You Can Turn Your House into a Jungle Autumn Houseplant: Swap at the CSL Public Library

By Myra Shuster

The air was abuzz with excitement as the library’s first-ever houseplant swap was about to launch. Plant lovers young and old communed together amidst a mini botanical garden in the Côte Saint-Luc Public Library’s Harold Greenspon Auditorium. As participants arrived, they were assisted by volunteers who helped hoist and carry plants from their cars into the auditorium. Participants were met at the entrance table by Holly, a volunteer who assisted Manager of Community and Family Services Bronwen Cathey organize the event. Holly handed out swap and door prize tickets and a plant journal that participants could use to record the names of new plant acquisitions and oversee their care.


Large and small already-loved and yet-to-be-loved succulents, cohos, pothos, geraniums, ferns, peperomia, mint and other herbs, saplings in cups, and large, towering plants soon adorned the tables in the auditorium, as participants began carefully setting out their swap offerings.


When Bronwen first masterminded the event in celebration of Public Libraries Week, she began by reaching out and networking on social media. The response was excellent.


“Over the pandemic, a lot of people connected on social media over the shared love of houseplants,” she said.

Some of the people at the swap were contacts she met through this shared hobby, and who eventually became her friends. She linked up with people via the Instagram plant community known as ‘Plantstagram.’ After the seeds of the Houseplant Swap idea began to germinate in her mind, she reached out to the greater Montreal community on social media, along with sponsors directly, to see if anyone would be interested in being involved with the swap. She was delighted with an overwhelmingly positive response.

A mom and her young daughter at the Plant Swap.


Safiya from The Painted Leaf was instrumental in the process of promoting the event, as were other sponsors. Alma Plantes, Edgewood Gardens, Studio Foliage and Babar Books also helped by promoting the event on social media and by making generous donations of plants and books.


Nicky Peters, head of Côte Saint-Luc’s Monarch-Friendly Garden Committee oversaw a table devoted to the city’s innovative Monarch Garden project. She answered questions from people interested in learning more about how they could get involved. Creation of the garden in 2021 marked the first step in making Côte Saint-Luc a monarch-friendly city. Beautiful butterfly stickers, hand-painted by Rachel of Cometsplants were available for the taking by children and monarch-loving adults.


We are a quirky bunch, those of us who share a peculiar empathic sense for the life force that makes green and flowering things grow. We share secrets too, I realized, when a woman who introduced herself as Bernadine – a local CLSC nurse, told me she’d have to sneak my geranium plant into her house, past the eyes of her jungle-weary husband. I felt a distinct complicity with her, as my husband and children have long complained about being jungle-weary too, imploring me to reduce the amount of living-room space devoted to my plants. She and I also discovered we both keep a plant Intensive Care Unit in our homes: it’s not only the healthy and beautiful plants we covet – it’s also those in failing health. Seeing them nurtured back to life in our care is a great feeling. We’re a bit like animal rescue folks: same prototype, different objects of our affection.


In addition to swapping and sharing plants, participants swapped tips and insights. As a woman who introduced herself as Goldie laid claim to one of my geraniums, I mentioned I’d discovered that geranium clippings root better in Brita-filtered water, presumably because the chlorine is removed. “I just leave containers of water around, and the chlorine evaporates. I water all my plants with water I’ve left out that way,” she said. A great tip!


After we all settled in and Bronwen explained how to proceed, an animated, auction-like feel to the event took over. We all circulated, placing post-its on plants and plant equipment that interested us, as the moment for swapping approached. Coins were flipped for plants with more than one taker. After the swap and trade period – which resembled a delightful miniature Toronto Stock Exchange, we moved to a free-for-all give and take, donating plants to anyone who wanted them.

Myra Shuster at the Plant Swap.


The event was wrapping up when a young girl wandered in, seemingly unaware of the event until she’d appeared at the library late afternoon with her mother and brother. As she was passing my table, I saw her eying a small unclaimed succulent plant. “You can have it,” I told her, and without a word, she lifted it and cupped it lovingly in her hands, as if it was a new pet bunny. It felt great to send my little aeonium off with full peace of mind, knowing she was in the caring hands of a young girl who loves plants, likely a future plant swapper.


Babar Books donated several books which were given away as door prizes. As I hope to someday have grandchildren, I was thrilled to be the recipient of a picture book called My First Book of House Plants. It has colourful illustrations by Asa Giland and a captivating, albeit simple plot. The first page depicts a living room filled to the brim with plants, like a jungle. Fittingly, it reads “You can turn your house into a jungle. All you need are some nice houseplants!”

When I read these opening lines, I thought of my jungle-weary children, and my shared sneak-in-just-one-more-plant secret with Bernadine. Will my children allow this book to be read in their homes, I wondered. Or will it be relegated to reading at the grandparents’ home, on the couch, nestled in their jungle, between the pink, scarlet and orange geraniums on one side, and the towering Shefflera umbrella plant on the other.

Myra Shuster is a freelance writer, the founder of the Monarch-friendly garden in Cote Saint-Luc, and a lawyer-mediator with the Immigration and Refugee Board

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