Nick Cutsumpas calls himself a “plant daddy.”
The 26-year-old Kips Bay resident, who works for Arianna Huffington’s startup Thrive Global, has turned a passion for agriculture—he claims to have grown tomatoes in his apartment with moderate success—into a lucrative side hustle.
His skills are in high demand. Many millennials, members of the generation born between 1980 and roughly 2000 who have a reputation for being commitment-averse, are opting to raise houseplants. Critics have gone as far as to say they’re forgoing traditional milestones like marriage and children to curate photogenic green spaces in their homes.
But it’s not easy to make a garden grow. So while money may not grow on trees, local millennials’ demand for low-maintenance, Instagram-ready plants means there’s ample opportunity for New York’s green thumbs to earn some greenbacks.
After all, this cohort is viewed as being wary of long-term responsibility. “We are the Tamagotchi generation,” says Eliza Blank, the 33-year-old founder of Manhattan-based plant store The Sill, referring to the egg-shaped digital pet toy popular in the late ’90s. “It’s something cute to take care of that’s kind of low-risk.”
The scaffolding around supporting plant ownership, then, continues to blossom. Blank’s online-turned-brick-and-mortar startup, founded in 2012, draws inspiration from women-owned companies like Drybar and Birchbox as opposed to more traditional emporiums like Home Depot.
Potted plants range from $23 to $66. The Sill markets a collection “easy for beginners” (which can be sent to your home for $35 a month) and offers online classes for newbies like “Watering 101” and “How to Pick a Planter” online for $10.
“People are buying plants now because it fills a void in their lives,” says Blank, who has raised $7.5 million in funding for The Sill since 2017 and is soon adding a storefront in Los Angeles to her two in New York. “We aren’t here just to transact with our customers. We’re here to teach them, to educate them, to create a relationship with them—to give them the tools they need to have a relationship with their plants to fill whatever that void might be.”
Plant-owning novices still need guidance. “Some people want me to go buy the plants for them. For others, it’s like picking out a wedding dress,” says Cutsumpas, who makes an average of $300 per project. “You get your friends to come, you want everyone to be there. It becomes an event.”
After Cutsumpas met Tribeca resident Lauren, 37, at a book launch, she turned to him for mentorship.
“I’ve always wanted to have a lot of plants,” says the health and wellness coach, who declined to use her last name due to privacy concerns. “It just always felt so cumbersome to go out and do it. I would go to the Flower District and feel so overwhelmed.”
She paid Cutsumpas just under $500 to buy and install a fiddle-leaf fig tree, two snake plants, a few potted pothos plants and a microgreen and herb station in the three-bedroom apartment she shares with her husband and 4-year-old child.
“I can kill anything, so I wanted low-maintenance. We have a ton of light, and I wanted air-purifying plants,” says Lauren.
She texts pictures of her ailing plants, like the brown spots on her fiddle-leaf fig, to Cutsumpas when she needs advice, which he dispenses at no extra charge. (It was a case of sunburn.)
Cutsumpas—whose plant-filled Instagram feed @FarmerNickNYC boasts almost 10,000 followers—sees plants as a “transitional step” toward bigger commitments: “You’re showing yourself, your friends and your family, ‘Hey, I’m taking this slow. I’m not ready to settle down and start having a kid at age 26.’ ”
Other New Yorkers gravitate toward plants as a design element, instead of posters or art.
A financial consultant who works from his Bushwick home, Sean Valentine, wanted his flat to have “some life in it.”
Valentine, 28, contacted his friend Maryah Greene, 23, a third-grade teacher who moonlights as a plant consultant. Like Cutsumpas, she finds most of her clients via Instagram (though she and Valentine are childhood friends).
“I became known as the crazy lady who’s always fixing someone’s plant,” says Greene, who posts advice on Instagram about choosing low-commitment flora and treating yellowing leaves. Her account @Greene.Piece, she says, has earned her about 20 clients in the last year. Greene takes home between $50 and $160 depending on a project’s budget and scale. (Her day rate is $250.)
Valentine and his roommates “gave me a $400 budget to ball out,” says Greene. “It was a lesson for me. I was like, ‘I can totally get you this really dope ficus, but the air quality in here sucks.’ ”
Now vines, hanging plants and shoots in pots on shelves line the walls of Valentine’s apartment.
“You can put paintings on the wall, but there’s nothing like having greenery,” says Valentine, who admits he’d never had a houseplant before. “It’s very alive.”
Greene attributes the millennial plant boom, in part, to social media—“the way that we advertise our spaces and our day-to-day” activities. But she tells clients it’s not all aesthetics but practicality, too.
“Everyone likes the look of having a plant by the window. But most of those really pretty Swiss cheese [monstera] plants aren’t meant to be on a windowsill, where it’s absolutely freezing,” says Greene. “Don’t get a massive tree if you don’t have the energy to water it and to fertilize it. You can just get a tiny bonsai.”
It’s not just homes that get spiffed up in this green wave. Restaurants, retailers and runways are putting a premium on plants as design, like Rihanna’s buzzy September 2018 Savage x Fenty lingerie show, staged like a leafy eden.
Brands like Nike, Umbro and Foot Locker have tapped Olivia Rose, the Manhattan native behind plant design studio Bodega Rose, to greenify store installations and workshops. Her signature basketball planter, which starts at $90 ($125 with a pothos plant) is a must-have accessory. Last year, ultra-cool label Gypsy Sport, helmed by Balenciaga alum Rio Uribe, sent models down the runway with Rose’s basketball planters during Fashion Week, making Rose the green-thumbed darling of the hypebeast set, able to marry high fashion and street style. She draped MoMA PS1’s courtyard in the planters for the museum’s first-ever plant installation.
In Greenpoint, hip Michelin-starred eatery Oxomoco features an elaborately designed ceiling plantscape by Rose. And Nike CEO Mark Parker commissioned a work for his office after seeing her Air Force One-inspired resin planters.
Rose thinks of herself “as a plant rock star. I’m going on tour with plants,” and prioritizes the “entertainment element” of her work, adding she knows she’s catering to a social-media savvy crowd: “People want to take pictures.”
“If plants are characters in my life, then how would they live? They would be big, they would wear the coolest clothes, they would dress in the best pots, they would go play basketball,” the 23-year-old, who formally trained as a landscape architect at Cornell, tells The Post.
Millennial mainstays like cacti, monsteras, philodendrons and twisted trunks of tropical trees in Rose’s own Kips Bay apartment provide ample inspiration—and a background for selfies shared with her 19,500 Instagram followers.
The idea for The Sill’s Plant Parenthood Club ($39/year) came from demand from Blank’s customers for advice on care. They even call their leafy dependents “plant babies.”
“It’s in lieu of actual babies,” she says. “It’s like, ‘Oh my god, I could never have an actual baby, but I can have a plant, and that could be my baby.’”
For his part, Valentine is currently experiencing the seasonal roller coaster of plant ownership. “Watching them transition to the fall and the winter, I’ve been a little nervous, because things happen, leaves fall off, and you’re like, ‘Am I doing this wrong?’”
Luckily, when Valentine or his roommates are out of town, Greene is on call to plant-sit.
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Source: Housing Trends Feed