Spreading joy wherever they go
Whether on the wing of a bee or the wing of a butterfly, SF in Bloom have germinated a worldwide planting movement to seed native plants, increase biodiversity and support beneficial insects. Their passion for plants is leading the way for others to get their hands dirty and become better stewards of our beautiful planet. Discover how they are democratizing gardening for all.
Heads Lifestyle: Hi Phoenix and Shalaco. How did you two meet and were plants involved?
Shalaco: On our first date, we went for a walk through our neighbourhood. My neighbour had had her citrus tree stolen and that was a real bummer. Like, what kind of people steals your tree right out of the ground? And so, on the walk, I found a tree aloe that had been left for dead in a parking lot. I was like, It's stupid people stealing other people's trees. I want to give somebody a tree. So we planted the tree aloe. That was 10 years ago. Now it's the size of a smart car. So I guess from that first date, we've gifted plants. It was our MO right out the gate.
Phoenix and Shalaco of SF in Bloom have been planting together since their first date.
HL: How did you go from planting a castoff tree aloe to offering native seed shakers?
Shalaco: I was always planting. I first learned about succulents. You just take one and put it in the ground and then there's another one. So after my house got too full of succulents, I would just go and find one snapped off somewhere and put it in somebody else's yard where a plant had died—kind of like Robin Hooding plants. Then Phoenix introduced me to calendula, which is a self-sowing annual plant like a marigold. You just take some of the seeds and scatter them. I don't think we ever bought any calendula. Then we found these wildflower mixes. I would go to the seed aisle when things were on sale. But you’ve got to be careful with things like invasive plants. So we started making our own native wildflower blends.
Phoenix: That's about an eight-year span from aloe to actual shaker. We were sowing seeds, but the shaker was born two years ago.
Shalaco: I saw it in a thrift store. I was like, Oh, this would be a great seed dispenser. I put a little note Mega Epic Seed Shaker, so Phoenix would know that she wasn't just getting an old Parmesan cheese shaker for Christmas. Then, I noticed that the seeds we were using had European wildflowers mixed in. So I started making my own seed mix using native seeds and rice hulls. People were asking if they could have some too so we started making seed shaker kits for folks because nobody else offered the rice hulls and native wildflower seeds.
The idea for the Mega Epic Seed Shaker took root while perusing a thrift store.
HL: What is it about planting seeds that inspires you?
Shalaco: It’s like the magic of life. You just have this small little thing and you throw it on the ground, and then life somehow knows how to grow out of that. It's really fantastic! We just kind of plant and forget.
Phoenix: You have to wait a while, right? You can't rush nature.
Shalaco: If you just always focus on planting, sooner or later, you wind up running into your plants. You know, like, Oh, they grew. It’s amazing. It's like nature's magic trick. And it's a pretty fun one. People sometimes try to give me credit for it but I just throw them on the ground.
HL: What has the reaction to your videos been like?
Phoenix: When people see our videos and how fun it is, I think we've inspired this whole new generation of people sowing what's native to their region. This is happening all over the world.
Shalaco: Our enthusiasm about plants is contagious.
@sfinbloom Anyone else excited about spring‽ #🧂🌱🌸🐝 ♬ original sound - San Francisco in Bloom
SF in Bloom's TikTok channel is loaded with videos encouraging others to sow seeds native to their region.
HL: Do you believe gardening encourages people to slow down and be in the moment?
Phoenix: Exactly! You can't coerce it to grow faster. You can't pay it more money to grow faster, right? Nature doesn't care about any of that stuff, which I think is beautiful and humbling.
HL: Why do you think your story resonates so much?
Shalaco: I think the reason it is so popular with people is because it’s hitting a few different chords. When we were just talking about plants, people were so excited about how passionate we were. They might be like, I'm not really into trees, but I love how passionate you are about trees. Our passion is contagious. I've been creating content for years. So, I think the art of storytelling is another aspect of it. And then we've evolved with nature so I think there is a certain awe with nature itself.
Phoenix: It's so simple. It doesn't cost a lot of money to get seeds. You don’t need a lot of plant knowledge. I mean, it's nice to have a base of plant knowledge, especially making sure you're not sowing invasives in your area. But it doesn't take a lot of knowledge, time or money to do this. People are like, How do you do this? And I joke, it's literally like, put the seeds in your hand and go like this [gestures throwing seeds into the wind]. Nature just flings her seeds out—where they stick, they stick and where they don't, they don’t.
HL: How have people integrated the seed shakers into their daily lives?
Phoenix: People give the shakers to their kids. Or they're like, We do this on the way to our daughter's soccer practice. You just need a moment, that quick walk to the post office or that short break away from your computer at sunset or three o'clock or whenever, you can be sowing seeds. You can make a huge difference in this little amount of time.
HL: How do your seed shakers fit into the greater narrative of the climate crisis?
Shalaco: I think people see that the world is not on the right path and they want to make positive contributions to the ecosystem. I believe overall there's a big shift back to balance right now. So like, turf grass lawns are largely colonial-inspired and it's all about importing things. It has a certain allure and appeal to people because it's not natural. It's really, ecologically speaking, pretty much an ecological disaster. It's a thirsty monoculture. I mean, you can still have a turf grass lawn and mix in a beneficial native garden that's not just for you, but helps serve the ecosystem and the beneficial insects, which are important players in our world. Hey, you like food? They help with a lot of it. We're in a great extinction period. I think it's easy to look at the world and experience a lot of doomsday-ism. We’ve found a simple, elegant, accessible way that you can help make a positive impact and put out positive intentions.
HL: Can anyone garden and how do you get started?
Phoenix: It doesn't matter your situation—if you rent, if you're in a cold, dark house, if you only have concrete, there's always ways that you can have plants.
Shalaco: Our mission is to make gardening and plants more accessible to people. So whether you think you're too broke, you don't have enough space, you don’t have enough time, you don't know enough, you don't have enough money, you can't water the plants. We’ve got ideas for you. Whether that's using a cheese shaker to go shake seeds on that neglected patch that you've been walking by on your way to work every day. Or if it's setting up a drip irrigation system so that your plants can water themselves. We have a concrete backyard where we cut out a very small section and now we have a three-storey apple tree. So there's lots of ways that you can make nature accessible to yourself and it can be fun, simple, easy and affordable.
Phoenix: We want to democratize gardening and show people that everyone can have plants. We're here for you; let us know how we can help.
SF in Bloom are on a mission to make gardening and plants more accessible to everyone.
HL: Modern society has become very human centric. Do you feel there is a movement back to nature?
Shalaco: We live in urban centres and they're made for people, not nature, so you have a lot of urban blight. It's all human first and human centric. I think gradually we're learning that we're not separate from nature and we’re doing our best to weave nature back into urban centres. You see it more and more with landscape designs like the New York Highline where they’ve brought in prairie plants and a prairie setting into the urban setting. San Francisco is pretty good with this. We're figuring out rain gardens to sink water into our aquifers. We’re getting better at not separating ourselves from nature, but weaving it into our lives, even in these urban centres.
Phoenix: I think one of the next big interests is not only having green spaces, but also increasing biodiversity. I think that's a challenge that a lot of people are meeting. Maybe they're making a bunch of green spaces or buying a T-shirt where they're going to plant 100 trees, but they're planting the same tree and they're making these monocultures, which are not good. Really the key is to have green spaces that are biodiverse.
HL: What has been the ripple effect of your videos?
Shalaco: I was just making videos for fun. What came of it is we are inspiring people from all over the planet to plant. Every single day people ask us, How can I do this where I live? We've heard of people at their weddings throwing native wildflower seeds instead of rice. We've heard that we inspired people to harvest the seeds from their late grandmother’s garden to make another garden. Now our focus is on finding opportunities for stewardship through existing organizations and programs. So we find people in the community who are excited about planting and connect them through a program or organization with some land that needs to be taken care of. Or find people who are already working on a project that maybe needs some attention or some fresh hands. Basically just working to pair with existing organizations to spotlight what they're already doing, create opportunities for people to come in and get involved, get their hands dirty. Just helping the plant community find each other, you know, by connecting opportunities.
Phoenix: We're also working to create educational curriculums for children and we continue to do educational workshops for people of all ages. One of the things that I think is really fantastic about our experience with plants is that I've been a professional landscape contractor for 18 years and Shalaco has a deep history of plant knowledge, so if people follow us, we can lead them through the entire plant journey. Wherever they are, we can help them with those next steps. We're here to share information and to elevate people's knowledge of plants.
HL: Have you seen real change resulting from your efforts to spread the word about native plants?
Shalaco: We've had people with established gardening businesses that are now planting more natives because they were inspired by us. There's a manager at a golf course that said, I'm integrating native plants into my practice because of you. And even beyond that, when we went to Maui, we volunteered with a conservation group and we met someone that worked at the Westin Maui who converted to organic pesticide-free.
Phoenix: And they're inspiring other resorts next to them to do the same thing.
Shalaco: And not just because it's the right thing, but because you get better results for less money—and it's better for the environment. We're really passionate about meeting with people who are doing these amazing things and helping share their stories to inspire other people to do things differently and better, and basically finding a modality or practice and demonstrating that it can work.
HL: When you landscape a plot of neglected land, you can visible see the external change. Have you witnessed internal changes when people come into contact with plants?
Phoenix: Yeah. When I started my landscaping business, the first five years, I did it here in the city without a vehicle. So I was on the bus with 70 pounds of tools on my person. And I remember time and time again that I would be sitting on a bus with a plant that I was either taking to or from a client's house, and I would see someone get on the bus and sit right across facing me. They wouldn't look at me, but they would look at the plant. I would be watching them and all of a sudden their shoulders would go down and their face would relax. They would just kind of zone out on the plant. I kept seeing this happen over and over again. Whether they knew it or not, the moment that you connect with a plant, you start to chill out. It just takes a little plant in my hands and they're relaxing. That connection is really powerful. When we go into a forest, just being in nature, we almost reach a state of meditation. It's a really amazing connection that we have with nature.
Shalaco: We evolved with nature and plants and there are measurable ways that they have positive impacts on our health and wellbeing.
HL: Have you had any experiences with cannabis?
Phoenix: I personally have been through surgeries where I was able to completely forgo any sort of pain medication, and just use CBD for pain management. And that was amazing. I don't like using pharmaceutical pain medications. It was really fantastic to have an alternative that really worked for me. I'm very fortunate to have had that option.
HL: Let’s talk about the goofiness?
Shalaco: We're not goofy! We were just being ourselves wandering around planting native wildflowers when somebody said, You should do that in a bee outfit. So I did. But I went full bee because when I do things, I go full send. Now just imagine you're a little insect looking for your next nectar bite or a little water. How hard it is being a bee in an urban centre? Just go for a walk and look for the next flower or the next drink of water. It's really sparse out there for our insects, you know? If you take a step in their shoes, you see how they're really under threat more than ever. There's encroachment due to pesticides around their habitat and erratic weather due to climate change. We could be a lot better stewards of this planet that we all live together on. Biodiversity is a big part of the richness of this planet.
Phoenix: There are so many other pollinators besides bees. Birds, beetles, flies, butterflies— all of these things are pollinators. We need to be supporting all of these creatures because they're doing critical things for the well being of our ecosystem.
HL: So the bee costume acts as a liaison with people on the street or online?
Shalaco: Yeah, we've been biking on our tandem and, out of the blue, had crowds of people cheering us on, loving our outfits. But nothing has quite hit people like going around as a bee. Everyone wants to say hi.
Phoenix: Adults and children alike yelling bee puns out their windows.
Shalaco: I've never had so many people come up and want to interact. It’s amazing just how much it opens people up when you put on a bee outfit.
Phoenix: There was one post that Shalaco and I did on social media. He literally went around from daylight to night in his bee outfit. We filmed him all over the city and the responses that we got the whole day were unreal.
Shalaco: People would stop their car, get out and talk to us and ask, What's going on? Well, bees do so much. They're very important along with other beneficial insects and so we're planting flowers. Here, have a little seed packet and go have some fun. Say hey to the bees. And they're like, That's so cool! People just go crazy for it. It literally stops traffic, like we cause havoc. And, you know, we’re in San Francisco; they see weirdness all the time.
HL: What is in the future for SF in Bloom?
Shalaco: We're talking to a variety of organizations and working on creating events to help coordinate with existing programs, or start new programs where we find opportunities. And help plug people in and make it fun and easy and exciting to get involved with plants, to meet people from your community and do something beneficial. To come together to support each other in enriching the places where we live. We're working on finding people who are doing amazing things and spotlighting what they're doing, and finding people who want to do this too, but maybe just don't know where to start. So we can elevate the community by helping them find each other and opportunities.
HL: How has the success of SF in Bloom affected you?
Shalaco: When you do something you love, it doesn't have boundaries, and you do it all the time. It's great, really. It's been opening a number of amazing doors and helping us connect with people who are passionate about plants and making a positive impact from all over the world. People call it a movement and they're not wrong.
HL: Can you describe what novice gardeners can find at SF in Bloom?
Shalaco: You can check us out on social media where we have posts that entertain, educate and share our passion about plants. If you are looking to plant native wildflowers, you can get shakers from us if you're in California and we're looking to expand to other areas. There are resources on our site that show you how to confirm that what you're planting is native and non-invasive. We have a Discord you can hop on and connect with our plant community. If you need a little more hands on, you can take one of our classes that can help you with your gardening journey. And if you need a little bit more one-on-one advice or you’ve got a project that you're stuck on, or you need help designing your garden, we do consultations to support your gardening process.
HL: Thank you both for doing what you do and sharing it with us.
Shalaco: Thanks for reaching out and hanging out.
Listen on Spotify
What to listen to while cruising the streets on your Onewheel spreading wildflowers seeds? Listen to our SF in Bloom curated "Songs to plant to" Mix
Check out SF in Bloom's website here
SF in Bloom on Instagram: @sfinbloom
SF in Bloom on TikTok: sfinbloom