Trash to Treasure: How Rescued Plants Helped Launch a Bethel Park Garden Shop
by Lisa Cunningham
January 16, 2023
Bethel Park garden shop owner Lindsey Thompson turned trash into treasure when discovering that plants left outside a popular retail chain's dumpster could be given new life.
“I would take care of them and then sell them,” she says from behind the counter at Ruby Flora Plant Shop, where she offers a wide variety of greenery and botanical goods.
The South Hills shop will celebrate its second anniversary this spring, but it was Thompson's rehabbed plants and her launch of a Facebook group, “Pittsburgh Plant Buy-Sell-Trade,” that first helped kickstart her business years prior.
“It was amazing,” Thompson says of the customers she met years ago through the group. “It grew from, you know, just a few people to 5,000 members very fast.”
She first started propagating “sad or tossed” plants she found near garbage cans or dumpsters in a 6x8 greenhouse in her backyard. In May 2021, she expanded to her current brick-and-mortar location, where she’s moved from rehabbing plants to sourcing greenery from professional distributors.
The shop sits in a quaint Brightwood Road strip mall, where Thompson greets customers in front of a large orange-and-white terracotta she hand-painted behind the register. On shelves and hanging from the ceiling, a mix of air plants, ferns, succulents, cacti, and more.
It’s no surprise the wide assortment of greenery available at Ruby Flora brings joy to its customers. Working with plants was her own form of self-care, according to Thompson, after leaving what she says was a toxic nine-to-five marketing job. She adds that her priorities completely shifted after the birth of her and her husband’s daughter, Ruby, whom the shop is named after. (Fun fact: Thompson’s now three-year-old daughter, who can often be seen with her mom in the shop, thinks her full name is “Ruby Flora.”)
“I really like this one,” says a smiling customer cradling a plant in her arms like a newborn baby on a recent Thursday afternoon. Shortly after, another customer squeals when they spot an oversized monstera plant next to the register.
On Instagram, where Thompson’s marketing background is evident in how-to videos and countless slideshows, many customers have posted proud pics of their newest additions. “This little beauty has been bringing me so much joy lately,” reads one post; another, a declaration that Ruby Flora is the “cutest plant shop in town.”
A recent Tik Tok video also shows a woman dropping to her knees in disbelief when a Ruby Flora customer surprises her with a philodendron gloriosum silver. “Oh my god, you’re so pretty,” the woman shouts to the plant. “Oh my god, I love you!”
But it’s not just plants that are bringing joy. The shop also offers botanical goods and workshops created by an array of artists. Thompson says it was important to specifically seek work from women, nonbinary, and racially diverse artisans to feature amid the plants in her shop.
This ranges from sourcing handmade plant-themed decor from a female artist in Wisconsin to hosting a macrame plant-holder workshop by an Ohio-based, woman-owned business that boasts they “like to eat plants & make art with them too.”
The other workshops she’s held so far — a holiday wreath-building class, a watercolor painting session, multiple terrarium-building events, and a succulent potting party that featured adorable plant-themed cupcakes from the shop’s next-door neighbor Bethel Bakery — have not just been an additional source of income, but a way for Thompson to bring even more fun to the shop.
In the new year, she plans to host more “Sip and Pot” workshops, where people can BYOB and create an eco-friendly gift, including a romantic date night for plant-loving couples around Valentine’s Day.
Over the past year, Thompson says the shop sold over 7,000 plants and supported 17 woman-owned small businesses.
“I love getting to talk to everybody and educating people,” she says. “I want them to go home and have good plants.”
That education involves answering customers’ questions, like, “How often do I need to water this plant?” (Thompson says this "depends on the plant, and you have to learn what it looks like when it's thirsty.") and “What plant is pet-friendly?” (Thompson suggests a spider plant, but also has stickers on all pots that are OK for homes with cats or dogs.)
But, she adds, people shouldn’t beat themselves up if they kill a plant or two. She is self-taught herself, learning along the way with knowledge from her mom, blogs, and YouTube videos.
“I’ve killed a lot of plants while starting out,” she admits. “And it’s OK to kill a lot of plants because that’s how you learn.”