Melanie Peters’ small business potting plants in pre-loved treasures began after reading an article about rest home residents living longer if they have something to care for.
Fancy Plants began life circa 2019 with such senior citizens in mind.
“I can’t really give pets to people, but I can give plants,” she says.
The business runs from her Dunedin home, which overflows with hundreds of vintage vessels collected from op shops and lovingly filled with spider plants, succulents or cacti which she’s grown.
There’s a succulent selection sprouting from an Edmonds Baking Powder tin, a plant tail trailing from a ceramic bird, and tiny leaves mimicking cappuccino froth in a dainty cup.
Melanie used to volunteer delivering Age Concern meals, which she’d pick up from the Home of St Barnabas.
After reading the article, she started potting plants into teacups and asked a St Barnabas staff member whether she could gift meal recipients a plant to look after.
They’ve gone especially to care home residents or other elderly people who don’t receive many visitors.
The pots may be old-fashioned teacups, jugs or ornamental vases – “anything that I think they’d like”.
During the past few years, she’s scoured op shops and bought many vintage containers which seniors can remember and connect to.
It doesn’t matter if the items are chipped or cracked because she can still use them.
The elderly remember actually using it. I just want to be able to repurpose what I think is lovely stuff, but people don’t use anymore.”
Melanie is always propagating plants and has about 50 houseplants and hundreds of succulents in her sunny home, garden and greenhouse.
Succulents sometimes flower, so are pretty, and they’re not too complicated to look after.
Many of her pots contain spider plants, which don’t mind being pot-bound – “I discovered that the spider plants don’t mind being in teapots.”
She’d always enjoyed house plants, but says “succulents weren’t really on my radar”.
Then came a phase of people liking them and she started growing them.
“As you can see, the house is a bit crazy with crockery and plants…I have a very tolerant partner!”
His tolerance extends to their trips to Christchurch or Queenstown.
“My partner accepts that we stop at every op shop or antique shop along the way.”
She visits Dunedin charity shops a few times a week and her favourites are ReStore, The Hospice Shop, The Salvation Army Family Store and Shop on Carroll.
Apprehension and shock
When Melanie first started giving the creatively-potted plants to the elderly, their initial response was apprehension and shock.
“I think just people were a bit surprised really, I think they couldn’t understand what I was doing, so I had to explain what I do.”
Last Christmas, when Covid-19 prevention measures restricted rest home visitors, she left 30 plants in elegant china teacups at Ross Home, to the residents’ delight.
As Fancy Plants has grown and she’s posted Facebook photos, many viewers comment that they once had such a teacup or vase, or recall their grandma or mother having one.
People have also donated old teacups.
Melanie keeps busy, working at the University of Otago and also running a photography business, focusing on weddings, graduations and other celebrations.
Years ago, she’d studied fine art and describes matching plants with the right vintage vessel as another creative outlet.
She markets her products via a website and social media and sells them at markets, particularly smaller craft ones.
The “chief potter and op shopper” promotes Fancy Plants as a gift-giving service, especially around Christmas and Mother’s Day.
She has “no idea” of annual sales and says she’s inspired whenever she unearths a new piece of pottery.
Melanie sums up her business in one sentence: “Giving new life to pre-loved treasures and hoping to strike a chord with people’s nostalgia.”
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