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'Tis marvellous

I'm not quite sure whether I'm a plant person. 

Let me elaborate.

I have some plants, and I do what I can to keep them alive, but they don't always make me happy. There have been many times when I've looked at them with anxiousness, a sinking heart, and sometimes even dread. I'm pretty sure I've had dreams where they all died on my watch. And some did IRL, as kids say.

But there are – perhaps more – instances when they've made my heart sing with their green life amid skyscrapers and dust, sometimes surviving despite all odds, or thriving when I'd given up. Nothing makes me happier than seeing a new leaf pushing through. So together we persist. 

House plants: early days

Chapter I

It all began the evening before a cyclone in June 2020. There was a weather warning, and we'd been told to remove (or secure) everything from our balconies. A friend of my husband's was leaving for home, unsure when he would return during the pandemic, and he left four of his plants in our care. I wasn't ready for this responsibility. Sure, I'd wanted plants, and I'd given up every time I tried to figure out which ones to buy. But I didn't even know what these plants were. 

Still, one rises to the occasion, and I had to admit I quite enjoyed seeing them on the kitchen counter until the weather was ripe for them to move outside. We followed the watering instructions given by their dad, and read about them a bit. And after I was gifted five more plants later that month by my mother-in-law, a plant-rearing genius, I still cared for these fosters and even named them, albeit slightly half-heartedly (the naming, not the caring) given their inevitable departure.

Being a caregiver for nine plants comes with a steep learning curve. The new five included instructions, which was helpful, but it's really hard to know how much water is just right and won't, you know, kill them. In those early days I fussed over the plants, peering closely and obsessing over good and bad worms and fallen leaves, prodding the soil to figure out whether it was dry enough to water, talking to them every morning (while feeling a bit foolish; what on earth are you supposed to say?) 

I made weekly watering timetables. I researched everything I could and tried to learn their ways. I applauded their achievements. (New leaf! Well done, you!) 

But eventually, it got harder.

Chapter II

Traces of Freddie

Freddie was the first to die. I still have no idea why a well-cared-for fern would give up its life, but it was kinda brown to begin with, so let's blame this one on bad blood. It began to become apparent to me that simply watering the plants wasn't enough, or even feeding them upon occasion. They actively needed my help to live. Effie, the fittonia, the nervous nerve plant, pink veins on green, began to wither. I tried watering her less. Watering her more. Placing her in sunlight, and in shade. Even repotting her the day I got my hands dirty to move a giant syngonium to a larger pot; they (out)grow like crazy. I spent two hours in the balcony and wound up ill the next day (allergies?) – no joke during Covid – and became decidedly less fond of plants in general.

And you know what? Effie bloody died anyway. Plus what was that white fluff all over the syngonium? How are you supposed to educate yourself about plant pests? I thought it was mould and did the whole dishwashing liquid spraying exercise. But it wasn't mould. The fluff moved. So I listened to a podcast and figured they might be mealybugs, and did what I had to do again, this time with a mask and gloves on. (And the podcast said that fittonias were hard to keep alive, which made me marginally more cheerful.) The plant continued to wither. Where do mealybugs even come from? I got neem oil, which worked temporarily. 

Evening scene

I focused on other plants outgrowing their pots – separating Rosa (a pink syngonium) into two smaller plants was stressful, the roots clutching at each other like our now very entangled lives – but Jim the money plant grew fabulously in two separate homes, almost showing off. Iris the spider plant, on the other hand, was a rebel, going from vivid green for weeks to suddenly wilting brownly for no apparent reason.

But I still took photographs of them proudly, and smiled when they caught my eye. I even tried to expand the family for some inexplicable reason, taking a cutting of a pretty money plant (Giovanni), and we brought back a bunch of plantlets from Hyderabad on a plane. I even bought a spade. How serious is that?

Then we were attacked, and I became fiercely protective.

Pigeons were here

Chapter III

A new enemy made itself known: pigeons. This was a surprise, because pigeons have been ruining our balcony for ages but they never seemed very interested in plants, until one morning when all but two of Rosa's leaves had been chomped off by these cold-blooded plant killers, and worse, discarded. They just lay around in a sorry pile, not even adorning some stupid nest somewhere. 

Soon more plants were attacked, and apart from physically shooing away the birds, I tried naphthalene balls, bright ribbons, a fence of bottles, spikes – nothing, pigeons don't care about anything. I became a bit too well-versed in pigeon mannerisms, knowing exactly which perch meant they were about to attack (maybe working from home does have its downsides). They always left behind a single feather, as if to mock me. I guarded the plants the best I could, but there's only so much sanity I'm willing to sacrifice.

We've come to a compromise now, the plants and I. 

The moods of Pam

I provide water regularly, food occasionally, but not in the fussy way I used to. They, in turn, grow and prosper. When I go away on long trips, I hope they'll be alive when I return. Sometimes they're not, but the sadness passes quickly. Sometimes it's just a shrug. Sometimes they all survive, and that's a happy welcome.

Chapter IV

Perhaps only the fittest made it this far. The wild and sturdy ones. 

The Marvel of Peru, also known as the four o'clock flower, grows unburdened. She has pink buds all over now, four months after she was planted from a cutting that had lost everything. She is supposed to burst into bloom in the evenings, so at dusk, I find myself looking outside. She doesn't bloom all at once, but instead unfurls one or two flowers a day, at random, and sometimes none at all. It's the unpredictability of it that I've come to enjoy, not knowing when I'll see a glorious magenta that lights up the night, and then is gone. 

Brie, or Captain Marvel

I have six plants left, from various chapters of this story, and they seem enough for now. Giovanni the money plant (thriving alarmingly), Pam the syngonium (seems to become larger and moodier), Palmlet the calm little palm (left by the original owner-of-four as a thank you), Olaf the aglaonema (might need more attention), Vianne the vinca (apparently it's not flowering season yet), and Brie, the marvel of Peru (grows anywhere, even in the construction-dust-laden balcony in a high rise that others can't seem to deal with). 

But for how long?

Days of yore

Maybe longer than I imagine. As my friend Beth says, "Plants generally want to live... they do everything they can to do so." And I'll help.


  1. Oh my gosh, I loved reading this!!

    1. Thanks for stopping by, Judy! I'm glad you enjoyed it. We've never spoken about plants before - how do you feel about them? :)


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