Author of "You Grow, Gurl!" and plant influencer Christopher Griffin (@PlantKween on Instagram) was always a writer. A lover of school and of learning in general, they initially planned to get their PhD after graduating from the University of Pennsylvania in 2012. "In my mind, I was already preparing myself to write a book, which was a dissertation for my PhD program," they tell POPSUGAR.
Griffin, instead, got their master's degree in higher education and took their interest in writing to social media. "I developed a habit of treating Instagram like a digital diary," they say. Combined with galleries of Griffin smiling through lush, vivid greenery and towering house plants, Griffin's lengthy IG captions — some detailing beginner houseplant tips and others waxing poetic about self-care — helped lay the foundation for their thriving @PlantKween platform: a community of more than 350,000 plant-lovers who came for Griffin's aspirational indoor jungle and stayed for their sage plant-care advice.
Given Griffin's explosive growth in recent years, it seems hard to believe their collection of more than 200 houseplants started with just one: a Marble Queen Pothos. "When I bought my first plant and she began to grow, I was like, 'Oh my goodness, this is something. This feels really good,'" they say. Eventually, one plant turned into a few more, but it wasn't until one particular conversation with their late mother in 2017 that Griffin realized their connection to plants was more deeply rooted in their DNA than they thought.
It was a Sunday, and Griffin had their apartment to themselves. They were blasting music and caring for their burgeoning plant collection when their mother FaceTimed them. "My mom was like, 'Wait, what are you doing?' and I'm like, 'Oh, I'm taking care of my plants, having a good time." And she was like, 'You remind me of your grandmother, my mom," says Griffin. "I hadn't made that connection to my grandmother until my mom brought it up." Griffin and their mother spent time reflecting on the parallels between Griffin tending to their plants and their grandmother doing the same. "[My mother] gave me some history on my grandmother, her journey growing up in the South, and how she really carved out this special garden for herself [later] in Philadelphia. That's when all the connections started making sense for me — not only was this something I was enjoying, but it was a part of my family's legacy."
In the years since that phone call, Griffin has continued their plant-loving legacy every day via their Instagram. And with their book "You Grow, Gurl!" ($30) they're giving you the tools to create your own. Ahead, POPSUGAR chats with Griffin about their book's inspiration, the biggest mistakes new plant parents make, and how plant care can easily become a form of self-care.
POPSUGAR: What inspired you to turn what you've learned about plant care into "You Grow, Gurl!"?
Christopher Griffin: When HarperCollins reached out during the summer of 2020, I just felt like the stars aligned. I was like, "Wow, I've been writing and already have amazing content that I could just plug into this book and really shape it and mold it into a journey that people can read through outside of social media. I enjoy writing. I feel like I've been growing my love of writing through social media through this digital diary. One of my favorite quotes by Toni Morrison is "if there's a book that you want to read, but it hasn't been written yet, then you must write it." So I wrote it.
PS: As you were writing this book, what was something surprising you learned about yourself in the process?
CG: Part of me was a little nervous and intimidated, because I'd never written a book before. But as I was writing it, it came so seamlessly and so effortlessly. I was like, "Wow, I was not expecting it to go this way." I feel like I played around with the flow of the book. I go from stories to personal accounts, to interactions, to tutorials, to a lot of fact-based knowledge interweaved in a way where folks are literally just going on a journey with me through this book.
PS: One thing I love about the messaging in your book and on your platform is that, for you, plant care is a form of self-care. How did that come to be?
CG: It began during the pandemic, when we were forced to be inside more than we have in our lifetime. As an extrovert, I've often relied on other people and social interactions to feed my soul and to re-energize me. But we were stripped of that in 2020. I had to refocus my energy, and I was like, "Well, I need to be able to keep moving forward. How can I do this on my own? I live alone, and my family is in Philadelphia. I really have to figure this out." I turned to my plants. I had also just moved into the apartment that I'm in right now, so I was like, "I have a great canvas. I can green up this space in the way that I really want to. And now, I have a lot of time to do that. So let me sit with that and enjoy this big moment."
I felt like the care for my plants was a mirror or a reflection of all the different ways that I could care for myself in a very intimate and intentional way. I got to make sure the plants are watered. Am I drinking water? Do they have enough sunlight? Did my skin touch the sunlight today? Do they have the nutrients they need? Did I feed myself the nutrients for my roots to grow?
PS: It's just crazy how that gave way to something so beautiful. What are some of the biggest mistakes you see new plant parents make at the beginning of their journeys?
CG: I don't think folks do assessments of their spaces. One of the first things I did when I moved to my apartment was watch the sun move across the space. I took notes on the different spots that the sun hits and the spots where no sun hits. Also, I put out a couple hydrometers, which measured temperature and humidity levels, and I placed them in different parts of the apartment. I took time to see what I was working with. I don't think enough folks do that. They just want to put plants in there and see how they do.
The second mistake is not doing research on the plants that you bring into your space, so that you can match what your space provides to the plant's needs. I remember there being a bunch of times where I'm like, "Oh my God, girl, this plant is amazing. She is lush. She's gorgeous. I'm just going to scoop her up, bring her home, and she's going to sit right there." Then, that plant went to a little botanical garden in the sky.
I think it's really important that we do research, not only looking at the basic tips. You can obviously go online, look at the tips, and see what other folks are saying about how they're caring for their plant. But we have to remember that every apartment has its own microclimate. Someone could be like, "This plant is so hard to care for," but maybe they don't have the right conditions for that plant to thrive. You never know. So I always try to do research on the native habitats of these particular plants.
PS: So the bottom line is, you have to do your homework.
CG: Yes. Plants are not furniture. Plants are living creatures that you really have to be intentional with. If you are intentional with them, they'll thrive with you. I have about 225 plants in my apartment.
PS: That is so wild!
CG: They're all doing lovely, because I know the plants that work well for my space. I've done research on them, and they're thriving. It just takes a little bit of curiosity, a desire to learn, and it's a constant learning process, because the sun in our spaces changes, depending on the season.
PS: In your opinion, what are the top three best plants for beginners, and why do you think that?
CG: The first one would definitely be the pothos. It's a climbing vine, and she's just so easy to care for. One of the reasons that she's actually really easy to care for is because she's actually an invasive species. It's just her nature. I've seen [pothos plants] thrive in brighter light conditions to medium-light conditions. When it comes to low-light situations, "low light" doesn't mean "no light," and low light doesn't mean you can put something in a shady corner, unless it's a fern or a type of plant that grows in an under-bush and that's really used to dark areas. Most of the tropical plants that we bring into our spaces need a good amount of light.
The second plant, one of my all time faves, is a snake plant. It's more of a succulent. I love the shape of her leaves, and you do not have to water that queen often. In terms of lighting, I try to put them in bright-light conditions. They can survive in low-light conditions, but if you really want that queen to thrive, I would try to put her in bright light. I have some in full sun. I have some in the corner of a south-facing window where they're getting a lot of ambient bright light. They're also a plant that's easy to propagate.
If folks want to get a little experimental with plant care, another option is a monstera deliciosa. A very popular queen, she's also nicknamed the Swiss cheese plant because of the holes in her leaves. This queen is also pretty resilient. She is a queen that you need to pay a little bit more attention to, especially when it comes to her aerial roots. She enjoys a nice moss pole. She's a climbing vine, just like the pothos. If you have them growing upward, they're more likely to grow larger leaves.
PS: How beautiful of a collection is that?
CG: Right? A little plant band.
PS: Which of your own plants is the hardest to take care of?
CG: You know what? I would say my fiddle leaf fig tree. I got one, and she's growing so wonderfully because I finally got the formula right. But the fiddle leaf fig is difficult because she's just very, very vulnerable to movement. She is a queen that likes to be in one spot, and you just keep her there. If you move her around constantly, she can't adjust. She enjoys humidity. She enjoys her soil being wet. I always soak the soil, but I let the soil dry out completely because she is prone to root rot. Humidity is very, very important. I keep her away from cold drafts. I keep her away from heaters, and I give her a lot of bright light. I've sent so many of those queens to the little garden in the sky. I will not give you a number, but I've sent a couple.
PS: What's a plant that you don't have that you're itching to add to your collection?
CG: I actually posted about this today. I don't have a spider plant. I really enjoy her, but I really want to make sure that I have the perfect spot for her. I would probably do a hanging basket from the ceiling.
PS: What advice do you have for plant parents who might be feeling discouraged if they've sent a few plants to the lovely botanical garden in the sky?
CG: You are going to make mistakes, and that's just a part of life. We make mistakes, we have some failures. All right. But what do we do with mistakes? What do we do with failures? We learn from them. When a plant leaves them, I encourage folks to take note of what happened. What could have gone wrong? Did you give that plant enough sunlight? What was the color of the leaves? I take note of every plant that leaves me and try to make sure that doesn't happen again. Use that sad moment as a learning moment.
Also, a green thumb is not a thing. I do not believe the green thumb rhetoric. There's no intrinsic knowledge that you need to know. I'm completely self-taught. I do not have a degree in botany. I do not have a degree in horticulture. I have the lessons that I've learned from my grandmother and the things I've been learning on my own and from the amazing community of plant parents that I've been able to connect with. There's a lot of learning in community, so don't be afraid to reach out to people. Ask the folks at the plant shop. Do your research. Think of it as a "green muscle." It's just something you get better with over time. So do not give up. Try again.