Life Coach is an advice column on how to be an even better version of yourself in every capacity. This week’s special guest is DJ Freedem, a Brooklyn-based artist and plant enthusiast. Find out how to nurture your own trap garden and prevent the death of your dearly beloved plants.
In 2019, millennials expanded their powerful reach to the world of horticulture. A recent survey from the National Gardening Association revealed that Generation Y contributed 25 percent of the $48 billion that was spent on lawn and garden products in 2018, and houseplant sales in the U.S. alone had doubled to $1.7 billion within three years. (Jia Tolentino even penned an essay about falling into the hobby for The New Yorker.) For Freedem, houseplants serve a greater purpose than being part of a decorative trend though—they completely enhance the quality of his living space.
"I remember how certain animals used to be trends," he says. "Everyone was obsessed with dolphins and sloths... Everybody thought they were so fucking cute. And then it's transitioning to 'I'm in a plant club with all my little plants.'"
The DJ currently resides in Brooklyn and is the proud owner of 25 plants and counting, most of which have been featured in his viral "Trap Gardening" series where he performs as certified trap gardener Freedella Dè Vil, M.D, Ph.D. What started as a joke has since become a household name for black audiences on Twitter, Instagram, and beyond.
"Most of these plants that I have are African," he adds. "They're from some part of Africa which I love even more because all my plants are black."
In an effort to find new ways to improve the environments that we actually have control over, we sat down with DJ Freedem to learn about the necessary steps for becoming a plant parent, thriving in a trap garden of your own, and how to avoid killing all of your plants in the process. Beware of all the greenery and scroll down to digest the full discussion.
Do you remember the first plant that you bought for yourself?
The first plant that I got was a corn plant because I liked that it looked like a tree, and it was very tropical looking. I was like 'This is the vibe that I was going for...' I really wanted a beach, jungly vibe, so I just got more dramatic bigger plants instead of the smaller, succulent type things. I had a couple little ones, but I wanted the big, dramatic, take up a lot of space type plants. As I did more research onto each plant, that's what fueled the content. I would do my research and basically make it ghetto... I made science fun! I approached gardening scientifically, getting to the root of the problem, just all of that.
What is your personal relationship like with plants?
They have made me more detailed than I already am. I was already pretty observant and see everything, but [with] plants you have to be a little bit more detailed as far as the needs. How much water does it want? When was the last time you watered it? Just being super on point. Especially if you have a lot of plants, you have to focus on all the different needs. So it just made me more detail oriented.
I've noticed that I'm not as bitchy as I used to be, I'm actually a little bit more caring [and] considerate to other people... All those studies where it's like, "plants help with your mental health and make you a better person," it works. It's definitely true. It literally transformed me. I thought getting a better bed made me a better person... Plants are the gateway, then get a better bed.
Have you always kind of been in touch with nature?
Where I'm from, I was always surrounded by nature. I was born in Florida and then I moved to Atlanta so I was never green-deprived. I've always found nature cool and then I explored into the world of psychedelics like I fell in love with a tree one time... I'm a city person, but I also don't mind getting lost in the forest. I love being in there so I'm definitely connected with the earth. I feel like in New York City we're so nature-deprived. Central Park is not enough... That's why you got to create your own jungle in the comfort of your own home, nice and warm and safe.
So what are the first steps for creating a jungle in your home?
The first step is, can you do it? Do you have the time to do it? Do you have the environment to do it? Some people will be having one window and they have all the plants, and they're wondering why they're not growing... You need to know how many hours of sunlight does this space get and what plants can be here. It's about deciding do you like little plants or the dramatic plants? Me personally, like I said, I prefer the bigger, dramatic ones that take up more space, and be more of a focal point, centerpiece. So if that's what you want, then get a majesty palm, those take up a lot of space.
Start accumulating and arrange how they look together. I didn't just buy a plant and plop it down, I actually took the time to consider, will they look good next to each other? Will this look good with this? Okay, let's move this out the way, and put this here. It helps with your creativity as well, and with your eye and general taste... Whenever I miss my plants, I don't know why, but the sight of my wet leaves, just be like 'Ooh, so soothing.' It just reminds me of fresh rain in the jungle, so that's why I love that shit.
What should people be looking out for when they go plant shopping?
They should look for new growth. So if you're somewhere and you see they have a bunch of plants, they usually have different kinds. If it's a lighter green than the rest of it, that's how you know it's actively growing and it's fine. Obviously, look out for the dead, brown, yellowing pieces, but that could be rectified if you have better conditions so that shouldn't deter you from getting a plant. If that's the only one and you really want that, you should still maybe get it anyway. Just prune it and see if it'll be fine.
And then inspect it in general. Look for bugs because they can spread to all your other plants that you have in your house, it's a mess, and you're wondering why all your plants are dead... Most of the time they'll be better a week after you bring it inside the new space. Literally magic.
Do you name your plants?
No, my memory is terrible. I already have a hard time remembering names of humans so I just feel like coming up with names for 35 plants would be a nuisance. I'm actually in the process of getting more because there will be a new season of 'Trap Gardening.' I will bring that back even though I lied to them and told them that I wouldn't because I was running out of plants to talk about.
What plants would you recommend for a beginner?
Get a snake plant, you literally don't have to water it ever. You can go far, far away and you can come back and it's going to be fine. The ZZ plant as well... The corn plant is on the easier side to take care of. It's like medium, but I think beginners can take care of that one. The sago palm is pretty easy to take care of and you only have to water it once or twice a month. I would say the Pothos plant, the one that kind of grows vine, that one's super easy to take care of. If you don't know when to water your plants, it will show when to water because the leaves be all droopy and sad.
Are you currently working with any plant shops or brands?
When I first started I was partnered up with Rooted which is actually where we get our plants here [at Win Son Bakery]... We were going to do like a Trap Garden spinoff type of deal, and I did a class with them as well that sold out. A lot of people showed up for that, that was great. I just got way too busy, and then we just never were able to make something happen.
What do you predict as the plant for 2020?
I saw an article that was saying the money plant is the next one that's going to be it. I actually have one that my manager gave to me because her apartment didn't get enough light. Literally since I got it, it just blossomed. And I blossomed as well because when someone gives it to you as a gift, it doubles its power. So ever since she gave it to me, I've had some good luck.
Any closing remarks?
Get to the root of the problem because you never truly know what's going on until you dig deeper. That's what I learned with plants. I'm not necessarily saying if you're plants is dying, uproot it, because that could make it worse, but go a little bit deeper than what's on the surface to find your answer. Because with gardening, there's no questions, only answers. Everything's pretty straight forward because everything presents with the same symptoms. There's always so few possibilities that it could be.
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