her heels and her dresses, and she just let me do that, because she knew I was exploring myself. And she let the family know that it was important that they let me do that. So she was dynamic in so many different ways of my own growth.
But fast-forward into my adulthood: I bought my first plant for my home in December of 2016. I still have that plant, it’s on the other side of this wall. It’s a marble queen pothos. It’s nine feet long now. And, you know, that was a serious undertaking for me when I was like, “I want to make sure I’m ready to bring plants into my life, because my grandmother showed me how much of an intricate and beautiful process it could be.” So I bought my first plant and I was like, “Oh my god, this feels good! I put love and care into something and it resulted in growth — this feels wonderful!” And so, slowly but surely, I started riding my bike that summer around to the different plant shops in Brooklyn and just started getting to know shop owners and started making friends with regulars.
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I was already documenting my process for myself. I was taking photos and making videos, but it was really just for my own little digital journaling. And so I decided, “Well, you know what, let’s put this on Instagram and see what happens.” And then, slowly but surely, a community started building where I started finding other Black, queer, trans and nonbinary folks who were really into plants too. And I was like, “This is really beautiful.”
It just took off in a way that I was never really expecting. And so here we are now, where I have over 220 plants. I think I’m at 225. And it’s been a lovely, amazing journey.
225 plants! I mean, how do you take care of that many plants? I just can’t even fathom it. What is your daily routine? Like, is it structured around the plants?
Honestly, not that I haven’t sent plants to the little botanical garden in the sky — I’ve killed plants, definitely — but it’s taken time for me to learn what plants do well in my space. So I have a lot of plants that just generally do well with me. And my care is an everyday thing, where I wake up and my morning routine involves me caring for my plants.
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For me, it’s like a method of meditation. I know when folks think of meditation, they’re thinking of yoga or sitting still and breathing exercises. But meditation is really whatever helps you feel grounded and rooted in your body. And tending to my little indoor garden is that for me. Very calming, calms my anxiety, stress — and especially during these times, it’s very much needed, so I’m thankful. [laughs] That I have multiple opportunities in multiple moments to step away from the world and interact with the nature that I brought into my home.
I know that a lot of your philosophy also has to do with that connection between caring for plants and caring for yourself. Generally, what do you see as the connection between plant care and self-care?
We’re basically houseplants with complex emotions, right? There was a moment when I was in the apartment that I had my first plant in. I think I had maybe 25 to 30 plants at the time, and I was like, “Okay, I have to really take time and be intentional to care for them. I can’t just, you know, water this, water this, and pop out the door. I have to intentionally carve out time.” And there was a moment where my body was aching, I was thirsty, I hadn’t been outside. And I was like, “Wait a minute, wait a minute, wait a minute. I’m making sure that these plants got water, sunlight and nutrients, but what about me?”
“We’re basically houseplants with complex emotions, right?”
Caring for my plants is also a reminder to care for myself. Am I drinking water? Am I allowing the sun to touch my skin? Am I feeding myself the nutrients so that my own roots can grow strong and that I can continue to grow in the ways that I want to? They were like daily silent reminders, like, “Girl, you have to continue to grow. And in order to continue to grow you have to care for yourself.” And sometimes we need those reminders because we get lost in our daily lives and we can forget to care for ourselves. So I have over 220 reminders to continue to care for myself, which is very much needed, very much needed.
It seems nice! I also wanted to touch on your identity as queer, Black and femme. It’s really central to your work and the way that you’re presenting on social media. Why do you think that it’s important to you to be authentic and highlight those identities in your work?
A main part of it is just underrepresentation. And that’s in any space these days, but especially in horticultural spaces, botanical gardens, conversations around sustainability, right? They usually center white, cis, heterosexual folks, and usually white cis women.
In addition to Plant Kween, I’m also the assistant director of the New York University LGBTQ+ Center. I’ve been doing LGBTQ+ work for so long, so it’s natural for me to fuse those things together. Me talking about my journey also includes my identity and how I navigate the world as a person.
In 2021, there were, what, 50 trans and nonbinary deaths that’s been reported? And that’s just reported deaths. It was one of the most deadly years for trans and nonbinary folks, especially Black trans and nonbinary folks and Black trans women. So any opportunity to shed light on my story, and if that provides that connection to folks in why these conversations are important or how they fit into their life, you know, it’s just a part of what I do.
Absolutely. And what led you to writing “You Grow, Gurl!”?
My publisher, HarperCollins, actually reached out to me. Honestly, I knew that I wanted to write, and I think I found a new love for writing through Instagram — I write a lot on Instagram, I don’t know if everybody reads it, but I love writing.
Once it was confirmed, my mother passed away. That was September of 2020. My mother and my grandmother were the strong Black women in my family, so honestly, the book was paying homage to their memory and all that they taught me. I wrote it in four months, because that was the deadline. And so a lot of that was me figuring out how to cope with the recent loss of my mother, but then also providing me with opportunities to dive into conversations that we’ve had about her garden and the lessons that my grandmother taught me.
I think it was also just a very healthy process for me to go back into the memories of those that I’ve lost and put that into the book in a way that would allow folks to grow their own garden. Not only grow their indoor garden or outdoor garden, but also their inner garden, because I think that was what I was trying to do in that moment: really cater to and grow my own garden.
I’m really, really excited. The book is a combination of a bunch of Black, queer, nonbinary joy, storytelling, helpful tips, tutorials, some fun fashion — you know I had to throw that in there, a little fun fashion! I think it’s a different approach to any other gardening book that I’ve seen, really highlighting Black, queer, nonbinary joy at the forefront and taking folks through a journey that they themselves can also go on and just nurture their inner green goddess.
I love that! I’m curious: how does “You Grow, Gurl!” appeal to your fans, and how does it appeal to people who are just looking for tips on gardening?
For folks who follow me, I think this provides them a level of connection beyond the screens of social media. I think it allows them a little bit more depth, and I think it’s more holistic.
For folks that don’t know me, I think this is a great way to add a little color to their gardening scene. There are amazing Black, queer, nonbinary folks who are in this space. And folks need to recognize our magic. And I think this is an opportunity for folks to expand their world and understand that there are so many amazing beings with so many diverse stories, narratives and truths that they need to expose themselves to. I’m hoping that they get inspired through the greenery, through the lushness and through the fashion. And who knows? Maybe I could be that possibility model for folks to exist unapologetically in ways that they didn’t even know they could.♦
“You Grow, Gurl!” is now available from HarperCollins.
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This interview has been edited for length and clarity.