There is just something special about a big bus. Roger Daltrey and Pete Townshend knew it, when their band, The Who, released the song “Magic Bus” in 1968. Jessica Watts, co-owner of House Plant Collective, knows it too. After her personal jungle of houseplants began to reach maximum capacity, she and her husband, Stephen, refurbished and repurposed a bus to be a traveling retailer of all things green and leafy: fiddle-leaf fig trees, philodendrons, peace lilies, crotons, succulents, and more.
What Jessica did not know at the time, however, was the power this one bus would have. Instead of being just a mobile retail outlet, it became a way to add comfort in the form of fresh greenery. But even more, that transformed bus created community in a time when life felt fractured by the uncertainty of a worldwide pandemic.
Jessica will be the first to tell you that she has no professional botany training; her general knowledge and love of
plants came to her from her mother and grandmother who were active gardeners. “But I did not start my own houseplant collection until about three or four years ago,” she says. “I broke my foot on my honeymoon and needed something to do while recovering.”
Jessica proved quite adept at the whole houseplant thing, and her collection grew quickly. In an effort to thin the herd, she started giving away cuttings and hosting plant swaps. “Then my husband and I started brainstorming how we might turn this hobby into something more,” she says.
The couple ruminated on the idea of bringing the plants to the people and started searching for a pre-owned bus they could convert into a mobile plant outpost. Jessica says, “We must have looked at more than a dozen large vehicles until we found this one on Craigslist. It’s an ideal space for people to be able to step aboard and shop. We hosted our first bus event in July 2020 and started gaining traction all across the state.”
Using the power of social media (IG: @house.plant.collective) and partnering with other area businesses, the House Plant Collective’s following grew almost faster than Audrey II from the 1986 movie Little Shop of Horrors. “By doing pop-ups at breweries and coffee shops, we placed ourselves in front of our target customer,” says Jessica. “Those are the places we hang out, so it made sense.”
Jessica and Stephen have driven the bus all over the state. “We’ve traveled from Montgomery to Huntsville and Anniston to Jacksonville,” Jessica says. “And while we haven’t yet come up with a name for the bus, we are always open to suggestions.”
With the success of the mobile business, Jessica soon felt empowered to open the brick-and-mortar location she had originally wanted. Located in Avondale, the store includes a marked parking spot out front where the bus can rest between jaunts. Inside, Jessica has created what she feels like is a really green living room.
When asked what makes the House Plant Collective different from a traditional nursery or garden shop, Jessica says, “I never thought I would be getting into a retail space. We’ve created a place that is not only welcoming to the houseplant customers but also to the creative community.
“Traditional gardening certainly took off during the pandemic, but for people with limited time, space, and resources, houseplants are the ideal fit.”Jessica Watts
“We partner with other small makers by showcasing their goods with our houseplants,” Jessica says. “Customers may come in for a new plant and might leave with a handmade vessel or locally- crafted candle.”
Beyond the Bus
Jessica stays true to the roots of the business, continuing to host monthly plant swaps for customers. Community is definitely at the heart of this parking lot-based event where “people can bring as many plants and cuttings that they want and just swap with others who have things to share,” she says. “Some people bring common plants while others might have some high-dollar plants. We had someone bring a Thai Constellation plant that was pretty special. Anything variegated gets a lot of attention.”
Care & Tips
Jessica says that for most customers, it begins and ends with “What type of ‘plant parent’ are you? Do you like to hover and tend to your plants all day, every day? Or are you more of a set- it-and-forget-it kind of plant owner?” Jessica and her staff are adept at helping customers select the right “plant baby” for their lifestyle. “Every plant we sell is labeled with the name and the environment in which it thrives,” she says. “We also include the price and whether the plant is toxic or not. We’re not just here to sell a plant and be done with it. We want to educate the buyer and help pick the right plant for them.”
Try these popular varieties.
1 Hoya Carnosa Compacta
The hindu rope is a popular houseplant due to its remarkable rope-like trailing vines and ease in care.
2 Maranta Lemon Lime
The prayer plant is notorious for its ability to bend and move throughout the day. It’s definitely a showstopper with the pop of green variations in the leaf veins.
3 Hoya Krimson Queen (variegated hoya)
While most of the leaves are waxy green and white, this plant also flashes bits of pink in new leaves.
4 Sansevieria Cylindrica
As part of the snake plant family, the cylindrica boasts itself as one of the easiest houseplants to maintain.
5 Watermelon Peperomia
This is a trendy houseplant thanks to its attractive leaves that look like mini watermelons.
6 String of Dolphins
As part of the succulent family, this plant prefers bright light and requires low watering in order to show off the perfect mini-dolphin trails.
7 Hoya Kentiana
Known for their waxy leaves and some of the most beautiful blooms, the hoya varieties are generally low- maintenance plants.
8 Spider Plant
This is a perfect plant for a beginner. Plus it can be easily propagated to be shared with friends.
House Plant Collective
3621 5th Avenue South (Birmingham) – 410 Queen City Avenue (Tuscaloosa) – 256.365.8737 – houseplantcollective.com
IG: @house.plant.collective – @hpc.tuscaloosa