[ I am new to this. It’s too early to declare love. It’s way too early to profess knowledge. This is what I have learnt so far. ]

“It’s now trendy to have house plants. Instagram is making people jump on the bandwagon. What a cliche.”

– an acquaintance.

“I don’t see it that way at all. I rejoice in the fact that we have more common ground than differences, in the pursuit of happiness. It can be really simple. Grow some plants. It’s accessible for everyone.”

– me.

“Only the ones who have never grown a plant are capable of saying such stupid words. The ones who garden are usually eager to share the happiness.”

– I wanted to say but that would have been very rude.

There is a certain happiness in nurture. It could be with a fellow human we find companionship in. It could be a child we raise. It could be a pet we grow old with. It could be a robot we train. It could be a tree that we plant. Of all of them, houseplants are the easiest to deal with !! They add that element of living beauty to my home. They clean the air inside for me to breathe. Why did I wait this long to get started ? Maybe it was the tiny home I was living in. I was terrified of every addition becoming clutter and stealing the limited space. Or maybe I hid behind ‘no green thumb here’ excuse. It’s a total myth. Nobody is born with brown or green fingers. Everyone learns it as we go. It is said that when a student is ready, the teacher appears. In my case, I found many teachers :

  • My ex-landlord Fernando is my biggest inspiration. He once asked us for a favor : to look after his garden when he was on vacation. Breathing the air, watching the sun set though the leaves, seeing the growth spurts, plucking the avocados, walking barefoot, touching the soil, ….. It was him doing us a favor. Harsha and I started to fight every day over who gets to water the garden. “Will you stand next to me when I water the plants?”, he once asked me. That sounded like a love letter to my ears. When I was leaving Fernando’s nest, he gave me a cutting of every single succulent he had and pots to house them.
  • I have been doing craigslist rescues all over Bay Area. Every single visit triggers a am-i-walking-into-a-seriel-killers-home-paranoia as a defense mechanism. 9 trips till date. 9 new friends. I have sat on their couches and shared plant memoirs. We text each other updates on the plants. Gardeners are a generous bunch. I usually come home with more than what I paid for : plant cuttings, extra potting soil, compost, manure from chickens, tea leaves, flowers, …  If plants can make humans magnanimous, I want them in my life.
  • Nostalgia is a teacher. When your parents, grandparents, great-grandparents, aunts, uncles, .. are farmers, its a genetic pre-disposition and the memories that propel you forward. As cliche as it sounds, ‘it’s in my blood to care for plants’.
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Buying them

  1. Rescuing older plants in my city, is my first preference. It’s easier to take over, from someone who put the effort into it and can pass on the knowledge. They would have prepared the soil and found a big enough planter. Half of the work is done. It’s cheaper too. ( I have gotten healthier plants from folk who grow their gardens. More so than hipsters who buy plants recreationally for home decor. )
  2. Buy from a reputed nursery who have gardeners on site. Home stores get their supply from nurseries and the fresh batches are the healthiest. The longer they seem to sit on the shelf, the less care they get. Each plant has its own requirements and a non-gardener in store is not the best person to provide it.
  3. The smaller plants is my preference. They are less of a financial loss if I cant get them to grow in my environment. They are easier to plant. They are cheaper. With large plants, I become a plant buyer. Some one else did all the work. I want to be a gardener, not a plant owner. I want to watch them grow. I want to celebrate every new leaf and flower.
  4. Do not buy large plants growing in small pots. Without enough soil and space to grow, the root system is undernourished.  The roots could get bound strangling each other.
  5. Avoid buying plants that are in display windows in stores. Avoid plants that show signs of pest or disease. Its hard to gauge the extent of infestation. It might spread to other plants in my home.
  6. Look at the bottom of the store planter for signs of root growing out of the holes.  Its a sign of neglect on the nursery’s part. You may have to cut them before repotting.
  7. Most nurseries have a clearance section for plants they want to get rid of. Unless you are an experienced gardener who can trouble shoot, stay away from it.
  8. Check for the labels on the plant. Do a quick internet search for maintenance requirements. I got carried away with some pretty ferns and am currently struggling to keep the humidity levels to keep them happy. Check for poisonous plants if you have pets and children. Some of the Instagram famous plants are rather high maintenance. Exercise caution.
  9. For a newbie like me, warm weather is a good time to bring new plants to my home. During the winter months, getting them to survive is harder.
  10. Propagating plants is a more economic and organic way to grow plants. It’s wonderful to have friends who garden. The legend has it that Fernando built his garden by collecting seeds and cuttings over the last 30 years.
  11. In a short amount of time, I have learnt that there are plant trends that you got to resist. Some of them get hoisted to exotic status for what ever reason. (Ahem, because they are photogenic.) They are sold for a premium in select stores. Craigslist becomes a bidding ground for the the exotics. But if you wait, they make their way into home stores and become affordable. Ikea now has Fiddle Fig leaf tree and Home Depot has string of pearls. Like fashion, plants seem to go out of trend and something else becomes the hot plant of the year.
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Planters

  1. Plastic pots have some advantages but I am too biased to mention them here.
  2. Clay pots are heavier than plastic pots. They are stabile which matters for bigger plants. Their porous nature absorbs excess water. They allow excess salts from fertilizer to escape. They have temperature regulation properties. They stay cool in summer which keeps the compost from drying up sooner.
  3. Craigslist is a great place to find planters. Its wise to have some on hand, at all times.
  4. Always choose a planter with a drainage hole in the bottom. Root rot is hard to treat.
  5. Planter size is measured as the diameter across rim-to-rim. Plants need to be repotted every year as they grow. They recommend not going up by more than 2 inches / next size up.
  6. Always have a saucer to catch the excess water under the pot. Some plants require deep watering and fear of ruining floor boards might hold you back from doing so.
  7. Never buy planters which are thick in the middle while being narrow on top and bottom. The roots will grow wide in the middle and would be hard to remove when you need to repot next year. ( The plater in the photo below is a bad idea. )
  8. I enjoy ceramics and am keen on finding some artwork in this department.
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Soil

  1. A bad gardener grows weeds. A gardener grows plants. A good gardener cultivates the soil.
  2. Garden soil is not the right medium for indoor plants. I have two plants that are infested because I scooped out soil from outdoors and mixed it with my vegetable compost. (Taking them out of the pot, giving them a bath and fresh soil revived them. ) Use a proper potting soil for your indoor plants. Else, the soil maybe acidic, alkaline, nutritionally deficit or have an imbalance of clay/silt/loam. It might be contaminated by pests and disease.
  3. Loom based composts ( available in most home stores and nurseries ) are the traditional choice. Ingredients include : sterilized loom, sand, peat, fertilizers, limestone, …
  4. Peat based composts dry out quicker than loam based types and some plants like this type of soil. ( They are called soil less compost. )
  5. Potting composts are specially formulated for root growth and are free of pests.
  6. Garden compost is the sort I make from my kitchen waste is not suitable for indoor plants.
  7. Buy from nursery so that you can ask about the type of soil needed, from a gardener on site.
  8. Periodically nourish the soil. For indoor plants, it has to come from some sort of fertilizer. The downside of using fertilizer is the salts that accumulate with age. Giving plants a bath and repotting help. Water soluble fertilizers, slow release granules, compost tea, ….. help.
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Light

  1. Light is a spectrum of colors. To generalize, plants use the red ( to form flowers ) and blue ( to grow foliage ).
  2. Duration and intensity of light can be figured out from the cardinal direction your windows face. Intensity of light decreases with the distance from the window. Duration varies by season. Cleanliness of the window matters too.
  3. Every plant has its own specific requirements. Lots of my plants are ones that grow deep in the canopy of the forest and burn up if placed in direct sun. We try our best to recreate the conditions of its natural habitat.
  4. Curtains matter. I currently have some cheese cloth and muslin on my windows to provide diffused light.
  5. Do not move plants from dull light to strong light. Let them gradually adjust.
  6. The color of the walls matter. Lighter shades reflect light while the darker colors absorb more. Mirrors help with adding light to an otherwise dimly lit corridor/room.
  7. Leaves usually turn towards the light and you will need to rotate the planter often to not have a plant that leans towards the windows.
  8. Wipe your leaves periodically. A dust covered leaf will not absorb enough photons to support photosynthesis.
  9. Electric light is an option for homes without windows. It is possible to grow herbs and vegetables in mini grow houses.
  10. Mirrors reflect light and can contribute to the required amount of photons.
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Location

  1. Some plants react poorly to wind coming from open doors and drafts from ill fitting windows. They react to such stress by dropping leaves and flower buds.
  2. Bathrooms and kitchen are more humid than the rest of the home.
  3. Some plants do not like being touched and need to be put away from foot traffic.
  4. Plants are not art work or furniture. They cant be placed where ever the decor needs an object. Find a spot that meets the light, wind and humidity requirements.
  5. Most plants don’t like the ventilation from your AC blowing directly at them. Pay attention to the placement.
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Water

  1. It is recommended that you water as slowly and deeply as possible. Give the roots the time to absorb the water instead of letting it run through the soil into the saucer.
  2. Some plants do not like water touching the stems / leaves. Some plants like mist on their stems / leaves. Know what your plants like.
  3. Some plants like humidity. Some plants need humidity to thrive. If its natural habitat is a tropical rainforest, placing it in your dry living room is cruel. Spraying water is not the same since it only increases the humidity in the surroundings for a minute or two. A pebble tray or a room humidifier are good options.
  4. Do not water on one side of the pot. Some roots getting too much water leads to root rot which is hard to treat. Try to uniformly wet the soil.
  5. When to water a plant and how much, is not a generic solution. It’s something a gardener learns.
  6. If you see mushrooms and moss grow in your pot, it’s a sign of over watering. Cut back but rejoice about the fact that your soil is healthy enough to support these organisms.
  7. Type of water : some plants react poorly to the fluoride/chloride content in tap water. I have seen gardeners harvest rain water and use it to water the plants. I used filtered water.
  8. Temperature of water (?)
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Hidden Costs

  1. Time commitment. I take 10 minutes every morning to water the plants. I have two plants that need water twice a day. Will they all die if I go away for a weekend ? Once a week, I wipe down the leaves when I clean my house.
  2. Water consumption. The nicer looking plants like monstera, ferns, etc are transplants from african tropical forests. They like humid air and wet soil. Succulents are easiest to take care of and need very infrequent watering from the humans to thrive.
  3. A special kind of anxiety that worries about the health of the plants. Are they getting enough sun ? Should I fertilize it ? Oh no, a brown spot. The leaves are drooping. Google, what wrong with my plant ? Tell me ! Tell me now.
  4. Do not get carried away and bring home a lot of plants. They will need to be re-potted next year into bigger pots. It’s wiser to add new ones as old pots empty out.
  5. Greed. Its tempting to fill the house with plants. The line between passion and greed is crossed when you know that you cant provide the care they need. I have about 20 indoor plants and this is as much as I can handle for this year.
  6. Stress. When I see leaves of a certain plant browning or if I see the windows open, I start to worry for my plants. I really wish I gradually added plants over the months instead of over weeks. My heart is not set up to see them die or suffer or gather diseases.
  7. Pests. ( I don’t know enough about it. )
  8. Pruning for optimal health. ( This has to be learnt on by-plant basis. )
  9. Death of a plant is very painful. It’s a possibility.
  10. Keep track of the plant schedule. I have a private Pinterest board with a pin each for every plant I bring in. I have a watering schedule on my fridge. It’s quick reference for when in doubt.
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Decor design

  1. This is subjective. Some folks like a lot of color and texture. I like the minimal aesthetic and negative space. Showing restrain in number of plants definitely makes the space more airy. But I think I like urban jungles.
  2. I have seen some stunning homes use white walls for a background, earthy tones for accessories and use plants to bring in the color.
  3. Tiny home living has shut me off to any sort of decor ideas. I am starting to learn from scratch. I know that something is “off” in my space but I don’t know how to fix it. Everything I do looks amateurish. I currently am years away from getting my space to look good. I starting following decor blogs for ideas and inspiration.
  4. Too much variety and too many exotics aren’t harmonious. They can quickly become visual clutter. (Especially since I view home as a place of sanctuary and want some calm from the outside world. )
  5. In landscape design, they talk about 3 variables : color, form & texture. Color refers to foliage. It can range from light chartreuse to deep olive green. Form refers to erect, columnar, triangular, creeping or sprawling. Texture refers to fine, medium or coarse. As a rule of thumb, you are asked to vary no more than one of these three aspects to achieve harmony. ( This is easier said than done. I initially bought plants because I liked the shape of the leaves and patterns on them. Much like a closet full of prints, they don’t pair well. I am not happy with how my plants look next to each other. But I am happy to have them at home. With time, I will alter my space to reduce the entropy. )
  6. Having some uniformity among the planters helps with the harmony.  All terracota or smooth finish or unglazed or white or black – work well together. But play with color if its one plant per room and the room is rather neutral in tone.
  7. Pay attention to larger plants like you would to furniture. They take up the space and make a statement.
  8. Bicycles, books, mirrors, weathered wood, stone, clay, … make great plant companions.
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Hidden Joys

  1. Cheaper than therapy. Coming home to them after a long day is bliss.
  2. Our space was practically empty when we transported our belongings from our tiny home to this cottage. I do not want to fill it up with stuff. He likes colorful lived in full spaces. I call it clutter. Plants are a great midway point for us.
  3. You connect with fellow plant people. I have visited acquaintances who have given a plant tour of their house.
  4. I have learnt a little about plants in the last 2 months. Imagine what I will learn a year from now ! A decade from now ! How many plants would I have nurtured ? How many tress can I plant ? How many books would I have read on this subject ? Will I acquire some wisdom from the trees ?
  5. “To plant a garden is to be hopeful for the future”, said Audrey Hepburn. I am a very cynical person and my plants are teaching me optimism & resilience.
  6. The view. I see sunsets through the leaves of my houseplants and it reminds me of the reason I climb mountains. I see the shadows made by the leaves as I make my morning coffee. I see Cinco hide under the plants after he does something naughty and is about to get yelled at. We have blurred the lines between indoor and outdoor life – just by a little.
  7. Gardening/farming teaches you another way of life. It forces you to slow down and observe nature. You start to notice the changes in leaves and they talk to you.
  8. Cinco, the cat, seems to love the plants. He lounges around them. Smells them. Sleeps under them.

Must-have Tools  : Watering can, humidifier, pruning sheers

Chores can go two ways. A dull job that needs to be done repetitively. A simple effortless ritual that is joyful for no apparent reason.  The difference is a matter of sensory inputs during the process. Touching this beautiful piece of metal while watering the plants can be rather up-lifting. Plants need to be pruned from time to time. It is one extra task to an already full day. The beautiful shears make the process a joy. My plants and my skin dislike dry air. This personal humidifier is easy to move around – between rooms, between desks, between plant pockets in the house, … Invest in beautiful instruments that last.

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Link love :

This post by Ethel Grace in memory of her mother.

Jeannie Phan’s StudioPlants blog and instagram account.

Farm Coast House plants and Urban Jungle Blog.

Hilton Carter’s home.

Victoria’s blog Mango & Salt.

A beginners guide to house plants, by someone very knowledgable.

Waste issues when gardening.

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( More gardening posts are on their way. ) 

indigo shirt on TUWL

OOTD  :

t-shirt : Everlane. Dyed a white one with indigo pigment.

Pants : COS karate pants. ( Similar )

Sunscreen : Jose Maran Argan daily Moisturizer SPF 47

Accessories : Cinco, my puppy cat.