House plants: On Growing and Dying

This time last year I arrived in Asheville with just my pluck, my dreams, and every possession I could fit packed inside my car. Everything I needed to start a new life was crammed inside that vehicle. Needless to say, I had to be quite selective. I left whole wardrobes behind, not to mention all the various and beautiful pieces of furniture I’ve collected over the years. I bid adieu to many beloved possessions but, god help me, I would not leave a single house plant.  I was literally a driving greenhouse caravan.

By the time I left Brooklyn, my apartment had become a makeshift plant orphanage. I was working as a plant technician in Manhattan (taking care of people’s office plants and running my tail all over the city). Every time someone had a flailing plant on their hands they seemed to magically gravitate towards me, holding the sad thing out in two hands like a child that had broken a toy and didn’t really want to see it anymore. I took each one home. Plants that had gnats, aphids, mealy bug. Plants that had been underwatered, overwatered, ignored in an empty office for months. I smuggled home cuttings and offshoots and rooted them in soil. By mid summer, our apartment looked like this:

These plants were my friends. I watched them recover, grow, and flourish. I talked to them. They filled our small kitchen with green light, reviving us every time the city’s pavement buried us alive once again. When I left Brooklyn, instead of divvying up furniture or kitchen appliances, my roommate and I divided plants. I bid a tearful goodbye to those that were staying under my roommate’s sweet care and bravely moved on.

The hostel..and my songbird roommate!

When I arrived in Asheville last March I was homeless and carting and a dozen plants in the back of my car. I booked a room at a hostel and brought them in with me so they wouldn’t get cold at night. Then, I started scheming to find them a home.

It’s been a year now since I settled into the tiny, blue-chipped cottage on a winding road north of the city. It’s a quirky place. Built in the early 1920s, the walkways from room to room slant downward from so many years of foot traffic and we are outnumbered by the bees living in our roof by a factor of 500:1. But the kitchen is sunny and up until very recently, all the plants have been very happy.

Lately, however, something strange has begun to happen. Some plants, which have remained more of less dormant since the move, have begun to sprout new life! They are growing, unfurling getting bigger and grander every day! This ZZ plant is sending up a new shoot for the first time since it lived on a high shelf in my dusty Brooklyn kitchen! I cannot tell you the joy of watching this beautiful, ridiculously phallic-like, entity grow taller every day! I can’t wait until it unfurls!

Just peeking out…and now quite erect!

Other plants, however, have inextricably begun to fade. I can find no reason for the decline. They don’t have bugs, they aren’t being ignored, malnourished or mistreated. They are just….dying.

Fittonia in a sorry state
In his former incarnation this little guy was palm-sized and floating in a small tea light holder. Now look at em! The original baby was recused from a PR agency overlooking Central Park east.

It’s got me thinking. The deeper undercurrents of our life surface in so many ways. Our emotional and spiritual wellbeing is often reflected in the physical world. Anyone who has ever experienced depression or loss can attest that your mood affects more than just your mindsets. New research has even proved that a “broken heart” can actually cause cardio-distress similar to a heart attack. So, is it that far off to think that our physical surroundings, which we interact with all the time, could also reflect a change in our inward beings?

The infamous book The Secret Life of Plants marked the first time that anyone explored the idea that plants could be connected to us on an emotional level, responding to deep undercurrents of feeling. The research in this book suggested, not only that we communicate on an energetic level with plants, but that our connection with those plants that surround us is so profound that our own states of wellbeing affect the plants themselves.

Could my plants be telling me something about my own growth or small deaths? I think there is an unlimited amount of wisdom surrounding us at all times. There is so much to be learned from plants, animals, and the earth… as well as the environments that we have built up around ourselves. When something strikes you or seems to be changing in a way that demands your attention, you better stop and take a long hard look. Otherwise, you might miss a very important and well-crafted message.

Is it just a coincidence that, a year into the establishment of a whole new life– a massive uprooting that meant a complete change of location, occupation, friendships, and partnerships–  that some of the living pieces of my past might thrive, while others begin to wane? I don’t think so. I am at a point right now when I am taking serious stock of all that I have built and all that I have carried with me from the past. In this new spring I’ve been stepping back to really recognize what is fulfilling for me, to let go of all the old patterns, people, and positions that might have blossomed for me in the past, but are now just draining my energy, resources and reserves. Some parts of your life will bloom and grow forever, and others are only supposed to stick around for a little while. That’s just the way it goes.

Why is the spider plant thriving, but not the marginata? Why is the ZZ suddenly sprouting anew while the fittonia slowly loses all its leaves? That, I don’t know. What I do know is that things are changing, I can see it.

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