Saturday 21 September 2019

Katie Byrne: 'Going green...The 10 distinct stages of a burgeoning house plant obsession'


Studies show that talking to plants helps them to grow faster

In a world where breathless bloggers are 'legit obsessed' with make-up palettes and online food writers are 'low-key obsessed' with exotic new ingredients, you'd be forgiven for thinking that the word 'obsession' has lost all meaning.

The hype and hyperbole of internet-speak has robbed the word of its potency, and it seems millennials are now obsessed with anything that's (1) new, (2) cheap, or (3) shiny.

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There is one notable exception to this rule, however, and it concerns an obsession that is oft-quoted yet rarely cross-examined - house plants.

In case you missed the memo, millennials are obsessed with house plants. Truly, madly, deeply obsessed. So obsessed, in fact, that they no longer see themselves as plant owners. No, they see themselves as 'plant parents'.

So how does a person go from being a plant greenhorn to a fully committed - and borderline deranged - 'plant parent'? Well, in my experience at least, it happens in stages...

You become a responsible plant parent

After killing a seemingly unkillable cactus, you decided that this whole plant parenting business wasn't for you. But then, after reading something about plants clearing toxins from the air, you resolve to give it one more go. The guy in the plant shop describes the spider plant as "easy care", but you're not taking any chances. In fact, you're like any first-time parent who checks their newborn every five minutes to ensure that they're still breathing.

Your confidence builds

The constant monitoring continues until the day you discover a new leaf unfurling on your prized plant. "Look!" you say to anyone who'll listen. "It's growing!" The initial excitement soon gives way to disproportionate pride. You helped a plant grow. You created a mini miracle with your bare hands. Christ, what else can you do?

You bring a second plant home

With confidence on your side - and a thriving spider plant on your windowsill - you decide that it's time to add to your brood. There's a brief moment when you worry that your first-born will get jealous when number two comes along. But then you realise you're being silly - they're only plants after all...

You start comparing yourself to other plant parents

After scrolling through the Instagram accounts of other proud #plantparents, you begin to feel a little less than adequate. There's the self-described 'creative' in Berlin with the hanging plant headboard. There's the thirty-something 'plantaholics' in Amsterdam with the mini jungle in their bathroom. You decide that two plants doesn't quite cut it. It's time to go big or go home.

You grow your collection

The purchase of a lush fiddle-leaf fig turns a passing interest into a consuming passion. You follow it up with a Swiss cheese plant, a maidenhair fern and a peace lily. When the windowsills fill up, you invest in a plant shelf. When the plant shelf fills up, you attach hanging planters to the ceiling. Your husband says you give the plants more attention than you give him. He's probably right.

You start talking to your plants

Studies show that talking to plants helps them grow faster. Or at least that's the excuse you offer when you're overheard asking Robert the bromeliad how his day went.

At this stage, you've christened all your plants with names. Truth be told, they have their own personality traits too. George, the Chinese evergreen, is a survivor after he came back from near-death. Madeline, the money tree, likes to keep herself to herself and Ophelia, the calathea, is a bit of a diva. Your husband thinks you've lost the plot. Again, he's probably right.

You join an online forum for house plant enthusiasts

With limited support on the home front, you join an online community where you can connect with like-minded plant freaks in a safe, non-judgmental space. You share photos of your cheese plant's progress. You discover that you're not the only person who physically can't walk past a plant shop. You find your tribe.

You become a know-it-all

You're now the owner of over a dozen house plants which, to your mind, is the same as having a PhD in Botany. You know all the tricks, from nourishing your plants with the water from hard-boiled eggs to shining your rubber plant with mayonnaise. Speaking of which, you no longer use the common name 'rubber plant'. As a soi-disant expert, you prefer to use its Latin name - Ficus elastica - especially when you have an audience.

You start judging other plant parents

After successfully propagating a philodendron, you start to think of yourself as a plant parenting guru. And, like any experienced parent, you especially like doling out unsolicited advice to first-timers. You tell your brother that he should really think about re-potting his Alocasia zebrina; you tell your neighbour that you'd never use as much fertiliser as she does. As a parent of 22 house plants, it's clear that you know best. So why then aren't people listening to you?

You become an over-protective plant parent

Your home now looks like every other 'plant paradise' on Instagram. You've got the living wall, the macramé hanging pots and more terrazzo planters than you can shake a stick at. It's exactly how you imagined your living space when you started your plant journey. What you didn't anticipate, however, was the amount of maintenance that your urban jungle would require.

You have your plants' feeding schedule mapped out on a spreadsheet but, to be honest, you don't trust that anyone could look after your beloved babies like you do. In fact, you get a little tetchy spending even one night away from them.

Why did nobody tell you plant parenting was so hard?

Roddy Doyle is away.

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