Take a plant, leave a plant on Elphick

By Laura Hagar Rush, Townsy Media, February 5, 2021

Heather Kiyomi

Heather Kiyomi is the creator of the Elphick Road Plant Stand, which she put together with the help of folks from all over Sebastopol. (Photo by Laura Hagar Rush)

It all started last July when a friend sent Heather Kiyomi a picture of a “Take a plant, leave a plant” plant stand she’d found on the internet.

“She just sent it to me because she knew I was interested in gardening,” said Kiyomi, a cheerful 27-year-old who moved to Sebastopol last spring.

At first Kiyomi thought that such a thing must already exist in her adopted town.

“I mean, if anywhere is going to have a plant stand like this, it’s going to be Sebastopol, California,” she said.

But she asked around and posted on social media—including Facebook, Instagram and Nextdoor—and much to her surprise, she learned there wasn’t one.

“No one had ever seen anything like that before,” she said.

When she suggested she’d like to start one, offers of help poured in.

“Two people wanted to donate money to help start it,” she said. “Five people offered to help build the stand. One person offered to help paint it, and various people offered to help donate initial starter plants for it.”

A neighbor offered to host the plant stand on his property, which is located west of Sebastopol at the corner of Elphick Road and Archer Way, about a block away from the Pleasant Hill Memorial cemetery.

One woman built the plant stand, and Kiyomi and a friend painted it. Lots of people arrived with plants, filling the plant stand with almost 60 plants when it opened in September.

Later, a neighbor added a pen and some plant labels so people could write what kind of plant they were dropping off.

“Plants are much more likely to be picked up if they’re labeled,” Kiyomi said.

All the help was heartening, but the first week that the plant stand was up was a bit of a shock because a lot of people had trouble grasping the concept of “Take a plant, leave a plant” or  “Take a Plant, Leaf a Plant” as Kiyomi had painted across the top of the plant stand.

Not everyone got the pun – or the concept of exchange.

“I thought it was kind of obvious but it actually ended up not being so because a week and a half later, there were maybe 15 to 20 plants left,” she said.

“I was so disappointed and a little sad,” she said, thinking she’d done a poor job of explaining the whole thing.

“So I started posting online about it, like ‘Hey, I’m sure you guys didn’t know, but it’s supposed to be a trade. And if we can’t do that, then this isn’t going to be something that goes on for very long,” she said.

She was surprised by the response. Most people said they had no idea they were supposed to leave a plant in exchange for the one they took. Many offered to bring replacement plants and some offered to bring several.

Because most of this conversation took place on Nextdoor, everyone had an opinion, including those that thought the plants should just be free for the taking, which frustrated Kiyomi, who tried to explain that that simply wasn’t sustainable.

As it was, she was already bringing several plants from her house every week, just to keep the stand populated.

But eventually, she said, most people seemed to catch on.

There’s some work involved in the upkeep of the plant stand. Once plants are dropped off, someone has to take care of them—namely, Kiyomi. She walks over with a milk jug full of water to water the plants every few days in winter and every day in summer. She also picks off dead leaves and picks up plants that have fallen over.

“I’m pretty much the clean-up crew,” she said with a laugh.

But she said it’s worth it in part because of all the people she’s met.

“I’ve met so many people, and I’ve even made friends through the plant stand,” she said, which was originally one of her goals.

Kiyomi said she often feels a little alienated from people her age because, as she said, “I’m not hooked on technology or TV and I don’t play video games or drink.” So she says it’s been hard to meet like-minded people.

“I do more old school stuff like gardening and crafts and sewing — that kind of stuff,” she said. “And it’s been hard to find friends with similar hobbies. So one of my goals with this plant stand was to meet people that like doing the stuff that I do,” she said.

In that way, the plant stand has been fabulously successful. Kiyomi said people stop to talk to her all the time when they see her working on the plant stand.

She’s proud to have contributed something to her new home town, especially during this difficult time, when she said it’s important to have something to look forward to.

“But I don’t like to take all the credit,” she said, “because the community got together and helped me make it happen.”

The Elphick Road Plant Stand has its own Instagram, which you can see @elphickroadplantstand.