Over the last 18 months, freelance fashion designer and ceramics artist Jessica Tremaine’s love for plants has flourished – big time. In the throes of the first lockdown, and with her usual jobs coming to a virtual standstill, she decided to dedicate her downtime to growing a big vegetable patch in her back garden.
Tremaine found that not only did it drastically improve her mental health, but it also made her realise that she wanted to help her peers discover the benefits of nature. And so Grubber was born: Tremaine’s very own community project and sustainable plant shop, it’s designed to spread positivity through plants and botanical experiences IRL or online.
“Having that time to think really made me reflect about what I want and what makes me happy,” the 29-year-old says. “Me and my friends were bringing little presents round to each other’s houses, like pickled onions and houseplants, while having doorstep chats. I got thinking about what I could do for work that isn’t so city-centric and can help society – that turned out to be opening nature up to people who don’t necessarily feel confident exploring it.”
Soon enough, Tremaine’s small sustainable plant shop grew into a South, East and North London plant exchange, marking the beginning of Grubber as a fully-fledged community project. The great outdoors has always been second nature to Tremaine. Having grown up in rural Cornwall before she studied menswear design at the London College of Fashion, Grubber is her way of making us city dwellers more conscious of it.
“We organised a big walk in Cornwall – where the highest peak is called Brown Willy – last year and took everyone on a tour,” she continues. “Living in the city, people forget that the countryside belongs to them as well. I read something lovely yesterday: in the countryside, the landscape is beautiful, but in cities, the people are the landscape. Through Grubber, I want people to feel more of a connection to their garden or own plants without money being a necessity.”
One of Tremaine’s main incentives for spearheading the project was also her dismay about the increasing commodification of plants. “You go to Ikea and they’ve become just another bit of flatpack furniture,” she says. “Then there are garden centres that charge extortionate amounts.” Tremaine also points out a major piece of cognitive dissonance when it comes to people owning plants: often, the greenery comes from overseas, which means it has a big carbon footprint.
“There’s a disconnect there, between wanting to be closer to nature but destroying it in the process,” she says. “With Grubber, I’m hoping to create a campaign which highlights the environmental impact of the horticultural and houseplant industries, as well as the benefits of owning plants.”
Next month, Tremaine is cooking up an exhibition in collaboration with Baesianz, a global platform for Asian artists and creatives which will focus on nature’s healing powers and the decolonisation of horticulture. There’s also a plant-focused flea market in the works and plenty more nature walks to come. If you want to take a leaf out of Tremaine’s book, don’t waste another minute – or another pound – and check out her step-by-step guide to guerilla gardening below.
A short foreword...
The gardening community’s worst kept secret is that once in a while, many of us are prone to taking a sneaky cutting from a plant, from politely asking a friend to share a plant in their garden or bagging one on a drunk walk home from the pub. Although it might seem cheeky, when done ethically and right, this can be a massive help to wildlife and our environment, especially in cities. Due to the density of buildings, it’s much harder for plants to spread their seeds naturally like they would in the countryside, where the wind and birds can disperse them onto open plains of land.
A general technical and ethical code to follow:
• Don’t take a cutting or flower for ornamental use – this only serves yourself and not the environment.
• Don’t be greedy! Wait for the plant to grow, then take more cuttings from your own plant.
• Try to take cuttings from an abundant-looking plant, so as not to harm other people’s enjoyment of the plant or its health.
Step 1: Choose your plant
In general, it’s best to propagate in spring and summer when plant life is at its most energetic. Choose a healthy-looking plant with lots of stems and branches.
Step 2: Take a cutting
When taking a cutting, to resist flowering stems, you ideally need a firm shoot with no flower buds. Try not to damage the stem too much when you detach it from the main plant.
Step 3: Place it in a plastic bag and take it home
Place the cutting in a second-hand plastic bag, so it retains moisture until you get it home.
Step 4: Prepare the cutting
When preparing the cutting for propagation, make sure you have a clean knife and surface to cut on. Select a piece between 5 – 10cm long and cut just above a leaf joint.
Step 5: Pop into a glass of water
Cuttings need moisture and air to propagate, and one of the easiest ways to do this is in a glass of water. Trim away leaves so that there are just a few left at the top of the stem. Make sure the leafy part of the cutting is above water level. Although this method is very common, some plants cannot be propagated in water so you might need to research their specific requirements.
Step 6: Roots and soil
When using the water-only method, wait until you have a really good root system before you move the cutting. Use a small pot and place the cutting to the edge of it to encourage the roots to grow outwards. Be gentle, as you don’t want to break any of the roots! Remember to label the plant with a brief description if you don’t know its name. Some plants can be poisonous, so wash your hands as soon as possible when finished.
Step 7: Water
Place the pot in a tray of water for a gentle soak for 10 minutes. You can also put a cut-down plastic bottle or fruit tray over the top, to act as a mini greenhouse. Finally, place the cutting on a sunny windowsill to ensure plenty of daylight, and wait for it to grow!