What do you get when you cross a 1974 GMC van with an artist and one of the biggest names in the Chicago gardening scene? A plant truck, of course. While attending a garden media event in August, I ran into my friend Tony Abruscato, aka Mr. Green Chicago. He owns the Chicago Flower and Garden Show and was excited to tell me about his latest garden venture, Plant Truck Chicago. Think food truck, minus the food. As I tried to envision a mobile greenhouse, he told me to get over to the IGC (Independent Garden Center) show where the truck would make its official debut. It’s pretty cool!
The truck was the brainchild of artist Jason Verbeek. As Tony was telling me the story of how he acquired the truck, I had to stop him once he dropped the artist’s name. It sounded so familiar. Turns out Jason and I were in the same high school graduating class. Small world, huh? Jason took his art and his plants on the road, traveling to various shows to sell both to adoring art and houseplant lovers, until he decided to donate it to Tony.
Jason insulated the truck and retrofitted the ceiling with greenhouse glass. Humidified and able to maintain a constant 70 degrees, the truck is a houseplant haven and a mobile work of art right down to the floor.
Originally, Tony’s plan was to capitalize on the houseplant craze by loading the truck with popular plants like snake plant, monstera and fiddle leaf figs and peddle them about Chicago, focusing on neighborhoods lacking garden centers. A conversation with a close friend and avid gardener in one of Chicago’s poorest communities revealed a more important need. Access. People living in neighborhoods like Englewood, Lawndale and Gresham, if they wanted to garden or experiment with houseplants, would be challenged by public transportation of all things.
Imagine lugging plants, trees and shrubs on a bus. It would go something like this…board a bus in your neighborhood, take as many connecting buses as needed to bring you to a garden center, reboard the same buses with your plant haul until you finally make it home. How’s that plant(s) looking now? Sheesh. The only feasible alternative would be mail order. But then what do you do if you don’t know what you’re doing?
This scenario prompted Tony to change his focus. In addition to houseplants, his truck would carry perennials, seeds and veggie seedlings grown by individuals with special needs. Instead of a $15 perennial, a plant may cost only a buck or two. Tony’s truck is equipped with not only plants but people full of knowledge to guide experienced and newbie gardeners.
For now, the truck will frequent farmers markets and other popular areas in and around these neighborhoods with the goal of providing educational opportunities through his Get Growing Foundation, a 501c3 that encompasses all of his community outreach horticultural programming with a focus on Chicago-area kids. As the program grows, Tony plans to have pop-up classes at each stop where visitors of all ages can learn about things like succulents, veggie gardening and terrariums.
As we parted, Tony said, “You know, I’ve been using the “F” word a lot lately. Fleet.”
He has big plans.