Arizonans Built This 15,000-Member Gardening Community

woman and her dog pose in front of outdoor furniture filled with plants

Dephane Marcelle and her dog pose in front of her Free Plant N Garden Stand in Mesa. (Photo by Jessica Swarner)

By Jessica Swarner

May 23, 2022

There are over 120 plant and garden stands operating throughout Arizona that you can use to start your own garden—for free.

You’ve heard of Little Free Libraries. But what about Free Plant N Garden Stands? 

Valley residents are placing clippings, seeds, produce, decorations, and more outside their homes to connect with other plant lovers.  

Tempe resident Anne Till started gardening in her yard in 2019. She had been swapping garden items for a while before deciding to create a Facebook group to organize it. 

Anne Till’s Free Plant N Garden Stand in Tempe (Photo by Jessica Swarner)

“A bunch of us around the Valley have had leftover cuttings when we’re doing our yard or we have extra plants that we don’t need … so the idea is to give it to somebody else and not waste it,” Till told The Copper Courier. 

The group has grown to over 15,000 members since it started in October 2020, about six months into the COVID-19 pandemic. 

Growing the Idea

Dephane Marcelle, a Mesa resident who helps manage the Facebook group, has been doing seed swaps at her house for six years. Now, she’s taking the project even further. 

She and her family created a nonprofit around the idea called the Free Plant N Garden Stands Foundation, a component fund of Legacy Global

Marcelle hopes to expand the garden stands into more educational opportunities for people to learn how to grow plants and other life skills. 

Jeff Adams’ Free Plant N Garden Stand in Tempe (Photo by Jessica Swarner)

“I think it would be great if we could have some land donated so we could have a facility for people to come and learn how to grow for the month, how to cook for the month—anybody that’s disabled, have it set up for them so they’re not intimidated by gardening,” she said. 

There are over 120 plant and garden stands operating throughout Arizona. Marcelle said people from other states, including California, Texas, and Michigan, have also joined and set up stands at their homes. 

Building Community 

Till said she thinks the group could have become popular at any time, but that the timing of it with the pandemic brought more people in. 

“It was a really good time because people started gardening during the pandemic, for food security or just hobby,” she said. 

Till said she sees people stop by her stand several times a day, and she often chats with them if she’s outside gardening at the time. 

People have dropped off more than plants, including painted rocks, forks stuck into wine corks to be used as plant identifiers, chalk, and other creative items. 

A painted rock dropped off at Anne Till’s Free Plant N Garden Stand in Tempe (Photo by Jessica Swarner)

“Someone keeps leaving these [garden ornaments] and I keep snagging them,” Till said. “They’re up all around my patio because I love garden art.” 

One of Marcelle’s favorite dropped-off items is a handmade ceramic clay pot in which she now stores the markers she uses to write on her origami seed packets. 

Marcelle said she’s spoken with some people who have met online in the Facebook group and then come to her stand to exchange items and check out what she has to offer. 

“When people just come by, if we’re out in the yard, they’ll stop and talk to us and have tons of questions,” Marcelle said. “We love helping our neighbors grow stuff. Even if it’s not food, it’s still part of the habitat for the wildlife to come.” 

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  • Jessica Swarner

    Jessica Swarner is the community editor for The Copper Courier. She is an ASU alumna and previously worked at KTAR News 92.3 FM in Phoenix.

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