At Ariane McKeller’s, the plants sprawl everywhere.
They started downstairs and moved their way up the 35-year-old’s Glen Allen home in the Biltmore neighborhood. That was after she filled all the space on the top of counters and cabinets in the kitchen, the living room corners and windowsills and the hallway heading into the house.
Plants have found their way into every room, including the guest bathroom. They hang in the back of Zoom meetings, especially now that her work as a small business banker for Capital One is online.
In total, McKeller has around 70 without repeats of a single type, she thinks. Her love of houseplants knows no bounds.
Like most, McKeller thought everything with the pandemic would be cleared up in two weeks. Once the two weeks came and went and the possibility of returning to normal launched itself further away, she looked for other things to do.
Biking and basketball made the list. So did doing her own nails since she couldn’t go get them done. All the while, McKeller was surrounded by her plants, and she knew people needed more joy and peace at the time, especially in their homes.
She made a decision on a whim: She wanted to make sure everyone could catch the vibe, and started her houseplant business, GreenVibesRVA, this past April.
Currently, GreenVibesRVA does popups three to four times a month, but she also delivers. McKeller has an Instagram for the business, @GreenVibesRVA, which has 835 followers. McKeller said she has around 100 customers consistently. Plants go anywhere from $10 to $50, and customers can buy a pot, too, for an extra $10 to $30.
“I love my house plants, so that’s what I wanted to share with everyone, just that kind of oasis, that kind of, you know, nature and harmony and this growth of, you know, surrounding all those beautiful things around you,” McKeller said.
Down the road, McKeller wants to take her business mobile so she can meet people where they are — especially right now.
Her love of houseplants started around four or five years ago with a piece of a dumb cane plant, which usually has big green leaves, gifted to her by a friend. It was McKeller’s first plant.
“I just remember her telling me that, plant it and it will grow,” McKeller said.
Now, McKeller said, the plant is almost as tall as her. For her, the attraction to houseplants rooted in the growth and environment they create. When she travels, McKeller said she always needs to stop somewhere to pick up a new plant.
“When you see it thriving, it’s just like I did that, you know. I’m taking care of that thing,” McKeller said.
The feelings shifted over to her friends too. When McKeller’s long time friend Crystal Simmons learned McKeller was starting a business, one of the first things she did was buy plants for her husband for his birthday.
Simmons said he was a little too excited about them: He over-watered and killed them. Simmons knows it’s a part of the process — McKeller told her so.
Simmons, who has a business selling Arbonne nutrition and beauty products, said she’s been happy for McKeller’s budding business. She was particularly inspired by the story of bringing the plant back to life.
“It’s just what life is about,” Simmons said. “Because, if we go a little deeper, like, just people in general, we’re all broken in some form or way but certain people or certain experiences will spark the light back into us. And that’s what her plants have done.”
At a typical popup, McKeller usually brings around 50 to 80 plants, which she transports by car. Usually, she’ll bring eight to 12 different types and bring four of each.
At the RVA Black Farmer’s Market on Dec. 12, potted plants of all sizes framed the table under the green tent like a skyline with wooden logo keychains made by McKeller’s sister and plant-themed globe ornaments in a Black Santa bin on the table. When McKeller sets up her booth, she said, she thinks of her mother, who’s also an entrepreneur.
McKeller is all about teaching the tricks of successful plant ownership. Simmons and Marissa Farr, another longtime friend of McKeller’s, say she’ll work with customers to figure out what plants are best for them.
Farr also admitted to killing a plant, but two pothos plants given to her by McKeller are now thriving. The secret? Giving them names and talking to them.
“My favorite part about it is just like, if you take care of them, they’ll kind of take care of you, you know what I mean?” Farr said. “You put in the love and then they flourish, and just to see them from day to day, like you’re taking care of them, and you’re able to see their progression. And it’s like real life progression, it’s just like a project that you start and you put in the time, you put in the work, and you get to see the benefits of it, like, very visually.”
It goes without saying the year’s been tough between the pandemic and Richmond coming to terms with its history as protests rocked the city.
Amid it all, McKeller’s been glad to give back, make people feel good and share her passion, especially as a Black business owner.
Someday, she said, she might take GreenVibesRVA full time. McKeller said it’s already starting to show signs it can be done.
Even given the year, McKeller’s counting her blessings. She just got a promotion at work from a senior coordinator in digital servicing to a process manager and said she’s been lucky to be able to work at home through the pandemic.