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Cardiff Character: Stephen Peckham

The owner of a new pop-up plant shop discusses personal growth, mental health and his love of plants

Cardiff-born Stephen sits submerged among the plants

Stephen Peckham, 28, has brought a millennial flare to Cardiff’s plant scene. With his pop-up plant shop, Eartha, having just opened a stall within Cathays’ vegetarian restaurant Milgi, the two businesses are a perfect pairing.

He is trendy, warm and approachable. Even though he says this was not intentional, his plant shop taps into the rising popularity of house plants and Instagram-ready work spaces.

From humble roots to rosier outcomes

Despite the wholesome community feel to Eartha, the business arose after Stephen suffered from a series of mental health difficulties, and had to take four months out of his previous job as a film festival coordinator for the Iris Prize Film Festival.

“I started thinking about what helped me with my mental health,” Stephen says, “what brings me joy and what do I really want to bring to other people, and I came back to plants.”

“I learned quite young that these life circumstances can be quite crushing, but I learned to not let them define who I am and where I’m going,” he said. And indeed, Stephen explains how he had a turbulent time growing up. His parents died when he was 13, and he and his four other siblings lived together in a council house.

He continued, “It took getting to a very low place and accepting that I hadn’t dealt with a lot of what I went through in my adolescence and then also thinking, ‘fuck it’, maybe I should do what I always wanted to do from the beginning.”

Nurturing plants for all

Stephen had a love of plants from a young age. He always wanted to study botany at university. However, he says, “especially after that background, botany seemed quite foreign to me. I attached this elitism and academia to it that I just couldn’t see myself in.”

Instead, he studied art and book design – something which he still uses to this day. He makes “care cards” to go with the plants so that people know how to look after them.

He notes how while he lived in Madrid for two years, the plants were rarely labelled, and it made it harder to look after them as a result.

“I really want to encourage and enable customers regardless of their background to be able to look after and care for plants. It’s all about nurturing,” he says.

Stephen tending the plants

More than just the plants

“On the surface,” Stephen says, “it’s just a plant shop. But a hidden message beneath it is accepting that life is not always easy and it can’t be, but when you’re in the face of adversity you get through it and you grow from it, and that these things happen for a reason.”

Stephen was able to set up the shop after starting a crowd-funder to cover the initial costs. He reached his target of £1,250 within 24 hours. He got donations from across the globe after getting donations from people he met while travelling South America. Community is at the heart of the shop.

Eartha is more than just a plant shop: it’s a conversation. On the shop’s second day in Milgi, people are coming up to Stephen, asking him about plants. The people enjoying their Saturday lunchtime coffees can’t help but discuss the plant-filled utopia they find themselves in.

After all, he says, “I didn’t do this to make a lot of money”, he pauses, “it was more about surviving.”

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