If you’re lucky enough to have a bit of extra money to spend, you might be wrestling with what purchases to make. Something indulgent maybe, but not frivolous. Something comforting, but not disposable. Something that supports small businesses, or black entrepreneurs. Something you can feel good about.
The founders of Grounded think they have the answer.
Danuelle Doswell and Mignon Hemsley launched the virtual plant shop and subscription service on April 22—Earth Day—and sold out of individual plants within hours of opening up shop. Both women are millennials with strong entrepreneurial streaks: Doswell is a freelance digital marketer, while Hemsley is a freelance graphic designer, DJ and photographer. They connected over their love of plants and gardening, and had been working on their plant business for almost a year. They wanted to offer people an easy, convenient place to purchase plants online, and they knew they wanted to center the physical and emotional benefits plants provide.
Then, the coronavirus pandemic happened. And while many small businesses have been forced to shutter during the quarantine, Doswell and Hemsley saw an opportunity for Grounded: a chance to offer some healing, and some joy, during a time when many are housebound and yearning for nature or self-care rituals.
“[The conditions of the pandemic] kind of aligned with how our structure was anyway,” Hemsley told The Glow Up about their decision to go forward with the launch.
The online service offers three kinds of individual plants for purchase: snake plants, golden pothos, and aloe vera. Or, you can sign up for their subscription service, through which Grounded will send you a different plant each month for three months, for the flat rate of $75. The plants are sourced by Doswell and Hemsley through nurseries in the New York City and metropolitan D.C. area.
Houseplants have been framed as a millennial-driven social media trend. Plant enthusiasts and amateur horticulturists have opined as to why this is: some cite a yearning for nurturing that is more apartment-friendly and less time-consuming than having a pet. Others say it’s a way to connect with nature, especially if you’re in an urban environment. The surging interest in plants has also been connected to the wellness movement: not only can some plants offer physical benefits, like helping to clean the air, but the practice of caring for a plant helps people slow down and get out of their own heads.
It’s this wellness component that Hemsley and Doswell want to foreground in their business, especially at a time when caring for your mental health has become all the more urgent.
“We want to promote the fact that, you know, you can disconnect from your phone, from the news, from social media, and you can attend to this thing that’s alive, that’s purifying your air. And it’s helping you mentally, overall,” says Hemsley.
The small rituals of caring for a plant—spraying down the leaves, checking the soil for moisture, re-potting them, conversing with them, fussing over new growth or stubborn buds, collecting rainwater so the soil can get more nutrients—are ones Doswell and Hemsley relish. And a silver lining of the pandemic for them, especially other work has slowed down, has been the ability to focus more on their own personal plants, as well as their business.
But these aren’t just grounding practices for Doswell and Hemsley. They see their love of planting and gardening as a matter of inheritance, one that is deeply rooted in their identities as black women.
One feature of any millennial trend—and this is true of plant care as well—is the prominence of the effervescent white woman, typically perched on a window sill in an apartment filled with an astonishing amount of natural light. Grounded, however, centers blackness in ways that are both subtle and explicit. Their website prominently features black hands holding their earthenware pots, for example. But they also developed Grounded as an extension of their family heritage.
Both women credit their families with their love of plants and gardening. Hemsley grew up helping her mother grow strawberries and other fruits and vegetables in their backyard. Growing up in Pittsburgh and Alexandria, Va., plants were a staple of Doswell’s household as well.
“All my aunts, my grandmother, my great aunt—all have plants in their homes,” she said.
When Doswell thinks of her ancestors, her mind immediately goes to their history of sharecropping down south. To her and Hemsley, growing plants is “embedded in our genes.”
“It is definitely innate,” Doswell said. “African Americans, we’re magical. Black people are magical. Whatever we touch, grows. Especially with the intention and the passion behind it.”
Now, they’re happy they’re able to spread the joy, the care, and the connection that comes from caring—and learning how to care—for plants. Hemsley said they’ve been getting a lot of feedback from customers: some who sent plants to their family members who are living alone to help cheer them up, others who are excited about owning their first plant.
“The outpour of love...is amazing,” said Hemsley. “To see that when [customers] are getting their order, that we could possibly brighten somebody’s day or make them feel like they have this sense of responsibility...that just helps us feel like we’re really spreading the message we wanted to spread.”
Subscription offers on rounded-plants.com are still available, and Doswell says individual plants will be restocked and available within the next month. Prospective and current customers can also follow them on Instagram and Facebook for updates.