Plant Life Balance

Melbourne’s favourite plant shop on wheels

What do you get when you cross two plant experts, a truck, and a genius creative vision? Easy. The Plant Runner.

Cruising around Melbourne with a truckload of plants (literally), Dom and Dunc truly are living the green dream.

Qualified horticulturalists, these two passionate green thumbs first met when Dunc moved to the city and started working in Dom’s garden maintenance business. After discovering their shared love of travel, music and bringing indoor plants to the masses, the two decided to go all in and collaborated on The Plant Runner – a walk-in mobile plant shop and greenhouse which sold plants at pop-ups and markets across Melbourne. The venture put down some serious roots, and has since grown into a thriving plant consultation and installation business.

This week on the Journal, Plant Life Balance caught up with these two legends to dig deep on how the journey to began, their latest passion project, and glean some seasonal hints and tips on maintaining indoor jungles over the winter months.

So, guys – tell us about how Plant Runner came to be, how you both met and what’s the deal with the amazing truck?

DUNC: Dom and I met in early 2016 when I moved down to Melbourne from Sydney, and started working for Dom’s gardening business. We hit it off pretty quickly, and it wasn’t long before we were good mates.

The Plant Runner began after a trip to New York where I saw the incredible Tula Plant Truck at a market in Brooklyn. I came back to Melbourne and was excitedly telling Dom about it, and we thought it would be a great thing to try here in Melbourne. It was pretty much a done deal by the time we’d finished our coffees.

Two days later, we’d found ‘Fern’ on Gumtree. She was an old, 1962 International Harvester being used as a horse float for the local pony club. It took us six months of work slowly converting her into the ‘mobile greenhouse’ we’d envisioned, and we officially launched The Plant Runner on a 38-degree day in Hampton, Melbourne.

We love going to markets and offering a new experience to plant shopping. We love the reaction the truck gets, and the ability to reach new neighbourhoods and people that having a mobile greenhouse offers!

Where do you think your connections to nature began? 

DUNC: I grew up in Sydney bushland, and – even though I didn’t really think about it at the time – it obviously had an impact on me. Free time was spent riding my bike through bush tracks, or even just skipping school to go explore the bush.

It wasn’t until much later when I was living in a share-house in Sydney’s inner west and started volunteering with a community gardening group that I realised how much pleasure it gave me. I started studying horticulture in the evenings and, by the time I’d finished, I had a whole new career!

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DOM: My connection with nature started as a child – I grew up in bushland near Coffs Harbour. I have great memories of my parents experimenting with all sorts of weird and wonderful plants and trees in the garden.

Their passion was infectious, and I started experimenting with plants, growing and propagating whatever I could find, in whatever vessel I could find!

I’d also skip school and ‘go bush’ for the day, exploring with school mates; we’d go deep into the forest and look up into trees to find huge staghorns and birds nest ferns.

Sometimes we’d leave on a Friday, and my parents wouldn’t see me until late Sunday all covered in scratches and brushes from trekking through the thick under-scrub all weekend. Those were the days…these days, we’re doing our best to bring those forest vibes into our homes.

Many would say you’re living the dream by working surrounded by plants. What does a day in the life look like, and what has been your favourite part of working on The Plant Runner?

I think our favourite part would definitely be the conversations we have with all the new people we meet each week. The truck is a great conversation-starter, and from there we can easily move into discussions about plants. It does feel special when the truck is full to the brim and someone walks on board, and you see their face light up.

You recently launched The Plant Runner Kids. What was the inspiration behind this new venture?

DUNC: Dom has two young boys and loves spending time with them in the garden.

Plant Runner Kids is essentially our way of introducing that same love of plants and nature to other children.

Plant Runner Kids allows us to curate a selection of our favourite kids’ gardening products, as well as offer our ‘Plant Runner Kids’ Pack’ which provides kids with their very first plant and everything they need to get growing.

What’s your advice for parents who want to foster a love of plants or gardening with their young kids?

Most kids have an early love of the garden without even realising it – they climb trees, hide in bushes and play in the dirt.

Our biggest piece of advice on helping kids fall in love with plants is to be involved with them as they play in nature, and where possible, show them some of the incredible things they might not notice themselves.

For example: how leaves can droop when they need a drink, or how a plant will angle its foliage towards the sun. Even looking at how different pests can affect plant growth can be fascinating.

What’s your top tip for selecting a plant for a kids’ room or workspace?

I think the best advice is choose for your child, not for you. A huge trailing devils ivy might look great on the bookshelf but if you have a curious child that loves to pull on things, then maybe hold off on the trailing plants and get something a little hardier like a parlour palm. Plants like monsteras can be great, as they are fast-growing and its easy to get excited about the new foliage unfurling.

Once you’ve chosen a plant for them, encourage them to take ownership – let them do the watering, for example (with your guidance, of course!). That way, they can feel more connected to the plant and (fingers crossed) they might catch the crazy-plant-person bug.

Now, we want to hear about your own garden. What’s the main thing you did with your plants to prepare them for the change in season?

As we move into winter, it’s a good idea to take stock of your place and your plants. Watering will most likely need to be reduced, and you’ll need to think about temperature fluctuations within the home.

Cold draughts from doors can stress plants out, so think about moving any vulnerable plants away from doors and windows that are being opened and closed a lot. The same goes with heat sources like heaters and reverse-cycle air conditioners – make sure no plants are too close to heaters (at least 1.5m away), and out of the direct blast of air from air conditioners. All the heating will dry the air out too, so you may need to think about increasing the humidity where possible – group plants together, create pebble trays or consider investing in a humidifier.

Finally, pay attention to the sun! There’ll be less of it and it’s going to be lower, so think about repositioning your plants so they still get enough light.

What’s the number one plant problem people come to you with?

A big one is: “What plant can I have in a room with no light?”

Answer – none, but if you’re happy rotating some low-light plants between rooms on a regular basis you can make it work.

Who do you think your biggest plant-spiration is? Is there a famous green thumb you admire, or would love to spend the day gardening with?

Definitely plant-spired by Tula – none of this would have started if I hadn’t seen their truck on that fateful day in Brooklyn!

And in terms of green thumbs, there are so many. Despite being qualified horticulturalists, there are so much we’re still learning, and so many people we can learn from. Locally, Kate of kateandfinn_vs_plants and aussieplantclub fame is undoubtedly an inspiration; and internationally, I’d love to spend a day with Hilton Carter.

On outdoor gardening, I think spending some time with a legend like Costa (Georgiadis, of Gardening Australia) would be unreal.

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Today is Tula’s 4th birthday 😊 🎉 🌿🌵⁣⁣ ⁣⁣ Not exactly how we envisioned celebrating it, but this moment has given us an immense appreciation for everything we’ve accomplished in those years. And more importantly, to all the incredible people we’ve met during all our adventures.⁣⁣ ⁣⁣ Thank you to those who came aboard Tulita that first year. To those who ventured into Bushwick to seek a plant oasis. To those who appreciate the design and our experimentations with plant life. To those who spend time with us at Tula House and the Arid Room. And of course, to those who are supporting us now in during this defining time in history. ⁣⁣ ⁣⁣ We look forward to keep putting smiles on your faces, learning, educating, challenging ourselves and bringing plants to you in new and surprising ways. ⁣⁣ ⁣⁣ Stay safe friends, from all of us at Tula. 💚

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Finally, and probably the hardest question of them all… if you were a plant, what do you think you’d be and why?

DUNC: This is a new one! I think I’d like to imagine myself as something like a Raphidophora tetrasperma (aka. the mini monstera) because it just keeps going, its tolerant of a lot of different conditions, and is fairly low maintenance. But if think if I’ve being realistic, I’m more of a fiddle leaf fig – fussy, tall and (can) be a little needy. Ha!

Dom is definitely a Monstera adansonii – everybody loves him, he goes a million directions at the same time and doesn’t know how to take a break.

For the time being, The Plant Runner is parked indefinitely (good one, COVID). But the good news is, you can still order your Plant Runner green goodies online. Take a browse of what’s on offer over at the guys’ website here.

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