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Sue Biely, founder of Inside Green teaching an elementary school class about plants. (Photo: Shannon Mendes)

Vancouver plant-sharing project tackles environmentalism from the ground up

Inside Green stemmed from Sue Biely’s fear that people have become increasingly separated from nature

By Graham A. MacDonald , in City , on November 22, 2017

Jordan Yerman left a farmer’s market at Pacific Central Station nearly a year ago with Funnel-Web, a potted spider plant, balanced on the handlebars of his bicycle. Since then, Funnel-Web has propagated 34 new plants that have found homes throughout Vancouver.

This spread was made possible by Inside Green, the passion project of Sue Biely, a Vancouver consultant and plant enthusiast. In the year and a half since the project began, Inside Green has fostered about 1000 plant shares in Vancouver.

The project aims to reconnect Vancouverites with nature and their communities by growing and sharing houseplants.

Biely wants to put a plant in every Vancouver home.

“What would happen if we gave [people] a piece of nature and said, ‘Here, this is a gift and you are now directly in a relationship with a piece of nature?’ said Biely.

Participants start by choosing their ideal plant through Inside Green’s website based on a number of criteria, such as whether or not it blooms, its colour, its shape, and its air-cleaning abilities. They are then matched with one of 10 plants, all of which are “hard-to-kill, and easy-to-propagate.”

Click to see more ways to propagate your houseplants


An idea that grew from fears over the planet’s future

The idea for Inside Green stemmed from Biely’s fear that people have become increasingly separated from nature. She hopes caring for houseplants will help people see their relationship with the environment as symbiotic.

“We are in a codependent relationship with the planet, we just pretend we’re not,” said Biely.

Inside Green encourages members to propagate and give away their plants, so the project’s growth is completely in the hands of the members themselves.

How participants receive their plants

Inside Green participants are called stewards and there are a number of ways they can receive their first plant.

If Biely has enough plants on hand, she gives stewards a fourinch seedling. But the demand for plants usually exceeds Biely’s personal supply. Inside Green also gives plants away at farmers markets, festivals, offices, and schools.

A group of firstand second-graders in Surrey take a closer look at one of Inside Green’s plants. (Photo: Shannon Mendes)

Plants are also propogated and shared by fellow Inside Green members.

Once a steward has a plant, Inside Green provides them with information on how to care for the plant, and how to eventually propagate and gift the plant to a new member.

Finding your root’s roots with the plantcestry

A defining feature of Inside Green is its datamapping project called “the plantcestry.”

The database keeps track of plants in the Inside Green system that have been propagated and where they have been gifted.

The plantcestry maps lineages of plants and records how they connect biologically to one another. The data reveals that plants have spread far and wide across the city, with Inside Green’s most prolific plant being the aforementioned spider-plant named Funnel-Web, with 34 offspring in the city.

When Jordan Yerman brought Funnel-Web home, he had no idea how many propagations the plant would yield.

“I’ve never seen anything like it, it’s just ridiculous,” said Yerman. “I’ve completely lost track of how many pups Funnel-Web has given off. It’s just amazing, I can’t keep up!”

Funnel-Web’s plantcestry

Yerman wasn’t new to growing plants when he got involved with Inside Green, but it accelerated his interest in the practice.

“Once I started with Inside Green, I had probably around 10 plants,” said Yerman. “Now, I probably have about 95.”

Biely’s interest in the plantcestry doesn’t end with tracking the biological connections between plants. She thinks the system has to potential to reveal more about how citizens interact with their communities and how communities interact with each other.

“If I give five plants in one neighbourhood, and I see that maybe three or four of them have babies, and the babies all stay in the neighbourhood, that’s interesting to me,” said Biely “Is this a building where people know each other? Is this a tight community? I’m curious about what all these data patterns would tell us.”

Inside Green encourages stewards to connect and share with each other online through storytelling. Some share their plant-growing experience, while others write about their plants’ personalities.

Future Growth

Staghorn ferns are commonly grown on wall mounts, which make them a popular houseplant.

Inside Green is currently contained in Vancouver, but Biely is eager to expand the project.

“I want it to go international,” said Biely. “If we were to go for the full fantasy, we would have Inside Green Vancouver, Toronto, Beijing, Auckland, Edinburgh, anywhere you find density living, where people are having less access to soil.”

Biely sees the implications of the project extending beyond the living room walls of Inside Green’s stewards.

She hopes growing a houseplant might be the first step for many urbanites towards a more thoughtful and considerate relationship with the planet.

Biely thinks Inside Green’s environmental efforts differ from larger environmental movements by focusing on what participants can add to the environment.

“A lot of environmental projects are: ‘Stop doing this, don’t do that, don’t eat this, don’t buy that,’” said Biely.

“I’m saying ‘Here, have this, add this. It’ll make your life possibly better, and guess what, you can propagate it. Then you have gifts to give people and it can be fun! You can learn, and it can make you healthier and it can make you happier.’”