About a month ago, on my 27th birthday I came home to a package on my doorstep. It was a gift from my sister, a Split Leaf Philodendron or Monstera (shown in above photo on the far right of the table) that had been overnighted, wrapped securely in a garbage bag and placed inside a cardboard box with packing peanuts.
This gift couldn’t have come at a more perfect time. My head had been swarming with some pretty frustrating thoughts about my own self worth (ugh) and I was feeling overwhelmed with some recent career choices (double ugh). I kind of stopped caring about anything and really just focused on getting through the days which doesn’t feel very healthy. Getting this present from my sister was so timely, it almost felt like she knew what I needed before even I did.
If you’d told me five years ago that I would be getting houseplants as presents I would have been… annoyed. What kind of person gifts another person with responsibility and obligation for their birthday? It’s like showing up at someone’s door with a newborn and saying, “Here, take care of this forever and don’t kill it.” And while houseplants are a little more forgivable and resilient than babies, the feeling that they’re something you have to take care of and provide for isn’t imaginary.
Well it turns out I’ve taken to this new project well. I spent the majority of the last few years basically refusing to be responsible for anything other than myself. But as I’ve made great efforts to heal and care for myself, I’ve become more comfortable with the idea of being responsible again. It’s pretty low-stakes over here, taking care of fermented food related things like a sourdough starter or a kombucha SCOBY, but my new plant from my sister woke something up inside of me.
I can’t really explain it, I just connected with this new life. I was so eager to stop thinking about myself and all the bad things I was thinking about that I threw myself into caring about plants. I quickly named my little guy Sully (after Chesley “Sully” Sullenberger of Miracle on the Hudson fame), repotted him into a large ceramic pot in my room and spent hours learning how to take care of him on various websites and forums. I was careful to only water him when the top third of his soil was dry and basically just cried tears of happiness whenever I looked at him. And then a new leaf unfurled, and it had those beautiful splits in it, which meant I was doing a good job of taking care of him and he was maturing. I was thriving.
So then I bought like a million more plants.
First I got this Red Prayer Plant, and named him Robert Langdon. You might know him from the great American novel, The DaVinci Code by Dan Brown. He’s wild. He’s got purple and green leaves, and they fold up kind of like he’s praying at night. I didn’t really know what to expect since I ordered him online, and mostly just liked his coloring, but I did some research and I’m really excited to take care of this bad boy. PS here’s a video of how prayer plants move around during the day which I think is freakin’ fascinating, it really reminds me how plants are living things. Blah blah the miracle of nature blah blah life finds a way blah blah.
Here’s my Fiddle Leaf Fig who I bought next. I put him in a beautiful (and affordable) terracotta pot that I purchased from a hardware store and named him Joe (like the one Versus the Volcano). He lives on the stairs where he can grow super tall (up to six feet!) and get lots of indirect light thanks to a north facing window and skylight. I also tied up his leaves with soft bands to encourage vertical growth and I mist his leaves every few days to keep him humid and happy. I’ve read that Fiddle Leaf Figs can be pretty finicky, but I’m looking forward to the challenge. This is also what I assume my therapist thinks about me when I sit down for a session.
But then something bad happened. I was minding my own business, watching summer turn into fall, just being happy and waking up every morning to smile at my plants when I noticed that Sully had started developing dry brown spots on his leaves, and that two of them had actually turned yellow. Yoikes.
Here’s the frustrating thing about plants. There’s not really hard and fast rules about how to take care of them. Besides water and sunlight, there are SO many other factors involved in keeping plants healthy. And I clearly had been doing something wrong. What’s even more frustrating is that when you type in “brown spots yellow leaves monstera” on google you end up with like six different webpages all telling you that brown spots and yellow leaves are usually a sign of either overwatering or underwatering. Well which one is it?!?!
After I abandoned google and placed a minor hex on their algorithm I posted about Sully on a houseplant forum. Eventually the group came to the conclusion that I had repotted Sully into much too large of a pot, at least three sizes too big, and that even though I was being careful not to water too much, his roots were basically drowning with the amount of water it took for the soil to be moist.
I don’t think it was until that exact moment when I realized how much I truly love Sully. I mean I love all my plants but Sully is like, my guy. The knowledge that I was literally drowning him with my love, made me feel sick. For a long time I’ve been pretty complacent about the things I own, never being too protective and kind of operating with the thought that it’s all just stuff. It can all be replaced. And I still feel that way about a lot of my material possessions, they’re just things. But I don’t feel that way about my plants, because my first thought when Sully’s leaves turned yellow wasn’t “ if he dies I’ll just buy a new one.” My first thought was, “how can I save him?” He’s special to me and even though we’ve only spent a month together I just want to see him grow up and be big and strong. I want him to move with me into the home I buy someday, and I want to be able to propagate little baby Sullys to share with my friends.
After crying and whining about it, I bought another terracotta pot, gently snipped off the dying leaves and repotted Sully into a home that’s much more appropriately sized.
Now he looks like this. He seems happy and I really like how the pot looks against his shiny green leaves. Those big splits in the front leaf will hopefully form in all the new leaves that come out once Sully has adjusted.
And last (for now, or until I go bananas again) is this little Philodendron named Sam Baldwin. He’s just an ordinary guy who lives on a houseboat in Seattle and also managed to fall in love with Meg Ryan. These plants are apparently really easy to take care of. He came planted in that cute little ceramic pot and will eventually trail all over the living room.
That’s pretty much it, I highly recommend houseplants to anyone, I find that my overall mood is so much better with all the natural greenery in my home, and I look forward to tracking their growth throughout the years. It’s a little excessive to say that plants give me something live for, but there’s definitely some truth to that statement. I feel like someone just repotted me into my own little pot and now I’m happy and have lots of water to drink.
If you’re interested, and even if you’re not I’ll continue to post about my little plant family on here. I’m even thinking about putting a plant guide together since I’ve been learning so much the last month and I want to compile all the information I have in one place. I went from having five easy to care for succulents to having four real deal houseplants in like 15 days, so I’ve got a lot to learn but I’m happy ‘bout it.
I purchased all my plants online, but you can find most of the ones I have from local nurseries or garden stores.
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