Black w/ Plants: Plant Care Q&A with Julie Topping

January 2019–January 2020, Black with Plants will publish q and a on mental health + community building with botanists, college dropouts, horticulturalists, plant care specialists, natural hair experts, social justice advocates, sound therapists, etc. across the thirteen hardiness zones in the United States and African diaspora.

What do you want readers to know about caring for plants?  Or a creative project that you are working on? and the role of community building, and its impact on mental health?
 
I think plants do a couple of important things. They connect people who have a common interest. This is important because I believe all people have more in common than not, but we magnify the differences because they’re  easier to see. Plants force you to slow down and care for another living thing. It’s a lesson in caring, and other people are learning the same lesson when they care for plants too. If you start with that commonality, suddenly it’s easier to connect with and form community with others.
 
What about the opportunity to display foliage, etc. online (specifically via IG) first interested you in committing your time and energy to plant care-taking?
 
Actually, it was the reverse for me. I had been involved with pants for a long time. I fell into the IG plant community by accident. A few plant accounts popped up in my personal account, and then IG started to suggest more to me as I followed more and more of them. And I was hooked. Up until then, I never understood why people were so attached to IG. Now I do. Connecting with people who have the same interests as you is a compelling reason to join in. And of course, some of the visuals—and the people behind the plants—are awesome.
 
What do you think are the five key characteristics of a successful place?

     

  1. Plants
  2. People who care
  3. Willingness and space for people to listen
  4. Lots of volume (high ceilings, large rooms)
  5. Lots of natural light

 
Community engagement is a significant obligation of direct service. With that in mind, can you tell us about your experience in engaging with your contacts day-to-day? Do you notice services rendered positively affecting your contact’s psychological wellbeing?
 
I have been working very hard to connect with more African Americans who are interested in plants. IG doesn’t exactly make that easy, and yeah, that is irritating. We are out there, but we have to work to find each other. I have a lot of followers, but I am focusing more now on the ones who have interesting points of view, interesting plants, and share some of my own experiences as an African American.
 
Would you be willing to share a memorable moment from 2018?
 
I’ve been spending much time with my father who just turned 92. He has had two surgeries in the last year, but lives alone (about an hour away from me) and needs some support, so I’ve been bringing him food, helping him with errands, or whatever he needs. So my most memorable moment are the moments I get to spend with him. That time is precious.
 
Your perspective is invaluable. Thank you for distilling your talents, sharing your time, and a contributing to the local economy. Can you tell readers a little bit about your perspective on securing space for psychological healing and/or wellness?
 
Honestly? That space for psychological healing and well-being is in my head. When I’m watering and caring for my plants, that is my Zen time. I’m giving help to something else that needs it. I’ve had a lot of periods in my life when things were pretty awful. But they taught me that so many petty things we worry about in life just don’t matter and create dead spaces in your brain. When you prioritize and focus on what’s really important, the choices you have to make become much clearer and easier to navigate. Caring for plants helps me remember that.
 
Julie Topping (@DetroitCityPlants):

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