I’m fairly confident that in my last ejo I made it crystal clear that I am not the motherly type. But that doesn’t mean I’m incapable of being motherly. Or loving. Or that I can’t care for, or nurture, another living thing. I am absolutely obsessed with dogs, and utterly devastated that I can’t have one of my own. I accost the dog owners of our local community on the daily, shouting, “PUPPY!” at every adorable canine I see. But sadly, the wanderlusting lifestyle that David and I have chosen precludes us from owning a pet. But… it doesn’t stop us from owning plants.
As most of you know, my mother had a spectacularly green thumb. Her garden was legendary. I’m not sure I’ve inherited her horticultural abilities, but I don’t think it would be too bold to say that I am pretty good at keeping houseplants alive. That hasn’t always been the case, and many (too many) blameless green darlings have met their untimely demise whilst under my care. I have felt each one, as a dagger in my heart. I love my plants, as I would love my own children (and I will wrestle to the ground anyone who dares to challenge that premise). My plants are my babies, and no, that’s not weird. You’re weird.
Over the years I have learned to care for a variety of beautiful plants, through the aforementioned trial and error. I can now confidently and intuitively assess what each of my kiddies requires to thrive (or at least not die). The biggest secret I’ve learned? A little bit of tough love won’t kill ‘em. Overwatering is a far bigger assault than letting them dry out a bit. However, it’s not simply a case of popping them in a corner and watering them once in a while (though some plants are easier to look after than others – I’m looking at you Adele!!!). The needs of plants differ from one to the other, and from one day to the next. Houseplants may seem inert, but they are dynamic, living things. They get hungry, thirsty, hot, cold and sick. They can also be happy. I must say that I find it very fulfilling, having something to look after. I enjoy being responsible for these beautiful living organisms. And in turn they repay me with purified air, fresh oxygen and exquisite beauty. Who is looking after whom? Naturally they all have names, but I do want to point out that I don’t ever name them myself. They tell me what their own names are, when they’re ready. Sometimes that’s a couple of days after we adopt them, other times they whisper it to me from the supermarket shelf they’re sitting on. They are all unique and wonderful and I simply adore them. And so, just like a proud mummy showing off her precociously talented youngsters, I would like to introduce you to my green kiddies.
ADAN & LULU
Adan is an Aglaonema silver queen, also known as a Chinese evergreen. And LuLu is an Epipremnum aureum, also known as devil’s ivy. She’s also sometimes called golden pothos and she is ridiculously easy to care for and grow. Adan and LuLu are my “other” plant family. Some people have work husbands or work wives. I have work children. And yes, they are mine. Whenever I would visit the office levels of our building, I’d see all these amazing large potted plants around the place and that made me jealous for us tower folk, bereft of any greenery. So I asked facilities to please bring up one or two big plants for the tower, and what we got was Adan. Better than nothing. I’ve taped a little sign on him asking the other controllers to not water him, so he’s doing really well. He gets a lot of indirect sunlight and is rather delighted to be up in the tower rather than being stuck on a desk in some stuffy office.
LuLu is actually a cutting of golden pothos that I rescued from someone’s workstation. She’s unusual in that she can grow in water and doesn’t need soil to survive. Clever girl, LuLu.
Adele was a Spathiphyllum, commonly known as a peace lily. More like a grief lily, if you ask me. Adele has been my third attempt to care for a peace lily and she will definitely be the last. No matter what I do, I just cannot keep these little bitches alive. I don’t even think they’re that hard to look after. The folks at gardeningknowhow.com reckon that, “When it comes to indoor plants, peace lily plants are some of the easiest to care for.” What absolute bullshit. Just ask Adele. And Lillian. And Sylvia. I’m pretty sure they would disagree. Look, in the interests of full disclosure I will admit that of the three, Lillian’s death was probably my fault. Mea culpa. She was whining and wilting, so I popped her outside in the sunshine for a couple of hours in the hope of reviving her. How was I supposed to know that direct sunlight would kill her? Involuntary manslaughter, at worst.
But Adele was supposed to be different. She was my chance at redemption. I kept her away from direct sunlight. I watered her with filtered water, I misted her. I caressed her. I spoilt her rotten. To no avail. She finally carked it a couple of weeks ago after a quite obnoxious, and melodramatically protracted, deathbed scene. That’s it for me, no more. Peace (lilies) out.
Lucy is a Dracaena marginata, commonly known as a Madagascar dragon tree. I can’t even remember where I got Lucy, we’ve had her for so long. She’s grown from a wee baby dragon lass of about 20cm tall to the gorgeous Amazonian beauty you see today. But it hasn’t been an easy road with her. She really put us through the wringer, and there was a time that I wasn’t even sure she was going to make it. You wouldn’t know it looking at her lush foliage now, but for a few years she was simply unable to shake a mealybug (or scale) infestation – pests that cause plants to stop growing and start dropping their leaves, eventually leading to their death. I did everything I could. I would pick the little fuckers off individually, by hand. I sprayed her with a special soapy vodka solution. I put her outside. I moved her around the house. I would just sit with her. Nothing seemed to work. She would get better for a while and then the bugs would come back. At my lowest point, in desperation, I told David that if she didn’t get better I would just leave her outside and let someone else take her. Someone who might be able to look after her better. I’m not proud of that moment. But it happened, and I think it’s important that we talk about it. I’m so grateful that (with a lot of love and support) she managed to kick that bug habit to the kerb. After years of being feeble and sickly, she is now absolutely flourishing, strong and beautiful and I absolutely adore her, all the more for what she put us through. Her illness could have torn us apart, but instead it brought us closer together. And the biggest lesson she taught me: never give up.
Doris is a Dracaena fragrans, commonly known as a corn plant. Doris is another old girl that once nearly died (though she was never as ill as Lucy). She just suffered from a general malade, and it took me a long time to figure out why. It was Doris who taught me about the dangers of overwatering. You feel that giving them more water is an act of love, but it’s actually a death sentence. Their roots start to rot and they slowly lose the will to live. I look at Doris now and marvel at the difference a cup of water a month makes.
Eugene started off as a Gymnocalycium mihanovichii, which Google tells me is also sometimes called a ruby ball cactus. That’s because they’re supposed to look like this:
And Eugene did indeed start off looking like that. I have no idea what happened to him; perhaps he was bitten by a radioactive mealybug. But very shortly after he moved in, his ruby ball started to rot and wither away. Even though he was just a two buck ornamental toy cactus, I felt kind of ripped off. To be honest, I expected the rest of him to follow the ruby ball into an early grave, but shortly afterwards Eugene started growing in his own unique way. He grew so much that he started falling over so I decided to do some horticultural sculpting, practicing shibari, the ancient Japanese art of knot-tying on him. Every few months a cactus segment will grow out the side, so I lovingly and gently, but firmly, wrap the long, woody tendrils around the other ones, tying them all together. I have no idea how long we can keep this up, but I can guarantee that it won’t be me who says the safe word first.
Sybil is an Echeveria agavoides, also sometimes known as a wax agave. Sybil started off as one of those cute miniature succulent pots but she very quickly outgrew her home because she kept multiplying. This made her depressed and anxious, and she started dropping leaves so I did what every good mum would do and moved her into a nice big bowl where she has plenty of room to grow her own little babies (very adorably known as pups). You can call me grandmamma, I don’t mind!!
Stewie is an Alocasia mortfontanensis, also known as elephant’s ears. He was another supermarket purchase and actually came in the big while bowl that Sybil is now residing in. The problem with the bowl for Stewie is that he likes a lot of drainage and the bowl doesn’t have any holes, so his roots became too wet and he started drooping and looking a bit wistful. I knew that I had to take immediate action, so I repotted him and moved him to a different spot (these two things really are the best first aid a plant can get). He has rewarded me with three gorgeous new leaves, and I reward him with cuddles and my unconditional love.
Meet the gang. Sarah is a Dracaena trifasciata, also known as a mother-in-law’s tongue, or snake plant. She is a super slow grower which is probably for the best because apparently she has the potential to grow up to eight feet tall. Woah there Sarah, slow your roll girl!
Rico is a Goeppertia makoyana, also known as a peacock plant. What I love about Rico is that every night he becomes quite erect!!! I mean, literally. His leaves all stand to attention like little soldiers. It’s quite amazing to see. Also, when I took his picture right now to identify him correctly, the plant-Shazam app, Picture This, told me that I am a horrible mother and that plant services have been alerted. God, this parenthood jam just never lets up, does it.
Fran is a Nephrolepis exaltata, also known as a Boston fern. I don’t do so well with ferns, and I’ve definitely killed more than my fair share. But I somehow managed to keep Fran from dying, pulling her back from the light at the eleventh hour. It really is a miracle that she’s still alive, to be honest. She has about twenty fronds right now, but after I conducted life-saving emergency surgery on her (with a Stanley knife, no less) she was left with just one sad, droopy little frond. As you can see she is slowly growing back. I mist her once in a while, and she seems to like that so I’ll keep doing it.
Sally is a Schefflera arboricola, also known as a dwarf umbrella tree. Sally is not my favourite plant in the world, and I have a feeling she knows it. She’s just so goddamn boring. Which is the exact reason I’m so glad I never had kids. What if I’d had a boring one!!! A tiresome child that I just couldn’t be arsed with. Imagine wishing (as I do with Sally) that I’d never brought the little bugger into the world/my home to start with. And now I feel guilty so I have to lavish her with some attention to make myself feel better. She’s still fucking boring though.
Fakey is the “plant” next to Sally on the bottom row (see what I did there). I own a couple of fake plants because I really love having greenery in the bathrooms and unfortunately our bathrooms are completely devoid of any natural light, which plants obviously need to live. Here are the other ones. They don’t have names, obvs, coz they’re not real.
To be continued…..