How a ‘crazy plant lady’ went from designing fairy gardens to owning two plant shops
In the latest installment of Plant PPL, Houseplant Nation’s Tammy Ha describes her career trajectory, from selling rare plants at her mother’s water store in Santa Ana to becoming the owner of two plant shops, five miles apart.
I don’t know if it’s a success. But we have fun. People tell us they love the store and how we decorate. I love Yuko Kitchen because it reminds me of the water store. Someday I want to make a stable income, but honestly I don’t want to make it so big that I can’t manage it.
Here at L.A. Times Plants, we love “plantfluencers” — people whose Instagram feeds and stories are abundantly verdant. We’ve launched a new series, PLANT PPL, where we interview people of color in the plant world, such as the voice behind @LatinxWithPlants, Andi Xoch of Boyle Heights.
Our two shops are five miles away from each other. You can hit both of them in one day. We host plant swaps, small business pop-ups. We provide tables and tents for people, and the community comes out to support them. We host free classes: repotting, making moss poles, how to propagate.
I really want to do a lot more events and fun stuff. I work with some really great people who live here and do events for free, and I collaborate with them often. People like the Plant Chica (@theplantchica) do so many community events; I love that. I am still learning and want to do a lot more for my community.
I feel like everybody has a job, and my job is to bring people relief to even out all of 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 that fights for racial equality. That’s how I am. I am introverted. That’s why I’m into plants.
I do this because I love it.
I grew up in Vietnam and came here with my mom when I was 19. Back in 2018, I started doing succulent and fairy garden arrangements for fun and created a small business working for friends and family. People really liked them and asked me to do events. In a short period of time — about a year — I got a contract with the Resort at Pelican Hill down in Newport Beach to create succulent pumpkins for them.
When I visited different growers to purchase succulents for the arrangements, I started buying plants because I couldn’t resist them. It got to the point where I purchased more houseplants than the succulents that I was supposed to be buying!
My mother and I owned a water store in Santa Ana, and I worked at a bank part time up until a few months ago. I started to bring plants in and hung them all over the place to try and make the store nice. Then, because I was selling succulents, people started to ask if they could buy the plants in the store. My mom suggested I try and sell plants on Facebook Marketplace. I started to do that for fun because I had a lot of free time at the water shop. That’s where it began. It took off when I started to collect rare plants. One customer asked me if we had variegated monstera, and I fell in love with them. I started to collect plants. It’s fascinating and interesting when you are collecting plants — common, rare or not. I love them all.
Because of the limited space at the water store, I only put out plants that I cherished. We propagated many of them, and I started to sell them to local people. That took off because people really liked our unusual setup — a water store that sells rare plants. People told me, “It’s like a secret rare plant shop.” I did that for about a year until my mom retired. I really wanted to have a plant community and host events like plant swaps. But we didn’t have space.
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. A lot of people came and supported me. The community was amazing. I’ve never seen anything like it before. It was in part due to social media influencers: Jolene Foliage posted a video of the water store on her Instagram @foliagelove_r. Sharina Tallada of @sharinawiththeplants posted a video of our shop on YouTube. Our growth has been due to word of mouth.
I opened the second store a few months ago because we ran out of space in Huntington Beach. I still didn’t have enough space for workshops. People were asking me for all kinds of different things. My sister Tu Ha is a crazy plant lady too so when she came from Vietnam, we rented a bigger space in Garden Grove that we could use as a venue. It is roomy and has 25-foot ceilings, and we can fit a good amount of people in there 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 always admired living walls and aroid walls that collectors create in Florida and thought it would be cool if we could create our own. We wanted the aroid wall for people to touch and see in person and not just on Instagram.
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My husband loves to build stuff, so he put that wall in place with the help of my sister (it was very expensive) and then we put the plants on the wall. We hunted for them, and half of the wall is from my collection from my greenhouse; the other half are ones that we purchased. It took a week to prep the plants, put them up, and install a drip system to support and water them. We have a fish tank underneath with koi fish and use the fish poop to fertilize the plants in an aquaponics system.
I’m into big plants. I like anaconda and interesting Adansonia that are as big as me. It’s not so much about the rare and expensive plants but what fascinates me. How did the Raven ZZ plant change from green to black? I love anything with holes in it or the patterns like Begonia maculata. One time we found a half moon variegated ficus and I screamed. ‘Why? How?’ I find happiness in little things like that. They keep me going every day. I feel blessed and lucky to be able to build a small business that I truly love.
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