Sometimes we all go out shopping and return home with something you never set out to buy or even actually need. For some people it is trainers, for others the newest handbag, for me it is the humble indoor plant. It started with a tiny cactus with a beautiful pink flower on the top which sadly I killed within a couple of months. Undeterred I decided this untimely death would not be the end of my plant parentage.
Take 2 was a medium Echeveria Imbricata, also known as a blue rose, which I loved…too much. Water is a fantastic thing for plants; however, you can have too much of a good thing and plant 2 was loved to death.
So far, I had killed 2 ‘unkillable’ plants and my green fingers seemed to be more gangrenous than horticultural. Regardless when I saw Vera, a beautiful aloe vera plant lit by the orange light of the Sainsbury’s sign, I could not resist. At the time I was living in a tiny studio flat in the middle of the city and I was well and truly surrounded by concrete. I took Vera in and, for once, a plant of mine had survived for more than a couple of months. Success at last!
Every time I looked out of my window at the concrete jungle, I saw Vera. And this humble plant put a smile of my face. It was my little patch of nature in the hard world around me. When I adopted Vera it was a difficult period in my life, but slowly as I began to grow as a person so did Vera. We had formed a strange human-plant symbiotic relationship, and each new sprouting leaf reflected my own personal growth.
Now Vera is 2 and a half years old and about 3 times her previous size. She is a bit of a big-daddy and her pot is way too big to sit on a windowsill anymore. But she still stands proudly (even after a bit of a fly infection after over-watering) as a symbol of flourishing through difficulty.
Of course, it did not stop with Vera, but it continued to a Yucca plant, lots of leafy plants whose names I forget, a cheese plant, a kentia palm, an ever-reproducing pineapple plant and lastly a cactus terrarium so overgrown that it has well and truly broken my succulent curse.
I even bought a crinkly leaf plant on a drunken escapade, but hey, they are worse things to do whilst under the influence! I fear that one day it will turn into a real ‘Little Shop of Horrors’ situation, but for now I love my little indoor jungle.
Let’s get to the science!
And not only are plants beautiful for our environment, but they are also fantastic for our psychology (which I suppose makes sense considering our nature-dwelling ancestors).
Not only that, in Jenna Macciochi in her book ‘Immunity: The Science of Staying Well’ she shows how gardening and interacting with soil is also great for our immune system.
And the benefits of an indoor garden only improve when we look at how actually caring for plants impacts us. The following study is fascinating- it divided a nursing home into two sections. Both groups were to have plants in their room, but only one of the groups were to be ‘responsible’ for looking after said plants. The other group would have the nursing staff looking after their plants.
The study found that the elderly residents who cared for their plant had better rates of mental well-being and even health. As we get older, we often lose responsibility that we previously had through retiring, our children aging and potentially moving into assisted living. For the people in the nursing home, looking after the plant helped them to regain a real sense of agency in their lives. In essence, looking after something else, helped them look after themselves more.
“Watching something grow is good for morale. It helps us believe in life”Myron S. Kaufman
Plants are so good for our own self-care. A plant will give us a very visible sign that it needs to be watered or that it needs more light. It will wilt or change colour pretty quickly. Whereas when we fail to meet our personal needs, this can sometimes fly under the radar. By being responsible for something else, other than ourselves, it serves as a reminder that we also need a little TLC to thrive and blossom.
Which leads nicely onto the thesis of this online mini-essay… Humans are surprisingly similar to plants. I know brains, souls, personal volition etc. etc. but hear me out, I think there are an awful lot of lessons that can be learned from our plants.
Plant Lesson 1- Rehoming
With all the love and care you give your plants they will eventually grow too big for their pots. Your normally happy looking plant may begin to wilt. To work out why you might discover that the plants roots are escaping out the bottom of the pot. Simply, the plant has grown too big for its current environment and to continue to grow, it must move to a bigger pot.
Sometimes, we also need a move to a bigger pot. Maybe it is a job that is easy and comfortable, but ultimately boring and unfulfilling. You have learnt all you can, and you are beginning to feel like your skills and abilities are wasted in your current position. And the thought of spending the rest of your life in the same position is giving you that gnawing feeling in your stomach. Much like the flourishing plant, you have outgrown your environment and it is time to move on.
Moving pots is an uncomfortable and lengthy procedure. It feels weird, you are left with your roots exposed to the air whilst you enter your new pot. But after you have settled, you can grow bigger and better than before. You can flourish.
Plant Lesson 2- Pruning
Pruning was always something I hated doing. Why would I want to cut off a bit of a plant? Maybe if I just waited a little bit longer this clearly brown and dying leaf would suddenly make a miracle recovery, and everything would look fine again. Spoiler alert- they never did, instead they shriveled up and died. But then I was told, its essential to prune so that the plant can put its finite amount of energy into keeping the rest of the plant alive and thriving. There is no point in expending energy into a leaf that will not improve. Keeping on trying on growing something fruitless is only hindering the plants health.
An idea that seems simple in the plant world is filled with so much more emotion in our own lives. Saying goodbye to something, someone or even parts of ourselves is difficult, even if we know the current situation doesn’t work. Though the first cut to get rid of a dead leaf hurts, it allows us to stop pouring our energy into a bottomless pit that will give us nothing in return. We can turn this energy inwards instead. Sometimes we need to cut off old leaves to remain healthy.
Plant Lesson 3- different habitats
We do not question that different plants need different habitats. It is readily understood that whilst a cactus thrives in dry arid conditions, an orchid in the same conditions would not survive. I did not bat an eyelid when my cheese plant needed to be moved to my bathroom to a more humid environment to do its thing. This simple fact that different types of plant have different needs is second nature… if you’ll pardon the pun. So why is this idea so difficult for ourselves?
When we are in an environment that we struggle in we question ourselves- why can I not do this? Why is this so difficult for me? Why do I not feel happy? If an orchid said “Yeah I live in the desert. It’s kind of hard, and I kind of hate it, but I should just suck it up and get on with it. All these cacti are out here living their best life so why can’t I?” we would say “no shit sherlock, they are cacti and you are not. Maybe the better question here is why live in the desert when you could live in a greenhouse?”.
That is not to say we shouldn’t push ourselves past our comfort zone, or to try things that may not come naturally to us. But what I am saying, is you are an individual and you must live like so. You cannot force yourself to live like a cactus, because you are not a cactus, you are a sunflower, or a snake plant or a palm tree. You will not flourish in an environment that is negative for your growth, no matter your willpower. So maybe instead of wondering why certain people or environments make us feel so shitty, it is time to expend that energy into finding an environment in which we can thrive.
“Plants are more courageous than almost all human beings: an orange tree would rather die than produce lemons, whereas instead of dying the average person would rather be someone they are not.”Mokokoma Mokhonoana
So, in conclusion, plants and humans= potato and potato *
*jokes. But if you enjoyed these plant metaphors, I am sure you will love the beautiful ‘Wildflowers’ by the legend Dolly herself 🌼
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