… or is it ? It wasn’t so long ago that I thought houseplants were not really plants, and I considered the growing craze for indoor vegetation as a mere consumerist pursuit, like others, guided by fashion. One would covet the it-plant (ficus lyrata, anybody ?) in the same way as the it-bag (I would know, as in my younger years, when finances allowed it, I religiously paid my weekly respects to the Parisian Grands Magasins). Houseplants cultivation couldn’t be compared to outdoor gardening in any way, mostly because it consists of keeping plants away from the influence of nature – seasons, weather, light and wind, insects, life in fact (except for the end bit, which comes too speedily to many a houseplant). I felt sorry for those tropical exiles, majestic in their natural environment, but in our houses often reduced to being decorative objects whose main purpose is to make our Instagram feed sexy. The fact we need to artificially recreate, to the benefit of energy suppliers, the conditions in which they can survive (usually : minimum warmth of 15 degrees, humidity above 60 %, careful exclusion of draughts…) bothered me. Proof of the unnatural aspect of that practice lies in the great number of houseplants that end up in the bin after a few weeks of silent suffering in a dark corner of a cold house, or drowned by the owner’s ignorant keenness. Most importantly, far from driving us towards more artificiality, proper gardening should help us shed the layers of irreality modern urban life increasingly wraps us in, until we don’t know what’s what anymore (endless virtual shenanigans). It reinserts us in a world of physicality, of reality, where time cannot be compressed and our will has to follow the flow of nature. Houseplants keeping, on the other hand, feeds into the commodification of nature.
Now… Well, now this is the moment where the “However” should appear, followed by counter-arguments which would justify the fact that, over the last two months, I have succombed to an obsessive urge to collect houseplants. I could say that I have come to be touched by the love which those “plant-parents”, as they call themselves, lavish on their tropical protégés, or that it is good for the soul to care for a helpless living thing (not everyone is fortunate enough to have access to a garden or to a pet), or that I am working to amend my judgemental ways, or whatever. The truth is probably that I progressively got used to see those houseplant posts and adverts everywhere and sheepishly followed the fashion. Maybe, for the first time, I am unable to welcome the stark voice of Winter and have missed tending to plants while the garden is brown and soggy. After twelve years in England, this is the first time I have realised how short Winter days are in this country. Never have I missed the light as much as this year.
My father used to keep a few houseplant. I remember a big ficus benjamina which had to go because of my mother’s allergic asthma. My own first houseplant was an African violet, brought home from the biology lesson devoted to vegetative propagation. I remember that I loved it dearly, with its neat velvety leaves and perfect dainty flowers. It didn’t last long – overwatering, unsurpringly. As an adult, I was gifted a Christmas cactus eleven years ago, long enough for it to feel like part of the family. For many years, it was the only houseplant in my life. Then a dracaena marginata came home with me from the town market, just because I thought it was a bargain. A trip to B&Q gave them a few succulent companions : a Jade plant, a crassula ovata Gollum (the name alone would have sold it). Even though they didn’t elicit the same sort of love as my garden plants, I wanted them to thrive and was always mindful of their needs for light. The fact that my house is dark is actually the main reason why I refused to buy more houseplants. Why purchase them to watch them suffer ? However, those easy plants looked healthy and happy without any care.
Then, my son asked for some cacti.
Then, a few unhappy plants beckoned me from a supermarket shelf.
Then, on a sunny morning last November which slanted warm sunrays in our sitting room, I suddenly realised how truly beautiful these little green companions are (only in Winter, when the sun is low, does the light penetrate in this way in our house), how they make me happy and my house more homely.
The house has certainly not got less dark, but I let a few knowledgeable bloggers convince me that my south window and other windowsills could be acceptable as medium light level. I acquired a hygrometer which assures me my house is suitably damp (on that note, I have to thank indoor gardening for transforming what was a serious defect into an asset), if not warm enough.
And that is how this happened :
Here are some of my companions :
As you can see, I have joined the crowd I used to frown upon, down to the failures. Indeed, this is what is happening to my Alocasia Dragon Scale, which I should have known not to buy as it didn’t look good even before coming to me (but I definitely made it worse). Not even mentioning that it spent eight days in the Post, poor thing (it was in Ashford, I could have walked there and back in less time). I am fairly confident that I can save it though. Or at least hopeful.
On the plus side, I have learned a lot about a few plants. Surely all this was necessary for the sake of general knowledge, wasn’t it ? Alright, I’ll admit to my complete hypocrisy.
And on that note, I wish you, dear reader, a happy and healthy new year. Keep gardening.
P.S. I would love to hear about your houseplants and indoor gardening journey !