How I learnt not to kill my houseplants
I used to kill all my houseplants. No matter what kind, or how well I tried to look after them, they rather rapidly shuffled off into the next life. I always remember my Mum being good with plants, both indoors and out. She kept a thriving vegetable patch, a small orchard and a field full of beautiful trees and flowers. She grew tomatoes in our conservatory, herbs in giant pots at the front of our house, and plants all along the kitchen windowsills. We'd help her garden when we were kids, we loved our gardening gloves and secaturs, getting stuck in to do the weeding or turning over the soil. My brother and I even had our own little patches of green that we could grow lettuce and other quick growing vegetables on. She taught me how to gently clean the leaves on the cheese plant with a damp ball of cotton wool, sometimes dipped in milk to make the leaves shiny.
Once I left home, I tried to have the odd plant here and there, but I always killed it. It didn't matter what kind it was, I'd either water it too much or too little and it would meet the same sad ends as all the others. I thought that plant growing just wasn't for me, it was a talent I didn't posess and I was doomed to a plant-less life. Either that or wasting all my money on plants that would die within a few months. So I just stopped buying plants for most of my twenties. I moved around a lot too, and was always working or going out, so it wasn't very conducive to caring for my green friends.
Then, a few years ago all that changed. I decided one day to buy a plant from my local flower shop 'Pesh Flowers' in Camberwell. I was having a bad day and wanted cheering up, and everything about my plant purchase turned my day around. The atmosphere of the flower shop, choosing my plant, asking the owner how to care for it, taking it home with me and finding the right spot for it in my flat. The whole experience brought me so much joy! I loved the slower, more thoughtful approach to owning a plant rather than my previous approach to 'buy a bunch from Ikea and hope for the best'.
I began to read up a little on plant care. I learnt that each plant requires a different treatment, and I added one plant after another very slowly so that I could really understand each one. Some plants need more or less water than others, and this varies throughout the seasons, some need more or less light, and some will flourish in different places in your home. These are all the things I learnt to consider, instead of trying to treat all houseplants the same.
Now, here's a confession. I'm still not that great with succulents, which is why you will see only a few amongst all my other plants. I cheat a little, and mostly fill my home with plants that are fairly easy to look after. I keep the tricky ones to a minimum until I have mastered them, and only then will I go out and get some more. I am still learning, and am not a plant expert by any means, but I have found that taking the time to learn about each plant, and choosing the plants that are right for each room in your home makes all the difference. Any time I try and force a plant to grow in an environment that it's not best suited too, it always struggles. It's not that I can't look after it, just that I'm not providing the optimum situation for that particular plant to flourish. There's a metaphor for life in there somewhere...
I find my plants, for the most part, at my local garden centre. I love a trendy plant shop, I really do, but I almost never buy anything in them because the prices are so high compared to my beloved Dulwich Pot and Plant Centre. The staff at the garden centre really know what they are talking about too, but I've always been disappointed in the trendy plant shops that the staff don't know much about the plants they sell. Gumtree often has some bargains, people moving and selling off plants in pots for super cheap. You do have to pick up yourself, but if you've got a car it's a great place to hunt for new plant friends.
As I said, I'm no expert, but I am learning all the time. My plants aren't just surviving under my care, but thriving and growing and looking healthy. I'm at the stage now where I am starting to be successful at growing things from scratch (did you see my post on growing your own avocado tree from a pit?), take cuttings of a few things (so far my Pothos and heart shaped Philodendron are doing really well) and trouble shoot if a plant looks a little peaky. I know the right areas of my home for each type of plant, I've been re-potting things that need it, adding a new layer of top soil and basically just upping my care game for each plant. I did a count just for this blog post, and I now have 45 plants of all different kinds. My favourites are my Pilea, my Monstera and my one year old avocado tree that I grew myself. I'd love to get to 200 or so!
I'm planning an indoor plant care guide and Q+A for my next post on plants - so do send me any questions you have for that, either here or on Instagram. I'll try and get back to you right away, but will compile all your questions into a blog post too. Until then, happy plant parenting!