Dominique Charles is the founder and CEO of Plots & Pans, bringing gardens and gardening tools and techniques to the masses. (Courtesy Photo)

By Aysia Morton
Special to the AFRO

For many African Americans gardening is deeply rooted in our ancestry on the continent of Africa. Centuries before slavery, Africa had an expansive agricultural society. African slaves, forced into the U.S., introduced fruits and vegetables that became dietary staples, especially in the Black community- including watermelon, cantaloupe, okra and eggplant. Modern African American gardeners such as Dominique Charles, founder and CEO of Plots & Pans, continue to honor the diasporically influenced practice of gardening by sharing their passion, teaching the art to others, and ensuring that gardens of all sizes and goals thrive in Black communities.  

The practice of growing crops near ones slave quarters not only kept the American economy booming, but kept many enslaved Africans and their descendants alive. Even after slavery was abolished, African Americans tried to continue growing their own food, often as sharecroppers. Over the years, gardening slowly became less of a necessity and more recreational.

Charles of Plots & Plans, has southern roots that are near to her heart, but her inspiration for gardening is simple- she enjoys it. The self coined Chief Executive Gardener, began her passion for plants when her friend gifted her a small garden. Charles began showcasing gardening content on social media, specifically Instagram. People took a liking to Charles’ content and encouraged her to take her hobby to the next level.

Soon after, people were requesting that she teach gardening to other people. Now, Charles builds urban gardens mostly in Washington, D.C. She accommodates gardens that range in all sizes, from big gardens to gardens that can be grown on balconies.

Farming and sharecropping have southern roots in America dating back to slavery. With more people eating healthier, the urban farming movement is gaining popularity in the Black community again.

Talking with Charles, you can hear a southern twang in her melodic voice. Born and raised in New Orleans, Louisiana, her grandparents were farmers and produced fresh food for their family. She also has roots in the West Indies and takes a lot of inspiration from both cultures. “Lots of things I grow like hot peppers, bell peppers, okra, tomatoes take roots in the South. Like green beans, I love them and am a self-proclaimed green bean queen. I also grow peppers and ginger for pepper sauces, which I attribute to my West Indian background. Many southern and West Indian foods crossover.” said Charles.

Community is meaningful to Charles’ passion and business. She has been featured on Discovery’s “Martha Gets Down and Dirty” Domino Magazine, Well and Good and more, but she proclaims her most significant feature has been on the local NBC4 affiliate. 

“My literal neighbor called me screaming that she was watching me! Just to see people in my community recognize what I do means the world to me,” she said.  

Even with all the accolades, Charles’  journey has been far from easy. “The road is exciting and fun, but there are lows where things get difficult and I don’t want to do it,” she said.  Like many humans, she faces obstacles like imposter syndrome, personal ups and downs and juggling a million things at once. As an “extroverted-introvert” she can feel like retreating when she’s thrown into the spotlight. But the thing she finds most difficult is battling weather and seasons, especially during the summertime.

Her passion for gardening is palpable and her culture, which is very unique, inspires the things that she grows and eats. She likes to be barefoot when she gardens, it is important for her to be grounded and connected to the earth. However even in her groundedness, Charles doesn’t focus too much on heritage and ancestry when she gardens. 

“I don’t want to be dismissive of the practices of our ancestors, but I also want to make sure people don’t forget the joy of gardening and being outside. A friend started me off with a garden and I got to see the fruits of my labor. That brought joy to my heart and it wasn’t anything about what my ancestors or grandparents did.  So I look at it from that perspective,” Charles explained.  

Sewing into one’s personal delight while gardening is what Charles teaches.

“One day I was writing and I wrote ‘cultivate joy’ and that became my mantra.” 

For more information on Charles and her company Plots and Pans visit:

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