They’re everywhere lately! Last week, you ordered a mocha from Epoch Coffee at the Village and noticed one on the counter — a bright yellow elephant with a happy Sedum succulent growing out of its back. Curious, you thought, chalking it up as one of Epoch’s efforts to keep Austin weird.
But then you walked into one of your favorite downtown shops, Luxe Apothetique, and a turquoise Apatosaurus carrying a perky Echeveria plant greeted you from a tower display. Could this be a coincidence, you asked yourself. Surely not…
Now you’re staring dumbfounded into the window at a friggin’ 8-foot wall of these unique creatures at Maya Star on SoCo– neon Stegosauruses, Velociraptors, and Rhinos, each sporting its own strange little plant.
Yes, thanks to garden-savvy artist Ian Mailhot of The Plaid Pigeon, this is actually a thing.
Since 2010, Mailhot and his team have been carving holes in plastic toy dinosaurs and wild animals, hand-painting them vibrant colors, planting succulents in them, and then selling them in local boutiques, markets, plant nurseries, and on Etsy.
Mailhot fell in love with plants at an early age. He grew up on a 12-acre peach farm and picked up gardening and crop tending as a hobby right alongside skateboarding. After finishing art school and discovering his passion for tending succulents in particular, he co-founded The Plaid Pigeon with Megan Briggs, his girlfriend at the time.
The Briggs and Mailhot relocated to Austin from California in 2010, hoping their idea would gain momentum within Austin’s creative scene and quirky culture.
“This town embraced us so much that it just kind of turned into a full time thing,” said Mailhot. “It probably has a lot to do with the eclectic Austin attitude that’s gone back for so long. It’s just a weird enough idea to fit into ‘Keep Austin Weird.'”
After only 3 months of taking local sales and online orders, Etsy featured The Plaid Pigeon on their front page and Fab.com, the late DailyCandy, and Apartment Therapy published write-ups about the planters as well. Briggs and Mailhot were quickly overwhelmed by a flood of orders.
“It was exciting but also embarrassing at first because we kept dropping the ball,” said Mailhot. “We were getting so many orders and we couldn’t keep up, so a lot of other similar shops started opening up, essentially ripping off our idea.”
At first, Briggs and Mailhot felt horrified and frustrated by the copycats, but they quickly learned that success in E-commerce hinges on two major factors — product quality and customer service — and that if they concentrated on being the best at those two things, they’d have nothing to worry about.
And so far, they haven’t. Now that they’ve figured out how to expertly produce and pack the planters such that the plants avoid shipping damages, demand for The Plaid Pigeon products is steadily increasing and is showing no signs of stopping, despite that some consider the current succulent craze to be just a passing fad.
“They say that succulents are trendy and I don’t know if that’s true,” said Mailhot. “When I think of ‘trendy,’ I think of something that will come and go, but everyone wants a plant and everyone’s always going to want to gift a plant or have a plant on their windowsill. I don’t see them going anywhere.”
Succulents make wonderful houseplants. Compared to other kinds of growing things, succulents require very little maintenance and they tend to not outgrow their planters, so they’re perfect for busy folks, plant-owning noobs, and all those who tend to accidentally murder plants in their care.
Mailhot always advises his customers to keep their planters in windowsills and to water weekly or when the soil completely dries out. “Succulents are such amazing plants,” he said. “They’re so unique and so alien, and they’re really hardy and rewarding. They make you feel like you know what you’re doing even if you don’t. If they’re getting a little bit of water and a little bit of sun, they’re happy.”
Besides the standard assortment of planters advertised in The Plaid Pigeon’s Etsy shop, Mailhot and his crew also happily fulfill custom orders and have recently started offering online buyers the option to choose the color of their planter. Soon, Mailhot hopes to be able to allow shoppers to select their preferred type of succulent as well in the hopes of continuing to build a happy customer base.
Overall, according to Mailhot, the wild animal planters sell just fine, but dinosaurs easily dominate The Plaid Pigeon’s list of bestselling products. “There’s just something about that vintage kind of feel to toy dinosaurs,” he explained. “The brighter the color, the better — and those teeth. The hot pink mouth and those teeth are just irresistible.”
We totally agree, and since each toy planter costs between $18-29 depending on its size, succulent, and location of purchase, there’s really no reason to resist the urge to grab one to infuse your home with some fresh Austin weirdness.
Just keep in mind that if you want to order online for the holidays, you need to put in your order very early. In 2015, The Plaid Pigeon had to close their online shop by mid-November because they had received the maximum amount of orders that they could faithfully fill in time for Christmas. “This year I’ve hired a little extra help,” Mailhot said. “We’re going to try to see if we can do it without closing this time.”
Locally, you’ll find the planters at A-Town, Luxe Apothetique, Maya Star, Tillery Street Plant Co., East Austin Succulents, and the Vespaio art market along SoCo year-round. During the holidays, The Plaid Pigeon sets up booths at both the Armadillo Christmas Bazaar and the Blue Genie Art Bazaar, so you can get ’em there too.
But wait, there’s more! As further proof that The Plaid Pigeon is awesome, they’ve been kind enough to set up an Etsy coupon code for Austin.com readers: Enter “DINOPLANTER” during checkout to get 15% off of your order until October 31. Enjoy!
All story photos: Rebecca L. Bennett