Odette Pollar, The Green Thumb Behind the Free Plant Exchange

Odette Pollar

By Bill Coburn Odette Pollar is an Oakland native  and a consummate plant person. In 2008, Pollar was in the middle of remaking a new back garden at her house in the Lakeshore neighborhood of Oakland when she had an idea of creating a plant exchange, so she and her neighbors had access to plants for free, to enlarge their choices for their gardens. She organized this initial event and 75 people showed up. It has been such a success that it has grown to a semi-annual event that attracts 300-400 people. The concept is simple: on the specified day you bring some plants, and you can walk away with plants for free. People love it – an intense four-hour experience on a Saturday afternoon held in the spring and the fall. Plants of all sizes and types are available at the exchange. For example, Pollar remembers an 18-foot palm tree, perched on the top of a pick up truck being grabbed up by someone before it was unloaded. Although most people are local, people attend from all nine Bay Area counties.  One gardener even comes down from the state of Washington for the event. For Pollar, an effort of this sort is a ‘piece of cake’ because organization is her business, and has been for 20 years. She runs a company in downtown Oakland called Smart Ways to Work, where she helps corporate groups organize their time, information and paperwork. She also helps people who need to dispose of a house, often full of things that need sorting out and dispersal. Pollar has created her personal garden, an intense cacophony of plants of all types, each one grown and watched with particular scrutiny and love. This landscape is a plant person’s heaven. Although she will occasionally clean out the overgrown or underperforming plants, you would never know this by looking at the myriad of beautifully placed plants forming intense color and texture mixes and shaped to create fascinating architectural quality spaces within a fairly modest property. Pollar especially loves succulents and bromeliads, a class of plants that includes the pineapple. Gardening is in her blood. She comes from a family  which gardened. As a child she recognized she had a green thumb, but it was not until the 2008 backyard project that she threw caution to the wind and dove into the world of plants. She philosophizes that she is a bit unusual in some respects and states that for an African American, there is not the large gardening community there is with other racial groups. There are people who come from agricultural or rural backgrounds and growing things is within their family experience. However, traditionally the Black community has not experienced the luxury of leisure time and disposable income sometimes required to develop an interest and experience in the gardening world. The date for the October plant exchange has not yet been set. Look for the information on the Internet under Lakeshore Neighborhood Plant Exchange: www.plantexchange.wordpress.com. Bill Coburn is a practicing architect, based in West Oakland and can be reached at wpcoburn@pacbell.net. This column is the first of a occasional series of articles that highlight places and the people who make them in and around Oakland.
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