In 2008, Natty Garden opened its brightly decorated doors to the Brooklyn community in Prospect Heights, selling a small selection of plants, shrubs, soil, and pots. Over the past several years, the shop has tripled in space, and its selection of products has evolved to represent a curated, thoughtful, ever-changing assortment of plants and materials for all gardening needs.
Founded by Jamaican native Glenroy Mahfood, Natty Garden prides itself on incorporating the culture and style of both Brooklyn and Jamaica into its products and brand ethos. Describing the shop as laid-back and cheerful, Natty Garden has become an integral part of the Brooklyn neighborhood, offering so much more than the beautiful selection of plants they are selling. Over the years Natty Garden has morphed into a community gathering space, earning its title as a beloved neighborhood staple. The charming shop is host to a continuous stream of live music events, most often featuring reggae artists in homage to Mahfood’s Rastafarian and Caribbean heritage.
Photo of Natty Garden owner, Glenroy Mahfood
This February we choose to honor and celebrate the accomplishments of Black Americans. We are also supporting and recognizing Black-Owned businesses that are uplifting the communities around them and making a change. Today, we’re sharing Glenroy Mahfood’s story, diving into his entrepreneurial story, tips on how to take care of indoor plants, and how to build a brand that is an integral part of its community.
Natty Garden has been serving the Brooklyn community since 2008. What inspired you to start a nursery business?
Being from Jamaica, I’m used to seeing palm trees and large plants everywhere. After being in New York for a few years, I began to miss seeing that greenery everywhere. I remember when I first saw that greenery in Manhattan – it was on 26th Street in the Flower District, where all the plants were out in the summer, flooding the streets, and I just fell in love. Ultimately, it was my simple love for greenery that inspired me to start Natty Garden. I loved seeing the vast array of plants and flowers and trees on the sidewalk in the middle of Manhattan and I jumped at the opportunity to recreate that in Brooklyn.
Your website states that you aim to incorporate the culture of Brooklyn and Jamaica into your selection of plants and into your brand attitude. Can you elaborate on how these two places influence both your selection of plants and the ethos of your business?
Moving to Brooklyn felt like an extension of Jamaica, but it had more to do with the people than the environment. In Brooklyn, people didn’t have yards or homes, they were in smaller apartments and weren’t seeing greenery on the streets. At the store, patrons kept asking what is the easiest plant to keep alive indoors, so we started selling plants that are easier to care for; more water tolerant or low light tolerant.
The community in Brooklyn definitely influences the plants we sell, but the brand culture of Natty Garden ultimately stems from Jamaica. The Rasta culture of Natty Garden is all about loving Mother Nature and caring for all living things on earth.
Natty Garden’s first location is in Prospect Heights, and you opened up a second location nearby in Bed-Stuy. Why did you choose these two neighborhoods as the home for your businesses?
When I first moved to Prospect Heights there was a diverse population in the neighborhood including Haitian, Jamaican, Caribbean, Bangladeshi, and Japanese communities. It felt to me like a place where I could fit in and start my business. The Prospect Heights community is a very friendly and family-oriented community, so people would frequently shop at Natty Garden to support me.
In terms of the Bed-Stuy location, I fell in love with that neighborhood because of the store size and the block. Setting up Natty Garden on Marcus Garvey Boulevard felt like being a part of history. I couldn’t wait to put the image of Marcus Garvey on my awning. Bed-Stuy was also a neighborhood with a lot of bars, restaurants, cafes, and barbershops but did not yet have a good plant store. And I think every neighborhood should have a good plant store.
How has COVID affected your business?
During COVID, it was very hard keeping our staff working. Especially at the beginning of COVID, everyone was scared and it was a very chaotic time – finding staff felt like a continuous cycle. Later on, people were more willing to work but did not necessarily have the background and plant knowledge that I wanted them to have.
That being said, the store itself was doing well because it was a time when people were stuck at home and spending money on improving their homes. When you are working from home having a plant in the background of your Zoom call or to look at while you’re cooking dinner can bring a small joy. As a result, we had a lot of new customers coming in and buying plants.
We love that Natty Garden often hosts live music events. What inspired you to do that?
It’s the vibes and culture that sets Natty Garden apart from the other businesses on the block. We bring customers a little bit of everything – plants, nature, vibes, music, community, all coming together under one roof. Most of the employees at the store are musicians; some are singers, others are drummers or DJs, and so there’s a very strong music culture. I decided to have our talent play out at the store on weekends, once a month in the summer in the outdoor garden. It’s only right that we celebrate with music. This year is going to be a good year for local bands to show their talent.
Live band performance at Natty Garden in July 2021
What has been the biggest lesson you’ve learned since founding Natty Garden? And what, if anything, would you do differently?
My biggest lesson is that you have to keep working. When you’re focused on what you’re trying to accomplish, that’s when you are most successful. When there are interruptions in your focus, you can easily lose track of your goals, and so my advice is to focus on what it is you’re trying to achieve and never lose sight of it.
What has been your proudest accomplishment so far?
I’m proud of having the store expand into a larger space and also opening our second location in Bed-Stuy. I’m also happy that Natty Garden is still around! It’s remained relevant and has continued to grow each and every day.
I’m also extremely proud of the community that has formed around Natty Garden. My customers know me by name and have supported me through the pandemic, and we’ve grown together through our love of plants. And that’s the beauty of Prospect Heights and Marcus Garvey, it’s a community that will support you, through the good times and the bad.
Staff posting for a family photo at Natty Garden, Aug 2021
What is your best seller?
Our best seller is probably the soil. We sell this great soil that comes from Humboldt County. Plants are delicate and they need really soft soil that will nurture and help them grow. I would say our soil selection is what sets us apart; you can’t grow plants without good soil.
What indoor plant would you recommend to a person who’s buying one for the first time?
The plant I would recommend is a plant that I grew up with, and it goes by the Jamaican name “Creeper”. Here, it’s called a Pothos, and we sell it in two different colors, neon, and jade. It’s a vine plant, so it’s easy to propagate and grow it in various areas of your home. That’s the plant I think every household should have.
Is there a key tip you can share for a person who’s worried about keeping their plant healthy?
Stop worrying. Plants absorb your energy, so be joyful around the plant, and stop worrying! Also, don’t overwater. The rule is to water thoroughly once a week only and make sure the soil is dry before you water it again.
What’s one piece of advice you would tell an aspiring Black entrepreneur thinking of entering a similar industry?
Just do it! Jump in now, and think later.
You can learn more about Natty Garden, and shop their Brooklyn-inspired selection of plants here. We also encourage you to follow them on Instagram and Facebook to witness the visible power of community and stay up to date on upcoming events.