Plant shelter offers unwanted plants a new home


An organisation in Antwerp connects plant owners who can no longer take of their offspring with new owners with a vacant windowsill or garden patch

“A big success”

Is your sansevieria getting too big for your apartment? Are the leaves of your fern turning a nasty shade of brown? Or maybe that orchid you got for your birthday isn’t really your cup of tea?

Fear not: plant shelters that might be able to help have been popping up across Flanders. “One of our co-workers saw on Facebook that there were several plant shelters in the Netherlands,” says Liesbeth Van Mol, one of four co-founders of the Antwerp shelter, the largest one in the region. “We loved the idea so much that we started one. It turned out to be a big success.”

Plantenasiel Antwerpen (Plant Shelter Antwerp) offers unwanted plants a new home. “If people have plants that are either getting too big for their environment, or they don’t have green fingers and these plants are withering away, or they’ve simply grown tired of them, they can contact us,” says Van Mol.

They have a lot of participants who’ve moved to service flats, for instance, and can’t take all their plants with them. "We also have people who are redesigning their gardens and don’t want to throw away good shrubs. The reasons plants end up with us are quite diverse.”

Don’t be fooled by the name though, the Plantenasiel isn’t actually a physical shelter. “We keep the plants that are up for adoption in our own home,” Van Mol explains. “People bring the plant to one of our four colleagues, where we give the plant the TLC it needs before giving it a new home. Afterwards, we use a raffle system to find a new owner.” 

From tropical to classics

At first, they simply posted photos of the plants on their Facebook page, and the first person to respond got the plant. But with many people checking the site in the evening rather than during work hours, they didn’t stand a chance, Van Mol explains.

“Eventually it was always the same people who responded first, so we decided to give people a few days to reply and draw a number instead.”

There has been more interest in the initiative than the four of them ever imagined. Van Mol points out that, even if we largely live in a consumer culture today, the mood is slowly changing, with people learning more about recycling and upcycling.

Plantenasiel Antwerpen was founded in May 2014 and have since relocated more than 800 plants. The shelter typically takes in all manner of species, from tropical house plants to classics such as ivy or orchids, as well as shrubs and herbs – anything and everything that’s not beyond saving and is in need of a home.

“Sharing food, second-hand shops and the whole community atmosphere is thriving these days,” Van Mol says. “People who are socially aware particularly like the idea. The economic crisis can also still be felt, and plants are expensive and even a luxury item. We give people the chance to get a beautiful plant for free and give a plant that would have otherwise been thrown away a second chance.”

Van Mol and her co-founders started the project because they were interested in nature and ecology. They found common ground in their dislike of a consumer culture where everything gets thrown away as soon as something better surfaces.

“We simply wanted to avoid plants being tossed out or left to die,” she says, “just because the owners can’t look after them or have lost interest.”  

Photo courtesy Plantenasiel Antwerpen