What began as an expression of a love for the corner where art means nature is growing into a statement of community.
Nelson ZePequeno is the force behind the Instagram page Black Men with Gardens, started in 2017 to showcase his artistry and that of other people he wasn’t seeing people who looked like him in the gardening space. The page is filled with joyous photos of Black men and boys showing off their growing skills, whether it is houseplants or vegetables or flowers—whatever makes them happy. ZePequeno’s goal has been to connect people with resources and others in the gardening world and, he says, “maintain a platform where we can see ourselves represented and share what we are doing.”
“Other, larger sites just weren’t representing us or making us part of their social media strategy with what they were doing,” ZePequeno says.
Meet the Expert
A Print Publication for All
Now, he is bringing his energy and light to a new venture: Garden Era magazine. Whereas Black Men with Gardens showcases the connection between Black men and gardening, the new magazine accepts original submissions and photos from any gardener with an interesting story to tell.
“Garden Era is a magazine that is driven by specially abled and all different people,” ZePequeno says. “I want to show that environmentalists, backpackers, gardeners are all part of the same community. I encourage anyone that this resonates with to visit the website and submit your own stories or photos. We can all continue to be sustained.”
Sustained both creatively and monetarily. He is currently soliciting submissions for the magazine’s launch, and starting with the second issue, writers who wish to earn some money for their stories can do so.
“This way, creators can be compensated for what they are already doing,” ZePequeno says. “They are all contributing to our industry, and I want to create another avenue where they can share their stories, success and struggles
“I decided I wanted to print a publication that could go directly into people’s homes, and then people could be compensated for their work. Print is essential for people to create community.”
Obviously ZePequeno isn’t against social media, since he has a big Instagram presence and YouTube channel, but for this project, he wanted it to be more hands-on. “Social is good for contributing, but not as good for support to give back,” he says. “Our best moments become one post or a caption but imagine having these stories, being able to share it in a tangible way, cut it out and put it on the wall.”
ZePequeno says, “The magazine is led by the same mentality and thought and the same mission that Black Men with Gardens came from. It’s just the next step to do the same thing on a different scale. It’s a lifelong mission that is going to take shape in different forms.”
Making The Most of What's Around Him
The artistic entrepreneur was born in Ghana and moved to the United States when he was 5. His experiences growing up, with a family earning a limited income and with little money for extras. ZePequeno says this forced him to get creative in his artistic endeavors.
“Essentially my art form goes back to lack of access and showing people that regardless of means, you can create, be an artist first and foremost as well as a gardener and plant enthusiast,” ZePequeno says. “It’s all about showing people you can do things with the materials around you, because that is exactly how I had to do these things. I could look at it as a limitation, but if you just take a look around you, you only want to see the possibilities.”
A big part of his art on display on his Instagram page are his fantastical plants made from whatever he can find. In his eyes, almost anything can transform into art. An old typewriter or a guitar as a planter. A discarded glass-front clock as a terrarium.
“You can take a torn-down book that might end up in the landfill and create,” ZePequeno says. “I have seen people create masterpieces literally out of a pile of sticks. All it takes is encouragement and seeing that something is possible.
“When you rarely see anything that reflects your circumstance or part of your identity, you just never think of anything else you can be,” he says. “Whoever you may be, there is much that you can still do and become.”