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In the front yard of Adam Walker Manuel’s house at 1318 Moss St. is an array of tiny plants in pots on a plastic stand out by the street. Although the plant choices are a tad sparse now, a sign invites passersby to give a plant and take a plant.The inspiration for this home-grown plant exchange station came to Manuel in Feb. 2020, right as the COVID-19 pandemic was kicking into high gear. He was at Stellar Beans Coffee House on Broad Street checking out the in-store book exchange there.“It just clicked. What if people wanted to exchange plants?” he said.Manuel went home, set up a grouping of plants on a plastic stand in his front yard, and posted it on social media.People came. Lots of them.“They brought tons of plants,” he said. “It was great. I felt like it was spreading love in the community.”His idea took off as the year progressed. Friends and acquaintances started their own plant exchange stations, and all of this came about at a time of social distancing.“It was a way to bring people together without being together physically,” he said.Recent weather events have had a negative effect on the plant exchanges, however.“The ice storm took out 99 percent of my plants,” said Manuel, 38, a Gillis native.And that was after the 2020 hurricanes decimated his greenhouse.But Manuel is undaunted. He will tell you that plants are where his heart is.He has always loved being around them, even as a child. He comes from generations of family members who loved them, too.He has a cactus in the backyard that belonged to his great-great grandfather. A part of it survived the recent freeze.Working the soil and tending to plants of all kinds is therapeutic for him, he said. Recently, Manuel was mourning the loss of someone close to him. To process his grief, he went outside and did some gardening. Being close to plants, close to the earth, relieves him of anxiety, pain and stress, he said.“Plants show you unconditional love,” he said.Manuel takes part in what he calls plant rescue. If he learns of plants that have been recently dug up and left by the side of the road, he will pack them up in the trunk of his 1985 Cadillac Seville and bring them home.Manuel doesn’t stop at rescuing just plants. He also rescues animals, sharing his home with four dogs — Chewy, Lil’ Girl, Marvin and Rougaroux — and two cats, Dolly Parton and Loretta Lynn. All of them rescues.They join rescued tortoises Queen B, King Leo, Sir Emmilio and Lady George, who live in an outdoor enclosure in the backyard made just for them. Manuel grows organic lettuce and other greens to feed them.There is also a koi pond on the property.“Koi poop is the best fertilizer there is,” he said.He also waters his plants with koi pond water, and makes his own dirt in compost piles.The plants thrive under his care. Manuel, who managed a plant nursery for five years, has a knack for keeping them going. He enjoys teaching others what he knows and spreading the joy of plant ownership.After his grandmother died, Manuel took many of her plants, separated them and potted them in small pots and brought them to area nursing homes for the residents to enjoy.He has brought plants and trees to the homes of elderly people who wanted them and put them in the ground for them.He has hosted “kid days” where children can come with their parents. At one recent event, each child received a small plastic pail and some sunflower seeds. Manuel helped the group plant the seeds as he talked about organic gardening and instructed them on how to take care of their plants.Manuel has spread love in the community and the community has responded. He has found small gifts of encouragement on his plant stand. People leave him notes and letters. Some people leave him money. He has a collection of donated pots in his backyard. When he posted a need for cinder blocks to build his backyard tortoise rescue, he got everything he needed to finish the job. A friend recently gifted him with a greenhouse frame.“My buddy found it on the side of the road,” said Manuel.Always one to make do with what he’s got, Manuel is attempting to make a covering for the greenhouse frame to save his remaining plants.Manuel is hoping to one day open his own plant remediation business. He is also working to turn his goodwill plant exchange operation into a non-profit organization.Manuel is also a self-taught artist. Nine of his mixed-media pieces will be on display at the Henning House in Sulphur as part of the “Curio-ddities: A Curious Collection of Art and Items, Both Weird and Wonderful.” The show opens March 29, but without a formal reception.On Facebook: Give One-Take One (GOTO) Plant Station Community of Louisiana.
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