Getting back into houseplants

For most of my twenties and thirties, I took on houseplants as if I ran an orphanage for wayward green children. Everyone was welcome, although not everyone thrived. Despite how easy they’re supposed to be, I managed to kill THREE jade plants, oh it hurts to even think about it. One of them came to me so big and beautiful and luscious, a regal beauty in a shining brass pot. Perched on a tall iron stand near the window, she was the Queen of the House Garden for as long as she lasted. It still breaks my heart to remember how she rotted. I didn’t see it, she looked completely normal (or so I thought, but I was still learning). I remember the horror I felt when I tried to poke at the base and the whole thing just fell apart in moist, fetid chunks. What a day.

And then we moved into our most recent Seattle house, and for those eight years I didn’t have enough light to grow anything. The house had two great windows for plants, one was over a stairwell and the other was in my son’s room. He wasn’t really keen on the whole, “You can live in here but can I visit your room all the time to grow a garden?” plan. My collection slowly died off or was given away. My chronic illness got worse and worse, and I became unable to sail with regularity, and visiting parks in Seattle was difficult because of crowds, parking, and traffic. This all added up to my “contact with nature” life column becoming pitifully low. Part of that was why we moved back to Oregon, but I didn’t realize how powerful it really was until we got here.

We were lucky enough to get an apartment with a wide bay window in the kitchen, WHOO!

Here’s what it looked like the day we moved in (yes, that’s snow outside on March 1st!):

Awwww! Don’t they look lonely?

Don’t worry.

I took care of it.

This was taken today. My heart just fills with love, every morning, when I come out and see this little green (and red!) family greet me. I haven’t named them all, but they all have personalities. I can’t help it, their innate preferences, once learned, become a story that I start to tell myself about them whenever I care for them.

This angel wing begonia has a great story. My mom was given this plant way back in….oh gosh, it must’ve been 2004 or so? I think someone at work had this on their desk, and didn’t want it anymore. My mom (who has that same tendency to take in plants, animals, children) cheerfully took it off their hands. But then I think she was either swamped with a lot of other plants, or it wasn’t growing well, because at some point she said, “Do you want this?” and she hands me this pot with….a stick in it. That’s what it looked like, just a stick in a pot, like someone had been hiking through a forest and picked up some woody bit of forest detritus and thought, “‘l’ll stick this in a pot and call it a plant.” In fact I think I even joked to her something like, “Is that even….alive?” It might have had one tiny, spindly leaf.

I took it home, put it in a north-facing window, and basically said, “Okay, I’ll water you, but you’re going to have to muster some strength to come back from this.” For a long time nothing happened.  And then suddenly, it just burst forth, little baby-Groot arms shooting out a few gorgeous silvery spotted leaves that grew bigger and bigger until, there it was. A real plant. I’d never seen anything like it. I had to take a photo of it to a garden store before someone recognized it and said, “That’s an angel wing begonia”. Sure enough.

The picture above is the original plant. She and I have been through a lot. When my kids were toddlers, she bloomed for my birthday one year – I came downstairs and she had flung out this stem that was dripping with coral pink flowers. I think I cried. Overall though, she’s a bit fussy. We still aren’t quite sure how to make things work all the time – like I just realized when I took this photo that her leaves are turning brown, which means she needs to get out of the sun.

Her daughter, however, like most teenagers, can’t get out of the house and into the light fast enough:

I keep pulling this one back from the window and they keep growing out again, banging against the door.

Here are a few of the other plant family members:

I love this money plant. Anything that looks like a miniature tree is solid gold in my book. And yeah, I love bonsai, but I haven’t figure out how to care for them properly so I’m still holding back on one of those.

My favorite plant store in Eugene (okay admittedly the only one I’ve visited) is called Down to Earth, and their staff is wonderfully knowledgeable, I really enjoy hanging out there and asking questions. I’ve been afraid to get back into succulents again because of The Jade Debacles, and  one of the women there helped lure me back with a few of these little friends. She offered to plant them altogether in the pot I’d picked out, and then she added a rock and a little piece of driftwood. She’s like an interior designer for plant homes. I added the mushroom – that’s from a glass artisan here who has a booth at our Saturday Market. She explained how to care for them, recommended a great book (which I bought), and sent me on my way. Three months later, here we are. They’re doing very well!

I’ve gone from feeling like nature was slipping away from me, to getting to live with all this light and all these plants – which has become a huge boost to me on the days I’m sick enough that getting out is too tough. On the days I can get out, I’ve got the river right down the path, and doing that walk almost every day has become “like medicine”, as I keep saying. Nature is medicine, nature is medicine. I want a t-shirt that says that. A bumper sticker. A tattoo. (I’d love a President that said that.)

More plants coming….


5 thoughts on “Getting back into houseplants

    1. Well we’re moving in a few weeks, but yes, in the new house we have an amazing sunroom (I learned my lesson about needing light) and I will hopefully be growing all kinds of new things!


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