How I became an Urban Dryad by Robin

Something I love about Harriett’s Press is the invitation to slow down. While your laundry is getting done, you stop and breathe: sit,…

Emily Atkinson

Something I love about Harriett’s Press is the invitation to slow down. While your laundry is getting done, you stop and breathe: sit, drink tea, talk, become absorbed in creating something small. At the macro level, it’s a challenge to ideas about where creativity belongs, and who it belongs to. But at the personal level, it’s an oasis in a frantic day of errands, therapeutic and meditative.

Caring for plants can also be an invitation to slow down: to become absorbed in tending to another living thing; to think about the light and air quality in your home; to be patient and purposeful, because growth isn’t always linear, and after months of dormancy you’ll find that something is suddenly flourishing. Plants are beautiful, connect us to nature, and science agrees that they improve both mental and physical health.

If you visit Harriett’s Press, you might have noticed (among the pens and origami and embroidery) the spider plants, and the little stack of ‘Urban Dryad’ cards next to them. Those are from me! Hello! My name is Robin, I love plants, and I love helping people find joy in plants. In this post I’d like to focus on how I started this, what I’m doing at a community level, and what I’m planning for the future.

This time last year, I decided to contribute to a charity auction – and inadvertently started my journey as Urban Dryad. My friend Mike’s yearly Auction of Promises has listings like “I will knit you a custom scarf” and “I will make a fancy cooked breakfast for you and your friends”, as well as non-physical things like career advice and spreadsheet building. I tentatively offered “I will help you with your houseplants”, adding a picture showing my own plants, and a list of things I could help with: finding (and maybe providing) the right plants for your space, diagnosing problems, or advising on bigger projects like greenhouse cabinets and terrariums.

Charity Auction image

I wasn’t sure if I’d get any bids, but it was an instant success – and I was asked if I could keep offering this service even beyond the context of the auction. So I figured, why not? I made some new social media accounts, drew up a sliding scale for rates (including barter options), and started offering video consultations and home visits. A year later, that seed of an idea has grown, branched out, and blossomed. I’m being commissioned for aquascapes and orchid mounting, and – even more excitingly – I’m finding new ways to make the joy of houseplants accessible to the wider community here in Brighton.

Client Aquascape

Twice a month, I offer a ‘Houseplant Hospital’ – a drop-in clinic where people bring me their plants (or photographs and descriptions), or just their questions, and I do what I can to help. Since last summer, I’ve treated root rot, identified mystery plants, dealt with all kinds of pests, pruned, repotted, propagated, and given hours of advice! I’ve been doing this at Prestonville Repair Cafe since last June: it’s the second Sunday of every month except August, from 10am until 12 midday. I love working at the Repair Cafe – it feels great being part of a community built on mutual aid, receiving help and offering it in return!*

At the Prestonville Repair Cafe

More recently, I’ve added a Houseplant Hospital session at the Ledward Centre, which has now settled in to 3-5pm on the third Thursday of the month. If you’ve got problems with your plants, or just want advice on something houseplant-related, I’d love to see you there! There’s no fee, although donations are incredibly welcome: all donations on Sundays go to Prestonville Repair Cafe, while Thursday donations will be split between me and the Ledward Centre.

At the Ledward Houseplant Hospital

This is just the beginning – I’m also looking into organising events like plant swaps and repotting parties. I don’t have confirmed dates or venues yet, but details will be on my social media as well as the Brighton UK Plant Swap/Sell group on Facebook, where I’ve recently joined the admin team. I’m also very eager for more collaborations and projects in the community – maybe a terrarium for your classroom, an aquarium for your mental health space, or plants for your community centre? Or anything else you can think of – if I might be able to help make it happen, I’d love to hear from you.

* If you’re interested in joining a repair cafe, local ones include Prestonville, Patcham, Hollingdean, Moulsecoomb, and Saltdean – search online to find their current dates and schedules!