In Plant PPL’s latest installment, Houseplant Nation’s Tammy Ha describes her career path, from selling rare plants at her mother’s water store in Santa Ana to owning two plant shops five miles from the one another.
I don’t know if it’s a success. But we’re having fun. People tell us they love the store and the way we decorate. I like Yuko kitchen because it reminds me of the water store. Someday I want to earn a steady income, but honestly I don’t want to make it so big that I can’t handle it.
Our two stores are five miles apart. You can hit them both in one day. We organize plant exchanges, small business pop-ups. We provide tables and tents for people, and the community comes to support them. We welcome free courses: repotting, making moss poles, how to multiply.
I really want to do a lot more events and fun things. I work with some really great people who live here and organize events for free, and I often collaborate with them. People love Plant Chica (@theplantchica) hold as many community events; I like this. I’m still learning and want to do a lot more for my community.
I feel like everyone has a job, and my job is to take the pressure off people to even out all the negativity. In Huntington Beach, I have a giant rainbow because I support the LGBTQ community. In my bathroom, I have a sign that says “Inclusive”. People can see that we are open and welcoming to others. I am peaceful, but I support anyone who fights for racial equality. This is how I am. I am an introvert. This is why I am in the plants.
I do this because I like it.
I grew up in Vietnam and came here with my mom when I was 19. In 2018, I started making succulent and fairy gardens for fun and started a small business working for my friends and family. People really liked them and asked me to do events. In no time – about a year – I got a contract with the Resort at Pelican Hills in Laguna Beach to create luscious pumpkins for them.
When I visited different growers to buy succulents for arrangements, I started buying plants because I couldn’t resist. I got to the point where I bought more houseplants than the succulents I was supposed to buy!
My mom and I owned a water store in Santa Ana, and I worked part-time in a bank until a few months ago. I started to bring plants and hang them all over the place to try to make the store nice. Then, because I was selling succulents, people started asking if they could buy the plants from the store. My mom suggested that I try selling plants on the Facebook Marketplace. I started doing this for fun because I had a lot of free time at the water store. This is where it started. It took off when I started collecting rare plants. A customer asked me if we had Variegated Monstera, and I fell in love with them. I started to gather plants. It’s fascinating and interesting when you collect common plants, rare or not. I love them all.
Due to the limited space at the water store, I only put plants that I cherished. We spread a lot of them and I started selling them to the locals. It took off because people really liked our unusual setup – a water store that sells rare plants. People told me, “It’s like a secret store for rare plants. I did this for about a year until my mom retired. I really wanted to have a plant community and organize events like plant exchanges. But we had no room.
When my husband, Joseph Nguyen, lost his job as a structural engineer during the pandemic, we decided, “Now is the time to open a plant store. ” Everything happens for a reason.
We found a small space in Huntington Beach, and the grand opening was in September of last year. Many people came and supported me. The community was amazing. I’ve never seen anything like it before. This was in part due to social media influencers: Jolene Foliage posted a video of the water store on her Instagram @foliagelove_r. Sharina Tallada from @sharinawithplants posted a video of our store on YouTube. Our growth is due to word of mouth.
I opened the second store a few months ago because we were running out of space in Huntington Beach. I still didn’t have enough space for the workshops. People would ask me all kinds of different things. My sister Tu Ha is also a plant fanatic, so when she came from Vietnam we rented a bigger space in Garden Grove that we could use as a venue. It is spacious and has 25 foot ceilings, and we can accommodate a good number of people for events, workshops and classes.
My husband and I wanted to create a living wall. There is only so much space … unless you go up. We’ve always admired the living walls and aroid walls that collectors create in Florida and thought it would be cool if we could make our own. We wanted an aroid wall that people could touch and see in person and not just on Instagram.
My husband loves to build stuff, so he put this wall up with my sister’s help (it was very expensive) and then we put the plants on the wall. We chased them away, and half the wall is from my collection in my greenhouse; the other half are the ones we bought. It took a week to prepare the plants, set them up, and set up a drip system to support and water them. We have an aquarium below with koi fish and use the fish poop to fertilize the plants in an aquaponics system.
I am in the big plants. I love the anaconda and interesting Adansonia who are as big as me. It’s not so much about rare and expensive plants as what fascinates me. How did the Raven ZZ plant go from green to black? I like anything that has holes or patterns like Begonia maculata. We once found a variegated half-moon ficus and I screamed. ‘Why? How? ‘Or’ What?’ I find happiness in little things like this. They keep me going every day. I feel blessed and lucky to be able to start a small business that I really love.