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Plant Lady: A Story from Magnolia Journal

by Magnolia
Published on May 10, 2023

Mikey McCall stands smiling surrounded by plants in a greenhouse.

For Mikey McCall, Jo’s little sister, caring for a plant means more than just keeping it alive. Nurturing a living thing taps into our very nature—a joy and purpose we were all made for. This rings true for Mikey, whether she’s tending to her six kids, connecting with guests at Ferny’s (her retro plant shop at the Silos), or filling herself up with an afternoon in her greenhouse. Her story sings a beautiful song, one that says our lives are even richer when we savor each other and the world around us. Here, Mikey shares her story in a conversation with Jo—plus a few potting tips for when you make a new (green) friend.

A green banner graphic says "A STORY FROM MAGNOLIA JOURNAL SUMMER 2023."

Story by McGee Nall

Photography by Knoxy Knox

Photography courtesy of Magnolia Network

A Chat Between Sisters

Mikey McCall and Joanna Gaines sit under a Ferny's Retro Plant Shop sign surrounded by plants.

Joanna Gaines: When did your love of plants start? Which ones are your favorite?

Mikey McCall: It started around 2014 when our family lived in Tulsa. I kept killing plants, but then a friend gave me a zebra plant, and I kept it alive! One plant turned into five, then 20. It became this quiet, restful hobby, and it was so therapeutic for me. I’m really drawn to philodendrons, pothos, hoya, and of course, cacti.

JG: I remember years ago, I came over to your house and you had plants everywhere—even in your bathtub—and I thought, Wow, she is a true plant lady. So when you first voiced that you wanted to open your own retro plant shop, it seemed like such a natural fit. Can you share when the dream of Ferny’s began and how it eventually came to life?

MM: I’ve wanted my own little shop since I was in college. After the zebra plant, I added plants to that dream—then later, vintage finds. I put the idea aside as we started having kids, then I would pick it up again. At the start of 2021, I took a couple days to pause and write down my dreams. I felt this pull to step out—like it was finally the right time to go for it (even though I was terrified). Ferny’s had its first pop-up that May, and then a few others that year. Then in 2022, you helped me open the storefront at the Silos.

JG: You like to name your plants. Where did that idea come from? Do you have a process for naming them?

MM: At the time I just had 30 plants at home (now I have over 200!), and I started naming them as a way to connect with my oldest daughter—it was a sweet thing to share together. I wait until the plant is potted and see how it pairs with its vintage vessel, look at its colors, textures, personality—and a name will just come to mind. It’s more instinct than anything!

JG: Where do you go to get inspiration for your plants and the shop?

MM: Traveling with my family is always inspiring for me. Honestly, I just love to have a coffee in hand and go slow at a greenhouse or antiques store—seeing what sticks out and enjoying what’s right in front of me.

JG: How do plants make you feel?

MM: Happy. Alive. I think we’re made to love and nurture our family, friends, and strangers. But sometimes we forget to tend to ourselves, so plants are one way I do that. And they’re just easy. You give a little and plants give so much in return. They’re living art for your home, they’re tied to memories, and they just bring a lot of joy to a space.

JG: When someone leaves Ferny’s, how do you want them to feel?

MM: I hope people leave feeling inspired, peaceful, and refreshed—and just encouraged that they can do this. I hear people say, “I have a black thumb. I can’t keep a plant alive.” But I want to tell them that they can! Start with a pothos or a cactus, something low-maintenance. Anyone can have a plant and enjoy it. I also love it when people come into the shop and a vessel looks like something in their grandmother’s house or a plant’s name reminds them of someone they love. For me, Ferny’s is a lot more than plants—it’s really about relationships. When people walk in, I want them to feel seen and known, and if a plant helps them feel that way, that’s really special.

The interior of Ferny's Retro Plant Shop.
Plant Lady
Interior photo of Ferny's Retro Plant Shop.

Pot Your Plant Mikey Style

Potting plants should be less a methodical process and more like getting coffee with friends. The key to finding a plant you love and giving it a new home is to follow your instincts and have fun.

Plant Lady
Mikey McCall planting succulents in her greenhouse.
Mikey McCall planting succulents in her greenhouse.

Step 1: Choose a Vessel

This one is simple. Find a pot, mug, or container that draws your eye and speaks to you.

Step 2: Pick a Plant

Think of two of your friends in life who don’t know each other, but you know they’d hit it off and become friends too. That’s what pairing a plant with a vessel should feel like. Size is important, but so are color, texture, and personality.

Step 3: Decide on Drainage

If your vessel has a drainage hole at the bottom, you just need soil. If it doesn’t, place a layer of garden rocks at the bottom so that your plant’s roots won’t sit in water.

Step 4: Pot Your Plant

Place a layer of fresh soil at the bottom of your vessel. (Put this on top of the rocks if you’re using them.) Remove excess soil from the plant and place it into the vessel, then fill the sides with more soil. It’s like putting on your favorite pair of jeans—the plant should feel good in its new home.

Step 5: Give It a Name!

Saving the best step for last! Give it a little water, dust off any extra soil, wipe the leaves, give it a look over, and choose a name that feels right to you. Then say hello to your newest friend!

Helpful Tip: Use chopsticks for potting cacti (so you don’t get pricked!) and to help push dirt into crevices that are hard to reach.

You can shop and watch all things Ferny’s at magnolia.com, or visit Mikey’s store at the Silos in Waco.

Doors to Ferny's Retro Plant Shop propped open.