"I'm reminded of the joy I find watching things grow," says Marcus Bridgewater over a TikTok time lapse video of roots sprouting from a pineapple top. With more than three million views, the 60-second video shares Marcus's accessible instructions for propagating the tropical fruit. In another video, he explains the medicinal benefits of lavender, reminding viewers that if it takes root, it will grow back year after year.
Although he has only been posting on TikTok, Instagram, and Twitter for six months, he's already become a viral sensation. From his garden bursting with pothos, bromeliads, ginger, sweet potatoes, and more, he invites the viewers into his sacred process. The space doubles as a peaceful sanctuary and a thrilling metaphor for life's peaks and valleys.
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In 2018, he launched Choice Forward, with his collaborator Dana, dedicated to "promoting kindness, patience, and positivity." The duo releases Garden Marcus videos in addition to webinars, guided meditations, workshops, and consultations. Hunker spoke to Marcus about his journey to gardening, viral success, and summer gardening tips.
Hunker: How did you start your plant journey? Were plants always central to your life?
Marcus Bridgewater: I grew up in the country, north of Orlando, in a place called Zellwood. It was filled with orange groves and fields of corn. My grandma's yard had hibiscuses and different trees. As a young boy, she'd send me out there to water and she'd say, "Well you're not doing enough, they need more water than that! Imagine you only had a couple sips of water!" So those are my earliest memories of gardening. And then about six years ago, I bought my first house, and my oldest friend's mom, she owned a nursery [that] she was getting rid of. So she gifted me lots of plants, about sixteen plants. I got them home and was so happy. And then I killed a ton of them.
Hunker: Oh no!
MB: Exactly. What was sixteen quickly went to seven and even faster became just a couple. And so now I'm thinking, I gotta learn, I gotta absorb information to keep the next set of plants that I end up getting from dying. Which led me down this journey of intense learning and experimenting. And that really doubled on itself about two years in, when a good friend of mine told me about plants for reduced sale at local plant shops. I scooped up all of those and filled the yard and the house with a bunch of plants that were somewhat dying. And [I] learned about them, learned their names, learned what they needed, and did my best to bring them back to life.
Hunker: When did you decide to take the next step and incorporate social media?
MB: So, during that process of learning how to deal with the plants, I'm also learning that much more about life and about myself. I had already been on quite the epic journey up to that point, in terms of my own travel and my own observations about life. So the garden was just reinforcing these observations. But all of that was tucked away. Then, I started experiencing more adversity and hard times in my own personal life.
And I found myself finding peace in my garden. It is actually therapy for me. And I, being a mentor and being a confidant to many others, was seeing that the garden was helping me find peace and therefore share peace with others. So at first I thought, this is awesome. I'm really fortunate to have this tool of the garden to use. Well, along comes Dana. I was in my garden and she came by and told me that this is brilliant. That I've helped her so much, and that she knows it will help other people. So that's how Choice Forward was born. I've been doing this for six years, but for the last two years it's been under the Choice Forward umbrella, built out of my experience studying with various spiritual leaders over the last twenty years.
Hunker: How did you end up on TikTok?
MB: One of the young men I've helped through Choice Forward came back to me after he'd been in school, and suggested I put my tips and philosophies on TikTok. And I thought it was a Calendar App! So he explained TikTok to me. That was December. In late December, we did our first post. I'm using the garden to talk about kindness, patience, positivity in the community. The idea was to share life's metaphors through the lens of the garden, so that they are easy and digestible.
Hunker: So the viral aspect was a complete shock. How has that experience been?
MB: I've written a couple of articles about it on my Linkedin. The experience of virality has been really extraordinary. But I feel very fortunate to have a grounding and solid understanding of the varying factors of myself before being put into this space. I'm traversing a very new realm. I'm rather new to social media.
Hunker: When you think of the future, what do you envision for yourself and Choice Forward?
MB: We see ourselves as the wholesome one-stop well-being shop. We want to be able to share our artistry. We've gotten great feedback from people who enjoy our work. We're really hoping that in the future we'll be able to grow and share these concepts on a broader scale. We want to engage with people. We'd love to do presentations, seminars, workshops, guided retreats, motivational speaking.
Hunker: Do you have any gardening inspirations or mentors?
MB: Really, I'd say my inspiration is my grandmother. And the woman who gave me the plants, my second mother. She's a plant wizard. Any time I've had a question that I couldn't find the answer to, she's been my reference.
Hunker: What are some of your most high maintenance plants? Any lessons to learn from your work with them?
MB: The hypoeste. It's a beautiful plant that needs constant water. Constant water. And that one little guy, I have three of them, they are probably the highest maintenance plants that I have kept around. They need a lot of maintenance, but their bounce-back is so strong. So, it's like, you may look at the plant and think, poor plant, he's dead, he's crumpled on himself, there is no weight at all, and then you put some water on him, and the next day he's like bang! I'm bigger! I'm better! So it's like, don't give up. So you see a person down and out, really down and out, you could kick them over, or you could give them the nourishment and they will come back like Samson, right? You won't know that if you don't take the time to watch.
Hunker: Any tips for folks interested in creating a summer garden?
MB: For an outside summer garden, if you're going on the deck or a patio, I would think about something that's going to grow out. I would look at rosemary or scented geranium because they are such uniquely-leafed plants and they are so beautiful. I've really enjoyed having lavender-scented geranium and rosemary around. That's been awesome.
And if it's something going in the ground, I'm gonna say hibiscus. It is a tree. It's gonna be small today, but maybe next year it's gonna sprout up and sprout out. So definitely be conscious if you place something near it.