A young child, around 3 or 4 years old, followed behind his grandmother as she tended her garden, helping her bury seeds into the soil. He was fascinated that one tiny seed could transform into such complex stems and leaves as those that produce zinnias, hollyhocks, and morning glories.
From then on, Joshua Cooper’s love of plants only continued to grow.
“I thought it was miraculous,” said Cooper. “From my late teen years to now, I’ve had houseplants.”
He began with a small collection that slowly expanded.
In downtown Sioux Falls, Cooper now shares how to take care of different plants when they buy from his selection at The Deku Tree.
To the Roots
From his teenage years through college and even through a religious mission, he continued to nurture various pots, marveling at what was sprouting inside them.
“I moved to Los Angeles, and it was really easy to care for all my plants because the conditions were prime with the rain and the temperature.” said Cooper.
The South Dakota climate is a different story with changes in the weather that are like night and day.
“The story of The Deku Tree is really a romance between me and houseplants.” – Joshua Cooper
“I switched gears and moved back here to a small little cabin, and I left for Christmas to see my mom in Utah,” he explained.
When Cooper returned, the South Dakota cold had taken nearly half of his collection.
“That was an important start for me because I realized it’s not about the actual plant but the spirit taking care of plants. Sometimes you lose them and sometimes you don’t,” said Cooper.
In his next home, he converted the garage into a greenhouse. With the space to expand, Cooper joined a Sioux Falls Facebook group dedicated to plant lovers. There, he began listing plants and going to plant swaps.
Benefits of Houseplants
Cooper says there are many benefits of owning houseplants, including:
+ Home beautification
+ Natural energy
+ Air purification
+ Helping release endorphins
+ Positive mood
Next came the greenhouse in his backyard in Humboldt. And though he loves browsing for more greenery to take home in local greenhouses in the Sioux Falls area, he wasn’t satisfied.
“I would find that the selection left me wanting for things that I couldn’t find,” he said.
He chose another path to add to his collection: 22-foot bus to travel the nation for rare plants.
Cooper explained, “Most of our plants come from these trips where I get to pick them out with my own hands, choose the very best of the stock, and curate the selection.”
A Shop with a Soul
“Officially we started as a business in February 2020, which is the same month the pandemic took hold, and that played in our favor miraculously,” said Cooper. “People were in their houses, and they wanted something beautiful to look at—something different, something alive.”
Eventually a storefront on Phillips Avenue in the Jones421 Marketplace opened up, providing walls of windows and an ideal space for The Deku Tree.
In this location, customers are immediately enveloped in warmth, the smell of incense, and positive energy from countless plants from the floor to the ceiling.
Soil is a huge part of taking care of any houseplant. At The Deku Tree, various soil components like charcoal, pumice, and lava rocks are sold by the pound through the soil bar. Create your own mix, or have them create the mixture for you.
“Plants are living works of art, and people feel that, whether they say it in those words or not,” said Cooper. “When plants are treated like art and displayed that way, that’s what most people want to bring home to their houses.”
Cooper has handpicked and nurtured each plant found in the shop, so making sure customers can properly care for the plants they take home is of the utmost importance.
“I care about the customer and the plant, and I want them both to have a good experience together,” said Cooper.
“When I moved from the cabin to the house I’m in now, I finally had space because it’s an actual house. I bought a set of 200 cuttings of different succulents and got them sent from San Diego. Some of those plants are now 6-8 feet tall.” – Joshua Cooper
Creating a Houseplant Haven
“A lot of people are stuck in the spot where they don’t think they have the touch, but it’s not some woo-woo thing. It’s just science really to give the plant what it wants,” explained Cooper. “One of my top recommendations for people is to find a plant for the place and not a place for the plant.”
To find the best plant for your home, Cooper notes that the four elements of earth, air, fire, and water should be taken into consideration. These elements are fundamental when he teaches Houseplants 101 and more advanced classes.
Baron Wolfgang: VESSEL
Cooper’s partner, Baron Wolfgang, makes pottery that can be found in The Deku Tree, housing various plants throughout the store.
For more information, visit FACEBOOK.COM/BARONWOLFGANGVESSEL
Once you’ve figured out where you want to add greenery, think about earth with soil, air circulation, and fire through the quality of light that will reach the plant.
Choose a plant to fit the conditions in that spot, and don’t forget the final element: water.
“Then you get to sit back, and the energy you would have spent worrying about this plant not doing very well is then spent marveling and wondering at the plant and watching it be happy,” said Cooper.