The final straw happened over a strawberry. “It became a squirrel war when they ate my strawberries,” says Tik Tok sensation Marcus Bridgewater.

Before the incident, Bridgewater had spotted a pesky squirrel digging through pots and nibbling on roots. But he considered it an outright declaration of war when they went for the fruit. “The squirrel battle was real,” he says while surrounded by no less than 50 plants in his kitchen.

In actuality, the all-out assault — as insulting as it might have been — is what led Bridgewater his success as a social media “plantfluencer.” In assembling some backyard deterrents that would protect the plants and pesky neighborhood critters, Bridgewater, 34, realized he had advice that others should hear.

These days, Garden Marcus (as he’s known online) regularly imparts sage advice on mindfulness and self-care alongside helpful gardening tips to almost a million followers on Tik Tok and Instagram. Each of his viral videos embodies the philosophy of his wellness company Choice Forward, which focuses on improving lives through self-empowerment. It doesn’t hurt that they’ve earned him comparisons to both Bob Ross and Mister Rogers either. “And LeVar Burton,” he adds. “Like, the Reading Rainbow guy? That’s so humbling and so encouraging. It makes my cheeks hurt.”

Hard as it might be to believe, Bridgewater wasn’t born with a green thumb or a zen mind. Instead, he learned at his adopted grandmother’s side, gobbling the fruits of wisdom she offered as he deliberately watered her massive garden in Zellwood, Florida. “She’d say, ‘Make sure you water at the roots,’” he warmly recalls. “‘What good is it going to be if you throw some water on top?’”

Image: Amy Kinkead

That moral, he says, applies to people as much as plants: stronger and happier communities need to be fostered from the ground up with “kindness, patience, and positivity,” the plant connoisseur exclaimed.

However, the lesson she imparted didn’t fully bloom in his mind until 2014 when Bridgewater moved 16 plants from the Sunshine State to start his garden in Spring (poetic, we know). Only a handful survived his early trials and tribulations; many of the rest met their end in February’s notable bitter frost. In fact, much of the relaxing subtropical oasis online fans had grown accustomed to in Bridgewater’s short, nurturing videos fell victim to the unexpected snow.

Watching years of careful planting and hundreds of plants suddenly disappear in a blanket of white hurt deeply, but he found a lesson worth sharing with his fans. Loss, painful as it may be, is part of life, says Bridgewater, and from loss, there is opportunity. Instead of gazing over empty spaces in his 50 square feet of backyard with despair, the gardening guru’s experimenting with new planting techniques that might help his herbaceous babies better survive the unexpectedness of Houston weather.

And therein lies the seeds of knowledge that have rooted his channels into the hearts of so many. “Life is about growth, so we can learn a lot by watching things grow.”

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