A serious gardener always has a few houseplants. But as the years go by, the few grow into a few dozen, and the original few grow so big that they cast shade on the others. And as the joke goes, we then start giving away plants or searching for a bigger house.

Local gardener Tina Keaton was in the same boat with her collection of houseplants: It kept growing and growing. And seeing as how she was happy with the home she was in, something had to give. So she bought a greenhouse and started a small business.

Keaton’s business, Plant Love, is dedicated to sharing her trove of tropicals and houseplants through a creative collection of planters and original arrangements. She specializes in chic dish gardens and lush mixed containers. Her full business title is actually Plant Love ... and Watch it Grow a motto that she infuses into her work and lifestyle.

“Plant love and watch it grow — it’s not just the plants, it’s the whole message of kindness,” Keaton said. “That’s kind of what the name is, a double meaning. When you hold a door for somebody, you’ve planted a little seed of love. That makes them happier, and then they’ll do something for somebody else. It’s the whole pay it forward thing that’s behind the name.”

Keaton’s love of plants came naturally. Her mother had droves of houseplants and her father kept a vegetable garden. So as soon as she had a place with ample space, Keaton began to grow her own collection and testing out her green thumb. Some of her oldest houseplants are now twenty years old — which were at the heart of her decision to start Plant Love.

“All the credit goes to that one schefflera, that one aloe, and that one jade that kept going and going,” Keaton said. “A friend gave me the schefflera — it is about twenty years old. The same friend and I bought the jade and aloe together when we were roommates. They are fifteen years old. We also adopted a dog together. When we moved to different places, she got the dog, I got the plants.”

When Keaton decided to start Plant Love, she knew she needed more space. She opted for an 8-by-12-foot aluminum and poly-carbonate Grandio greenhouse, which she and her husband Todd Ellison constructed in their backyard. Small but sophisticated, the Grandio has vented roof panels and a simple passive heat design. And of course it provides plenty of space for her growing inventory of plants.

After digging the base and layering sand and landscape fabric, Keaton and Ellison constructed the greenhouse, methodically sealing all the nooks and crannies. During cold months, Keaton heats the growing space primarily with passive solar methods. She captures the afternoon sun’s heat by closing the door and roof vents. She also uses stone pavers and buckets of water to capture the warmth from the sun, as well.

“During the day, the water buckets absorb heat and at night that heat is released,” Keaton said. “All these Folgers cans — that’s what they are, too. They’re everywhere.”

“Our sun exposure is good. Almost too good. Thirty minutes after the sunrise, it’s already hitting the greenhouse. The coldest part of the day is right before sunrise, so it’s only at that super cold point for a little while. The afternoon sun gets in there, heats it, and I lock it up.”

These passive solar methods are incredibly helpful for natural heat. But if temperatures are going to dip below 30, Keaton supplements heat with an electric space heater.

In the summer, Keaton moves most of her plants outside on palletized shelves, as it gets too hot inside the greenhouse.

As her plants have grown over the years, Keaton has potted up endless aloe pups and rooted more cuttings than she can count. She has recently started leaf propagation with succulents. Because she uses a number of different plants in her arrangements, Keaton wants to produce what she uses. Growing her own plants is important and central to her business model.

“Part of what I want my selling point to be is that I’m raising this stuff. I’m not going to Lowe’s, buying plants and deconstructing them and replanting. My point is to continue to produce my own inventory.”

When she realized she had a knack for arranging tropical and hardy succulent containers, she began to utilize funky planters to produce something different. She has a wide range of style, material and medium for her container choices. Keaton is a fan of anything colorful, vintage, and offbeat. A lot of her pieces exude nostalgia, including milkglass, birdcages and teacups. A collection of English biscuit tins that belonged to Keaton’s mother are in the works for potting.

“The other thing I love doing is junkin’,” Keaton said. “Auctions, flea markets, yard sales — I love it. I find all these cool planters. They’re not always vintage, but unique. Anything that I think will look cool and neat and unusual. I have some ceramics that my grandmother made in the seventies and eighties.”

Since she started Plant Love in 2018, Keaton has done several local craft and vendor shows, She creates her one of a kind planters several weeks in advance of a show, to ensure that her plants are rooted in good. She also uses the appropriate soil mixtures for certain types of containers, always mixing her own.

“I do a lot of containers without holes in the bottom,” Keaton said. “And I have had a lot of luck with that. Charcoal is the key. When I start one and it doesn’t have drain holes, then I do a layer of rock in the bottom and the next layer is charcoal. The charcoal helps prevent bacteria from breeding, it keeps down noxious odors.”

Keaton creates both mixed arrangements and single plant arrangements. Depending on the size, her mixed arrangements will have three to five different plants, such as yucca, pothos, dracaena, kalanchoe and sedums. Arrangements usually run from $25 to $80, depending on the size, complexity of plants and container.

Keaton and Plant Love can be contacted at 910-650-2264 or by email at plantlove18@gmail.com. You can also find them online on Facebook and Instagram.

Get today’s top stories right in your inbox. Sign up for our daily morning newsletter.

If you have a gardening question or story idea, you can find Amy Dixon on Facebook at www.facebook.com/WSJAmyDixon. You can also send an email to her attention to news@wsjournal.com. Put gardening in the subject line. Or write to Amy Dixon in care of Features, Winston-Salem Journal, 418 N. Marshall St., Winston-Salem, NC 27101

Load comments