Plant swapping takes root in Brussels


Amateur gardeners in Brussels are reaping the harvest of social initiatives that promote sharing and reusing of plants

Seeds of joy

In recent years, activities related to greenery have lost their dusty, old-fashioned image. Houseplants especially are making a comeback.

Plant swaps – meet-ups that cultivate the exchange of plants – are popping up in cities all over the globe, and traditional florists and gardening centres are experiencing competition from new kinds of shops that put the focus on design.

Recently, the growing trend has arrived in Brussels, giving birth to a multitude of initiatives. One of them is Seeds, a collective founded by a group of young plant lovers that regularly organises plant swaps and workshops. 

“I couldn’t find any plant swap events in the whole of Belgium, while in Los Angeles and Portland for example there are plenty,” says Seeds co-founder Giada Seghers. “There was a real shortage of activities for plant lovers and we wanted to fill that gap.”

The plant swaps, which take place in locations like cafes and cultural centres, have become a bit of an institution for plant enthusiasts in Brussels, and Seeds has even successfully exported the concept to Paris and Milan.

Story time

But why are these gatherings such a big hit? Seghers believes it’s a combination of factors.

“They are much more than just a place for exchanging a product,” she says. “Many people stay and chat for hours, sharing tips and tricks. Swapping plants and cuttings is also story-telling time. I can tell you a story about each cutting I received, proving that plants really can create connections between people. Plus, it’s all free.”

Many people stay and chat for hours, sharing tips and tricks. Swapping plants and cuttings is also story-telling time

- Giada Seghers

Accordingly, Seeds encourages attendees to attach stickers to their plants, mentioning the type of the plant, the swap date and their contact information so the exchange can continue.

Brussels-based copywriter Victoria Kirk sees her plant collection as a way to bring a piece of her rural childhood home in southern France to the city. Three years ago, she founded a Facebook group enabling its members to find a new home for plants they no longer needed.

Urban jungle

“I got the idea when I came across other groups built around the idea of exchange and avoiding waste,” she explains. Her group now includes more than 2,600 members.

Two years ago, Jaqueline Ezman, owner of a vintage boutique in Brussels, teamed up with a freshly graduated florist to replace designer dresses with exotic plants. Brut, an urban jungle nestled in the Marollen neighbourhood, recovers decade-old, mostly large vintage plants, among them a few botanical rarities. 

“I feel fashion has had its time,” she says. “The younger generation in particular is looking for something with a deeper meaning, and that has to do with the tendency to pay attention to sustainability.”

Answering to a rising demand, Brut also offers tailor-made interior decoration. “Customers started coming in with photos of their homes, wanting advice on which plants would thrive there and what would work best visually,” Ezman says.

Close to nature

Magali Elali, one half of Antwerp-based creative agency Coffeeklatch, made this newly emerging species of design-conscious plant lovers the subject of a book, Greenterior, that compiles stories of home owners who have a penchant for plants.

A plant collector herself, Elali attributes the growing success of house plants to a variety of reasons. “There’s a health aspect, as plants clean the air,” she says. “There’s the aesthetic element, and, personally, I enjoy the slowness of the whole process.”

There’s a health aspect, as plants clean the air. There’s the aesthetic element, and, personally, I enjoy the slowness of the whole process

- Magali Elali

All these project creators speak of the increasing sentiment of needing to bring a piece of nature into our urban living environments, as well as the therapeutic, meditative activity of taking care of a living entity and watching it thrive.

“It connects you with nature and has a calming effect,” says Baptiste Péron, a Brussels-based graphic designer and plant aficionado.  As he browses the plant selection at Brut, he does admit, however, to taking the whole trend with a pinch of salt. 

“I found more than half of my plants on the street, thrown away by people who thought they were dead,” he says. “People should be aware that plants are not just pretty interior objects. They’re living things that need constant care.”

Photo courtesy Seeds