As Fawn Wilson and Heather Payne talk about their childhood, letting memories of life on their Alexander County family farm wash over them, it’s clear how in sync the pair are.
Together they regale stories of the hard work in the fields, learning to use tools long before their fellow classmates in school, and hours spent together under a hot sun alongside their dad. They turn to each other to finish their sentences, prompting the other to remember a story and finish their half. They know all of the other’s stories, because, as twins, they lived them side by side.
“Looking back, that’s where our bond began, on the farm, because we had to be working together, we were always together,” Wilson said.
Wilson and Payne grew up around plants and agriculture, and knew at a young age that’s what they wanted to spend their lives around.
On their bus rides to school, Payne and Wilson would peer out the windows, critiquing landscapes at different houses and thinking of plans to improve them, Payne said.
They knew what they liked. They knew they wanted to do it together.
It was only a matter of time before the pair started their own business in the plant world. This year made it a reality, launching Those Plant Ladies, a female-empowerment landscaping business, into reality. The seed was planted long before.
Both of their middle school career tests pointed them toward horticulture — that, or firefighting for Wilson, the one who likes to get her hands dirty, or dancing for Payne, the creative one.
In high school they took drafting classes just for the chance to use the computer software to model landscape designs. They started taking horticulture and turfgrass management classes at Catawba Valley Community College while still in high school. They eventually got to design the landscaping at a new education building, Payne said.
After high school, both earned degrees in horticulture and turfgrass management from CVCC — sharing books, working the same jobs and hanging out with the same friends.
After school, Wilson went on to work at a private school in Charlotte, working the school's 70 acres of land — landscaping and painting and caring for the sports fields. She did that for years.
Meanwhile, Payne had found another passion in photography. After her own wedding, she started photographing others, building her business photographing destination weddings. Payne travels around the country and world to photograph weddings.
All the while, the pair kept their dream of owning a plant-based business together in mind.
Wilson worked her way up at the private school, eventually managing an all-male team of landscapers. She also started working with the Carolina Panthers and Charlotte Knights to paint and maintain the fields on the weekends.
During her work, she started to notice the lack of women in the field.
“I had always been told by other people, especially by men, that women just weren’t interested in the work,” Wilson said. “And I thought, ‘I think they are, I think they just don’t have anyone else to look to as an example.’”
Last year, Wilson and Payne, who live in Bethlehem and Claremont, started talking about being that example, and bringing more women into the business. That’s how Those Plant Ladies was born in October 2019.
“We thought, ‘Why can’t we just have an all-female crew?’” Wilson said.
The business started slow, with some installations with paid and volunteer women helping put together landscape designs. The pair taught volunteers how to plant and care for plants and how to use the tools — from a spade to a tractor — with no judgment.
It was this year that the business blossomed. In March, Wilson left her job in Charlotte to pursue her own design business full-time. At the same time, the coronavirus pandemic hit, canceling all of Payne’s weddings she was scheduled to photograph.
Both were left with time on their hands to grow Those Plant Ladies. They started branding, selling merchandise and putting together a consistent crew for landscape installations.
When Wilson would design for a house, she gave clients the option to hire Those Plant Ladies for the installation.
Along with the paid crew, Wilson and Payne invite volunteers of all ages and walks of life to join. Women interested in plants or looking to get outside are welcomed to the crew to learn, grow and help one another learn.
“Our mission was kind of to inspire, educate and empower women to roll up their sleeves and get their hands dirty,'' Payne said.
The twins also started holding pop-up shops at hardware and plant stores. The shops partially help get their business name out there and help them get to know store owners. It also helps their following of women feel more comfortable visiting those stores, which can be intimidating to novice landscapers, Payne said.
Already, the pair have seen a positive result of their business. One woman started volunteering with them early on with little experience with plants or machinery. She’d always wanted to learn to use a tractor for her own land, but never did. After Those Plant Ladies taught her how, she went out and bought her own tractor.
Payne said that with everything they do they want to make sure they're adding value to the community.
"It helps women feel like they're part of something," she said.
The business also hosts a Facebook community for women to discuss plant issues, ask questions and help one another.
The next step for Those Plant Ladies is hosting workshops, with the first a lesson in container gardens for colder weather.
The business has grown to five full-time employees and more part-time. At first, the pair wanted to keep it local, and make sure they were serving their hometown community. Now, with the success they’ve had so far blending their skill sets and passions, they’re looking forward to an even wider impact.
“The first year has really pushed us, we’ve had five years of growth in one year,” Wilson said.
During that time, the meaning of the business name has grown into something more as well, Payne said. At first “those plant ladies,” were Payne and Wilson. As they’ve watched other women they lead grow and learn, they realized “those plant ladies” are everyone involved in the project.
Now, they’re looking forward to empowering women and bringing on the next generation — encouraging everyone to work with their hands and get outside, Wilson said. Men who are looking to help out and encourage women are welcome to join in as well, she said.
Through the work they’ve done with Those Plant Ladies, Wilson has realized she ‘s become the female leader she always hoped to see in her field.