One of the things I’ve missed the most over lockdown is thrifting. I’ve been meaning to put this post up for a while but since moving, I haven’t quite been able to put my hands on some of the pieces I wanted to talk about. I’m sure there must be a box somewhere labelled ‘Laura’s plant paraphernalia’! So todays post is a bit of an ode to thrifting — specifically focusing on some of my favourite vintage pieces I use for houseplant care + display here at HPH.
Charity-shop hunting, second-hand rummaging, thrift-store shopping… whatever you call it, it’s something I’ve done for as long as I can remember. It’s an attractive activity + hobby as its often very affordable + can be a much more sustainable way of shopping. It’s not about accumulating a lot of ‘stuff’ either… most of the time I don’t buy but instead, I enjoy the process of looking, imagining the histories of the objects I find + considering their potential future uses. Another good thing is that you can often donate any unwanted items at the same time, so it creates an opportunity to have a sort out + part with any unloved items that have been gathering dust (wash them first though).
Not being able to go thrifting over these last few months really has made me miss it even more, especially as I’m in a new area where there are many new places to discover! I thought I’d share some photos here of places I’ve really enjoyed from my camera roll as a kind of virtual-vintage thrifting trip, alongside thrifted items I love from my collection.
Here are my top tips for what I personally look out for when thrifting, with an emphasis on how your finds could be re-purposed for plant care + styling. There are a few specific categories of things I always look for, which I have talked about in more detail below. As a general rule, it can help to identify specific items you are looking for before you get totally overwhelmed with the eclectic collection before your eyes! This can be quite a nice feeling if you are just browsing, but I’d definitely advise making a list beforehand if you need a shopping list to tick off!
Less commonly found than the other categories in this post, but vintage (read: old) terracotta is such a gem to stumble across. You will certainly regret it if you leave those lovely pots behind with a patina that only comes with lots of previous use. The ones in the photos below will always remind me that I should have bought most of the shelf — you live + learn.
*If you do manage to find some terracotta, be sure to clean the pots properly before potting up your beloved plants. I use a stiff bristled brush to remove any surface debris before soaking in a sink with warm soapy water + about a cup of white vinegar. After cleaning, leave to air-dry thoroughly outside. It might diminish some of the ‘look’ of the old pots, but will remove any fungus/bacteria/mineral build up. They will still look lovely + vintage after a wash!
The obvious thing to search out are actual old plant pots — there are many styles to choose from + can usually be picked up for a fraction of the price of new pots which can get expensive if you have a lot of plants! I’ve found some great styles over the years + even picked up some bonsai pots for a bit of a bargain last year. Ceramic pots generally tended to have a drainage hole back in the day, whereas newer pots often omit this useful feature. Those classic west German plant pots are pretty iconic, as are many mid-century styles that look right at home on some Ercol, or my Gplan sideboard for that matter. If neutrals are more your style, you’ll be surprised how many different types of white pot you can collect together to form a coherent collection; unified by being the same colour, a cluster of pots like this can look great together on a shelf.
This is where your personal style can really shine through — thrift stores always have a bountiful supply of kitchen + tableware to suit many tastes. In terms of looking out for things that can be repurposed for houseplant use though, I have a preference for more utilitarian styles. I do like eating a slice of cake off a vintage plate but don’t love anything too floral or chintzy (I prefer a more geometric pattern) + I’m personally not a fan of displaying plants in teacups or on cake stands etc. I do quite like old battered tins though — treacle tins + old tea containers are a nice alternative + look great on a kitchen windowsill.
When surveying the shelves, I try to see everything as a potential planter — it’s easy to drill into a pot or simply use it as a pot cover as is. Side note: to do this, I make an X out of masking tape using the centre point as where I want the position of the hole + use a drill bit suitable for tiles on a low setting. If you really don’t want to make a drainage hole, you can add a layer of gravel + activated charcoal at the bottom + be careful not to overwater. A few of my cacti have been in pots like this for years with no drainage + are doing surprisingly well. One of my favourite pieces is an old bread storage pot my oldest readers might remember me buying a few years ago. I lent it to a friend for a while to use as a planter for his cactus, but now have it back… + I might have also inherited the opuntia too… a win-win situation if you ask me!
All the pots above were from charity shops — the smaller ones I use as cache pots + surprisingly my little pots sit in them perfectly! The bread pot was a great find for £4 — you don’t often find large pots for this price! I didn’t want to make a drainage hole so I’ve potted straight in but I’m careful with watering.
I also have a few of those nice la Fermière terracotta yogurt pots I bought from a posh deli with the main objective of using them for planting cacti! These sometimes crop up in charity shops, but it’s a good idea to also keep a look out for any interesting containers at your local food store — cheese gift sets often have containers that can be repurposed as planters too.
Plates are not the first thing you might think of as being useful for plants, but they make great drip trays + usually cost next to nothing . They are a useful addition for plants that don’t like getting their leaves wet + like to be watered from the bottom (such as saxifraga stolonifera – strawberry begonia) as you can water the plate + let it soak up. Another tip is to use them inside large cache pots to raise the pot up a little too, if the plant sits too low in the planter.
Whenever I post my propagation experiments on instagram, I always get comments about my bottles. I LOVE old bottles + I’ll admit I do hoard them slightly. They come in all shapes + sizes which is why I have amassed quite a collection… here are some photos of just a portion of my stash:
Aside from bottles, bud vases also make great propagation stations + add a bit of personality to a shelf. I just find that old glassware often seems to be more well-made than new glass + it has a charm about it that new glass just can’t replicate.
You might also spot some carboy/demijohn bottles in the kitchen shelves which are perfect for bottle garden terrarium growing. The prices of these vary wildly due to the increased popularity of terrariums in our homes so be aware of getting ripped off! I bought one for £5 in a charity shop last year but in an antiques/junk shop down the street, the seller was asking for £22 for exactly the same item!
As with the aged terracotta, I always give glass a good wash with warm soapy water + white vinegar + use a bottle brush to remove any dried on dust. Look out for any heavily clouded glass which can’t always be cleaned (trust me — I’ve tried).
Most of my gardening/houseplant books are from charity shops. There is always a little section tucked away (often on the bottom shelf?!) of plant books + I always have a good rummage about in this area. I’ve said it since starting my blog that the best series of books you can get in my opinion is Dr D.G. Hessayon’s ‘The Houseplant Expert’ + if you are lucky, you might also find the expanded version — ‘The Gold Plated Houseplant Expert’. He’s written many, many books on all things gardening + I will always pick one up if I see it. I find old plant books much better value for money (+ loaded with advice) than the newer photo-heavy types, but that’s just my personal preference. For the old books that do have a few images, I love looking at the plant styling in these; it’s so funny how trends are cyclical + rattan is everywhere again.
Some old books have lovely imagery + often illustrations in, so you might consider using these pages to make some botanical framed prints (if you can bear to cut out the pages!) for a fraction of the price of buying some. I have a particularly lovely houseplant book I found in a Stockbridge charity shop for £2 that has such nicely made illustrations:
Continuing on that rattan note, second-hand stores are a great place to search out vintage pieces in this realm that have stood the test of time. Plant stands, peacock chairs, baskets… the choice is yours, though due to their increasing popularity as a current ‘trend’, they aren’t as easy to find as they were a few years ago. One of my local charities always had a peacock chair in the window for sale for a tenner. As a natural material, many older pieces can tend to look a bit worn but if you find something good, snap it up. I have a blogpost all about ‘Plant styling using rattan’ here.
Baskets make great cache pots, chairs or stools are great as display stands for houseplants (perhaps a parlour palm or snake plant) + if you are lucky enough to find a tall set of cane shelves, that will solve many of your plant storage problems in one fell swoop.
Other miscellaneous objects that I look out for are old curtain rings that I use to make macrame plant hangers with + in a similar vein, any old cord that’s can be incorporated into my hanger designs.
Lastly, watering cans. Old watering cans are a very nostalgic item for me as they remind me of my grandparents greenhouse. These hold their value so don’t expect to find anything decent for under £20-30 for a full sized can. I’ve yet to get myself a large one but after lockdown lifts properly, I might treat myself. I’ve got a small vintage container that serves as a bit a watering vessel for some of my smaller houseplants as it has a very good spout.
I hope this post has given you some inspiration of how to think about thrifting in relation to plant styling in your home + that you enjoyed seeing some of my collection… it took quite a while to get all the photos together!
Finally, I just wanted to say a big heartfelt THANK YOU for supporting my blog + following my instagram. I’ve had some really, really lovely messages over the last few weeks + it really does make my day to hear that you appreciate what I post. I can’t always respond to individual messages but I try to read as many as I can. I’ve been doing this for three years now + am still enjoying it so much. There are some exciting things in the pipeline which I look forward to sharing with you soon, but for now, I need to go + water my big monstera!