The Free Store at dusk [Credit: Allison Wallis]
The Little Free Plant Store is on a single-lane road across from the beach park where the surfing contests are held. There’s an old bathtub full of green pond plants—taro, water lettuce, and water lilies with pink blooms—out front under the house’s eaves in the yard. A large crown flower butterfly bush is inside the front gate to the left. The monarchs here don’t migrate because it never gets cold. They live out their life cycle on the crown flower. They eat the leaves and build their cocoons in the branches.
To the right of the crown flower is a young avocado tree. It’s beautiful—shady and full—and bugs are destroying it. The avocado lace bug hopped a ride on a plane or a cargo ship from the mainland and is slowly eating it’s way north across the island. It destroys the leaves from the middle out and strips the tree of energy to produce fruit. They don’t kill the tree; they just stress it so much that it drops its leaves every year in protest.
I planted butterfly pea vines and giant sunflowers two months ago. The sunflowers are 10 feet tall, just now forming their flower heads. I’m sitting outside, weeding the little plot and watching the world go by. It’s dusk, that time of day where the sun filters through the trees, and you can see the dust motes and bugs fly around. Koa, our black and white tripod pit/hound mix, is resting in the grass next to me. I can smell the ocean.
The Little Free Plant Store is a small two-shelf wooden stand with a cardboard box on top. My daughter decorated the box with flowers and vines and wrote in bright purple marker: “The Little Free Plant Store. Trades Welcome. Seeds, clippings, plants.” There are currently dill and butterfly pea seeds, a large pot full of young aloe fading from neglect, a small white bucket with water lettuce and pond water, and a tray of small pots. People stop by off and on all day to shop or leave things. Today, the kids down the street snagged rooted lemongrass in a jar. Twenty minutes later, they returned, explaining that their dad said they already had some. But can they have some seeds? Of course, they can. Everything is free at the Litte Free Plant Store.
There’s a large local fisherman who lives on the corner. We’ve never had a real conversation, but he stops by the store regularly. He shoots me a shaka after grabbing some water lettuce and ambles back up the road.
As I’m finishing my weeding, a woman who’s about my age jogs by and stops to chat, putting on her mask when she sees me grab my face shield. “I love this so much!” she says. “I have some things to drop by tomorrow! Tomatoes and ti plants.” I don’t know her name, but I know she’s a gardener, just like me. Since the pandemic, it seems like we’re all gardeners. We all need to grow and care for things.