Tell me about your background – how and where were you raised, and were plants always a part of your life?
I was born and raised in Las Vegas, but my family is originally from Cuba. They came over in ‘79. For as long as I can remember, my grandfather bred birds, even exotic birds, so we always had pigeons, parrots, chickens, guinea fowl, peacocks – we even at one point had 8 Emus. We grew up on a little bit of a farm of sorts…I used to watch nature documentaries with my grandparents and my favorites were always about the tropical rainforest, because there was sort of a connection with the birds he had. It always fascinated me how they described the eco-system there, the ways all the trees would create this incredible humid climate. Watching this, I kind of thought; if I just planted enough plants in the front and back yard of our house, I could change the climate somewhat. My family, they’re all kind of hustlers, doing whatever it takes to make things happen… Besides working in the casinos and selling off some of his birds, my grandfather would also make gates, which led him to Home Depot on a near weekly basis. I would go with him and always ask for a little cash to buy plants, so I slowly started filling up our yard with plants. I never really got into indoor plants though. I felt like if I bought a plant and put it in a pot inside, it wouldn’t really live. When I bought a plant and put it in our yard, I felt like I was almost cementing it in nature forever
That’s a beautiful image – this young kid, creating their own rainforest in a desert backyard… I love that!
Yeah it was really beautiful! As I got older, I ended up falling in love with fashion and design, which led me to LA and later New York, but I was always moving around and felt transient. Eventually, I found the place I am in now, which is the first time I really feel like I have a home and that’s when I started getting into houseplants. I’m lucky enough to have a backyard now, so I did take all my tropicals outside in the summer time which was amazing, but I had to bring them all inside since it started getting chilly…
SIGH. You’re so lucky to have a backyard in NY! On the note of it getting colder outside, do you have any recommendations for what plants to get right now, for the people who (like you and I) live in colder climates, and are headed into the winter months?
Well, first of all I should say; make sure you get them from me – Support your local queer plant business!!Secondly, know your space and what kind of light you get. Do your research to get an idea of what kind of plants work for your environment. Then, in order to make your plants thrive, get some grow lights and humidifiers. Humidifiers are gonna be key to make this work – and to give your plants that little extra boost until summertime, grow lights are gonna help a lot.
That’s really interesting, I never thought of using growlights. I am someone who loves plants, always had them around, but I don’t always seem to get it right. The only plants that seem to survive are the ones that need no love from me. But it does seem like quite a drastic measure to invest in special lights – isn’t that a large added expense?
I mean, some people invest in art, some people collect fashion or have an extensive shoe collection… This is what I’ve invested in. To me it’s like living art, it’s something that continues to grow and is a source of beauty. It’s also very therapeutic. On days where I feel blue and don’t want to get out of bed, they help me get up. They’re not just knick-knacks, they are living organisms that you have decided to bring into your world, and you’ve taken them out of theirs – so you feel this responsibility. I need to take care of you and give you the best that I can, because I have chosen to bring you into my space. It’s a therapeutic, symbiotic relationship: you invest time in taking care of them, they in return grow beautifully and help you reconnect to life. Especially in times like these, where everything feels cold, disconnected and dark, you have these beings that are living with you and growing with you…
That really sounds like a special bond. I’m almost afraid to ask then – do you have any favorites amongst your plants?
I do actually. There’s my Thaumatophyllum Spruceanum . It sounds crazy – I know. She’s just so fucking unique, she’s so big and monstrous. She looks like she was just ripped out of a rainforest – and now she’s just chilling next to my bed. I love her. And then there’s the Geogenanthus Ciliatus which is this circle leafed black-purple watercolored plant. I first saw it at the Fairchild Botanical Gardens and though it was the coolest shit I’d ever seen. I was able to find one and she’s chill, I love her too. All the plants I have brought into my collection are very special in their own unique way. I collect plants that are all on the weird side, as opposed to something that’s more traditionally beautiful and can be seen in home décor magazines, you know?
Would you say that this attraction to weirdness inspires your creative work then? Do your plants inspire your drag – or does your drag inspire your plants?
To be honest, I’m not quite sure! I feel like what inspires me, it’s all just one big ball of whatever it is that’s churning inside of me. Ever since I was little I would always draw nature, animals, plants… I would see this weird exotic beauty in them and wanted to help tell their stories. I think that’s also what drew me to fashion… [Alexander] Mcqueen was one of my biggest idols. Not only would he create these amazing whimsical garments, he also really took the time to create these incredible worlds with his fashion shows, everything had such a meaningful story. I don’t know that I can say I fully understand the connection between it all, but what I can say is that I’m very intrigued by individuality, whether it be plants, people, a drag character that I bring to life – I’m interested in individuals who create a storyline, a story surrounding them.
Is there any plant that you would love to live with but you realize that you’re just not going to be able to recreate that environment fully, at least while living in New York…?
To a certain point, I look at all of them and I feel that way about all my plants. Ideally, I would want to take all of them to my grandfather’s in Florida, replant them in the ground and let them live their best life. You know? How long can I keep up this artificial environment? ideally they would end up with the chance to once again be in the ground, a more natural life.
In recent years, there’s been a massive surge in houseplant popularity amongst a younger generation, creating this very unique online plantlover community. Tell me about your thoughts on being part of this community
The plant community is fucking awesome, let me start there. Of course there are some outliers, but you mostly have this group of really cool people who just love plants and want to share information. We largely have the same goal, and that’s why I think it works. We all want to learn the best way to take care of our plants, nobody wants their plants to die. It’s different to what I’ve seen a lot in the fashion community, where everyone holds their cards very close to themselves. There’s a sense that if I share too much, someone is going to come and take over. But that’s a conversation for a whole other time…In contrast, within the plant community, when you have a success you want to share it with everyone, so they have the same experience. When you see someone else have great success with their plants, maybe even one you’ve been lucky to see grow insanely well, we stop and congratulate each other. You fucking did that! It’s a much more encouraging environment, we’re all rooting for each other, we want to see what the others are doing, we share each other’s techniques and sometimes even share a piece of a plant. It’s been really nice to be a part of that.
Tell me about how you’ve gone about starting this relatively new business of yours. Selling plants and advising on how to care for them – where do you get them from, how do you sell them…?
Prior to Corona, plants were just a hobby for me. I was collecting, just loving having them around me. When summer hit, I took all my plants outside and everything was exploding and growing so much. As for a lot of people, I wasn’t working much and trying to make ends meet, so I thought; maybe I should try and sell one of these amazing plants? I started propagating a bunch, successfully, and people were actually really interested. I started looking around and researching where to find these cool plants that I couldn’t seem to to source locally in New York. It’s basically been half and half, sourcing some exotic species, and propagating, pollinating, growing some from seeds…So far it’s been mostly through social media and word of mouth, and I also do some personal consulting.
That’s great to hear, that something so beautiful came out of an otherwise tumultuous year… We’ve all been forced to rethink our lives and how we work – and through social media, it’s possible to explore these new avenues. When we at some point come out of this crisis, have you thought about opening up a brick-and-mortar store?
To be honest, after seeing how the landscape of retail has changed through all of this, I don’t believe an actual real-life store is necessary. At least for me, I think it would be a waste of money. If anything, I think I would want to start a greenhouse, and just work from out of there. I think you can reach a much bigger audience online, a greenhouse would be super fun. This year has been so unpredictable, so I’m just pushing along with my plant business, just going with the flow. There’s really no point in planning too much, this year has taught me that.