The Black Men Behind Social Media’s Great Gardening Explosion
The social trend is watering your timeline with much-needed tranquility
Nearly two years ago, Nelson ZêPequéno posted an Instagram video of himself transforming a cerulean Nintendo 64 controller into a planter for succulents. A childhood relic becoming an artful vessel for growth is a common theme in the artist’s work; he’s also transformed a rotary phone, a clock, and a record player into homes for his plants.
All are stunning sights to behold, but ZêPequéno wants the world to know that he’s not the only Black man with a green thumb. His most poignant work isn’t even on his personal account — it’s at Black Men With Gardens, where more than 65,000 followers marvel at not just massive thaumatophyllum or leaning cacti but also the men who care for them. On an app where aesthetically pleasing images are the primary focus, creators like ZêPequéno use the beauty of plants to create a dialogue that encourages wellness and personal growth.
Plant content has surged online amid the Covid-19 pandemic, with fear of food shortages spurring a vegetable-growing trend earlier this year. But ZêPequéno is part of a growing group of amateur horticulturists who have long been missing from the social media landscape. “These plant accounts would be so freaking White,” he says, recalling his time searching Instagram a few years ago. “It was insane. How do you whitewash nature?”
Jasmine Jefferson originally secured the username for the Black Men With Gardens account in 2017, when she also created Black Girls With Gardens, its sister account with more than 140,000 followers. “I’ve been surrounded by [gardening] my entire life,” she says. “But as a child, I was over it, because my mom and my grandmother were the type of people who would have a shovel and pruners in their trunk just in case they saw something they wanted.” She didn’t get into gardening until she was an adult, while mourning her grandmother’s death. Soon after, Jefferson created the Instagram accounts in hopes of finding a sense of community; she later passed the reins for the men’s page over to ZêPequéno.
In his hands, the page flourished, not just as a source of #BlackBoyJoy but also as a depiction of Black men’s full…