When March 2020 forced New Yorkers indoors, the isolation reverberating off the walls of millions of shoebox apartments necessitated coping strategies that have carried over into the awkward, in-between place where the city now lives. 

Some overcame the mandatory solitude by welcoming dogs into their lives (though a trip to Maria Hernandez might convince anyone that Bushwick has a 100% canine ownership rate). But others, like Nikki Luna Paz, a 29-year-old artist and graduate student, adopted a different kind of company: plants, and lots of them. 

Almost two years and more than a dozen plants later, Paz is hoping to propagate mutual aid around gardening with Plantita, a plant exchange project launched for this year’s NYC Artist Corp Showcase. 

The Bushwick resident describes Plantita, a free plant propagation station located on DeKalb Avenue, as a Little Free Library, but with leaves and branches. 

“At one point when I was trying to grow food and stuff, I think I had 60 little plants around my apartment,” they said. “That’s when I joined a bunch of Facebook plant groups, which were really cool, and I saw people trading cuttings of different plants.” 

The online community Paz joined extended much-needed social and emotional support during universally difficult times, which got them interested in the idea of urban gardening as mutual aid. Thus, Plantita was born as a DIY-fashioned pallet stand operating on the mantra “take a plant, leave a plant.” 

“The whole project is about connecting with people and sharing what we have. It’s mutual aid. Plants have been proven to lift people’s moods. When there’s something that happens to all of us, it’s so important to stand together,” Paz, who also works as an activist with the environmentalist group Sunrise Movement, said. 

Hosted by Know Waste Lands, the BK-Rot-run community garden on DeKalb where Plantita is located, locals and visitors alike can visit to grab or contribute any plant cuttings available. The added bonus is the Plantita website, where participants can see a photo of the mother plant and connect with other people growing a garden from the trimmings. 

Plantita also put down roots on Instagram, which readers can follow @plantitabrooklyn. While the project is coming down for winter with plans to return next spring, Paz said they hope the project will become a self-sustaining life form powered by the kinship of Bushwick planters. 

“I love it as a place for Know Waste Lands to give out plants. I love it as a place for someone to just leave a cutting from their own plants. I love it as someone just walking by and going ‘oh, hey, that’s a cool plant, I can just take it home,” Paz said. “I would love for it to just work without me.”


Images: Nikki Luna Paz (body images via Instagram)

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