New Leaves: Pandemic Plant Parenthood

Jenna Mogilevsky has over 70 houseplants in her Queens apartment. Recently, she started her own business as a houseplant curator, helping other New Yorkers discover which plants work best in their own space. Apr 11, 2022 Photo by Lauren Abunassar

In “Windflaw,” American poet K.A. Hays writes: “Only the mundane middle-of-things / stays green…” 

In this line, I found some of my own questions: how might boredom and beauty be in conversation with each other? How might boredom and obsession? Or, even, grief and obsession? Just as Hays identifies the mundane as a state of enduring “greenness,” I became interested in the idea of how communities might be leaning into a state of boredom, isolation, or grief, to look for beauty. 

This is what brought me to a photo project focusing on plant collectors in and just outside of NYC. I was interested in the surge in plant collection throughout the pandemic. What was inspiring it? Was it an effort to bring the outside in? An effort to escape or to recover some sense of comfort in the act of nurturing and care that plant collection requires? 

In my interviews with collectors, I found it was a little of all of this mixed in with the fact that plants, simply put, are beautiful. Some plants I saw were rare orchids planted with special clay beads. Some were towering monsteras visitors occasionally mistook for a person standing in the doorway. Some were housed in handmade ceramic pots, some repurposed cabinets from IKEA, some even in tupperware “plant hospitals.” 

But across differences in environment, species, genesis, I was reminded of one thing a specific collector said. Efe Sokol, a collector who had never thought of collecting plants before the pandemic (and who now has an +70 collection) told me, “No matter how long you’ve been collecting plants, you’re always excited when you see a new leaf.” 

Mogilevsky keeps her houseplants in repurposed IKEA cabinets, old street lamp globes, bookcases, and more. They are scattered all throughout her apartment. Apr 11, 2022 Photo by Lauren Abunassar

Gregory Lastrapes has over 70 orchids in his garden-level Harlem apartment. At the beginning of the pandemic he also worked with his partner to build a greenhouse in their backyard, carrying the entire shedrow through their apartment, out the apartment window. Apr 24, 2022 Photo by Lauren Abunassar

Lastrapes’ collection includes orchids, succulents, herbs, tropical species, and more. April 24, 2022. Photo by Lauren Abunassar

Efe Sokol (Long Island City) never thought of collecting plants before the pandemic. Now, she estimates her collection has reached over 70 plants. Photo by Lauren Abunassar

To maintain her plants, Sokol monitors a variety of grow lamps, humidifiers, and various watering schedules. May 6, 2022. Photo by Lauren Abunassar

Alessia Resta (Allentown) grew her plant collection in her Upper West Side apartment for 10 years. Recently, she moved just outside of the city, a process which involved renting a catering van so she could control the heat for her +200 plants in transit. May 2, 2022. Photo by Lauren Abunassar

For Resta, maintaining her collection means monitoring an elaborate setup of humidifiers. May 2, 2022. Photo by Lauren Abunassar

Erin Cantrell (Harlem) has a particular affinity for her orchids and her hanging monstera. She credits her family, including her young daughter, with helping her to care for her extensive collection. Apr 15, 2022 Photo by Lauren Abunassar

Cantrell hopes to eventually have her own greenhouse, filled with plants and accompanying artwork. Apr 15, 2022. Photo by Lauren Abunassar