Changed the Soil

My plants are alive and thriving. Because now I have plants.

No one is more surprised than me, but every time I go to water one of them I remember my prediction from a few entries back. Nothing has died yet, and the only worry I had was an aloe leaf that was starting to rot and yellow. After I cut it away, the rest of the plant still stands.

A lot of my success (so far) is likely due to the abundance of natural light in my space, which I didn’t have in my parents’ house. Natural light there is available, but there were only so many spots that a plant could live for fear of a pet chomping on the leaves or knocking something over if left unattended. And yet I can’t help but wonder… like the many plants that didn’t make it, was I not meant to thrive where I was?

What follows is a plant tour and some reflection – setting out expectations early.

The Avocado Plant. Yes, that is a Nando’s table stick I acquired.

We begin with my pride and joy: the Avocado Plant. It is one of three seeds I tried to sprout months ago for a second time, and one of the two that made it up here with me. I must confess here that I forgot to bring any of plants with me and I forgot to ask someone to look after them until I came for them, so imagine my surprise when, two weeks after I moved, there was a stalk coming out of the pot. No one had done anything to it, it was barely getting any sunlight, and the stalk itself was drying out. When I brought it home with me, it lived in the balcony for a few weeks, without any expectation or goal attached to it. One morning, bleary eyed and not ready to start the day, I noticed leaves coming out of the stalk.

From then on, the Avocado Plant continues to surprise me with its resilience and determination to grow and sprout new leaves. Against my mom’s plant advice, I kept it outside for a while thinking avocados like warm climates and so it would likely enjoy the summer heat. I brought it inside permanently once some of the leaves started charring and the soil was constantly bone dry.

It’s not the prettiest looking plant and it’s plain if we’re being objective, but it’s my favorite. I don’t see myself in any of my plants and rather see my growth in their growth, but the avocado plant does seem to prefer being inside to outside in the hellish East Coast summer like me. It’s a bit gangly and not particularly beautiful (like me until I turned 22), but it is consistent (like me always). The leaves that come in from the top of the stalk have looked the same for three rows now, and I’d bet the one coming in will bring two sisters with it.

Initially, I left the charred leaves as they were without pruning the burnt or the leaves altogether. A reminder of it not liking the hot outside and a badge of determination to keep growing when given proper light, water, and encouragement. But today, I pruned the burnt leaves before its photo op. Maybe, like me, it’ll feel good after a haircut. Maybe, like me, it’ll prefer the cooler autumn days in a few months. I stopped naming my plants after I had to throw them out when they were irrevocably dead, and I said I wouldn’t name any of the avocado plants I was trying to grow until I saw consistent and steady progress. If the Avocado Plant lives and thrives long enough to see if it likes to be outside in the milder autumn days, maybe I’ll give it a name then.

Lilly the aloe vera plant with my second Nando’s table stick that I acquired.

We continue with Lilly the aloe plant, and the one I’m most afraid of. Notoriously picky on the conditions they prefer and stuck up because of their health benefits, Lilly gets whatever she wants so long as she doesn’t die. She was a gift from a family friend we’ve deemed The Plant ER (although she couldn’t save my amaryllis; she returned its pot with Lilly in it), and I want to keep her alive purely to honor that family friend. I always tell Lilly she has to stay alive not for me, but for who gifted her to me.

I’m not sure how much I believe in things like this, but apparently aloe vera is one of the many plants that can ward off negative energy and bad vibes that people may bring into your home. I’ve only had to cut off one leaf that was growing yellow and rotting in the past two months that I’ve had her, when several people were in and out as I got settled, so maybe she’s doing her job. I don’t do much to her besides check her soil before watering or occasionally praise her for still being alive, which seems to be working so far. Perhaps we don’t know each other well enough yet so we stay out of each other’s way, wary of upsetting one another or causing distress. Perhaps it’s just enough for now that she helps me out by staying alive and warding off negative energy, and I help her out by not overwatering her

The IKEA cacti.

Up next, we have the IKEA plants. None of them have names individually and they’re here to have a good time. All of them low-maintenance and nondescript, they blend into the décor and are just happy to be here. They don’t demand individual names or to be kept together, and they’re all so far happy with their assignments.

The two cacti are my second ever cacti (their predecessor lived for a year and bit before I left it behind when I moved to London; it died shortly afterward of what I like to think as loneliness, but really it was from neglect and overwatering), and they get watered only on the twenty-second day of every month, with a light spritz in between whenever I remember it.

The IKEA succulent, who may be getting the name of Miss Keisha.

The succulent is the middle child of the four and was recently repotted. In true middle child fashion, it got an upcycled candle jar for a pot, with no drain hole, and I’ve toppled it over a few times, including when I was taking the picture. I even turned it around so the one yellowing stem wouldn’t show in the picture. I have high expectations for the succulent, and I’ve promised it that its next pot will be a brand new one and not a hand-me-down.

The snake plant that has no name but should.

The youngest sibling of the four that is the snake plant got priority for repotting. I picked the snake plant because of its slit down its big leaf and not in spite of it. I immediately liked the yellow tinge to the leaf and loved that it was the last one of its kind on the shelf, so I figured I’d give it a good home until the slit was the cause of death. Two months on, and the snake plant likes me so much that it bore two more growths, and so it got a brand new pot with a drain hole. I don’t want to get ahead of myself, but it may be getting a name soon.

The IKEA plants were the first bit of greenery in my new home, and they had a place in it before they even arrived. They were selected because I thought I was finally ready for plants and wanted something sturdy and low-maintenance, something I wouldn’t be distraught to say goodbye to should it die. Joke is on me, because I would be distraught if they (or any of their plant siblings) were to decide to leave me one day.

The African violet with its exponential growth of flowers.

We move onto CeCe, the African violet plant. CeCe was a gift from my grandmother and another one I was terrified to receive. CeCe and Lilly moved in at the same time and are kept apart so they don’t gang up on me, and because they have different watering schedules. CeCe came with four flowers and she continues to surprise me with new ones and small buds constantly, which I deeply appreciate since my favorite color is purple. CeCe also has to stay alive for who gifted her to me and not for me, but so far she seems happy to be with me as I am to have her. Her success is my success, or maybe she just likes the praise whenever I notice that there are more flowers than the day before.

The Lowe’s Plant.

Up next is the Cordyline plant. Ms Big Red. The new kid on the block. I think I jinxed myself with Red before we even got home because a) I named her straight away and b) I picked her out solely because I like the leaves, not because I’m confident I can keep her alive. I also picked her out of vanity, because I want to start my outside plants collection, like I won’t inevitably have to bring them all in when it gets colder. She will be monitored closely during her first few weeks with me, and with any luck she will growth with me and watch the cooler seasons pass from inside until it’s time to go back outside next summer.

The herbal corner.

We end with the herbal set. They’re my least favorite and I will tell them that to their face and for free should they ask. They were a gift from work, and work they made me put in. They came as seeds in a grow-your-own kit, and I made a gigantic mess when it came to planting them. I used one of my food prepping bowls to soak their soil along with other kitchen tools because I didn’t have any gardening tools back then, and although I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t excited and proud of myself when the first leaves came in for all of them, the herbal set broke my cardinal rule of plant care: they made me get dirty.

There was dirt under my nails for hours after I planted their seeds, and every time I check whether they need watering, some soil ends up on the table or the carpet. They are my bastard set as they’re only here to do a job (give me fresh herbs) and have to work with whatever I feel like giving them. I know that an experienced gardener may tell me that is the reason they’re not growing, that they can feel my obligation-only attitude toward them, but I constantly tell Basil that I’ve been wanting fresh pesto for months and he’s not delivering.

There’s no big realization or profound comparison when it comes to the herbal set. They’re here to do a job and so far they’re dragging their feet on delivering. I hope that one day they surprise me and without even noticing I’ll have enough for a pesto, ceviche, chimichurri, and to season a chicken. Until then, they’ll be judged much harshly than the other green things in my home.

**

My plants are my gift to myself, a challenge and an opportunity to allow myself to grow with their growth. The plants added an element of play to my life that I lacked until very recently, of doing something just because. Yesterday, I went to pick up some gardening supplies (who, me?) and spent a few hours on the balcony when I came back, in the heat and sun, repotting, pruning, and talking to the plants. And I think I enjoyed it. No, I’m sure I enjoyed it. I enjoyed the fact I wanted to do it, that I had nowhere to be and nothing else to do but play with literal dirt.

I think the fact I enthusiastically talk about plants shows my growth. My growth in their growth. When I tried to keep plants before, I was frustrated and bitter about only my plants dying even though they were kept with my mom’s plants, which thrived and looked good seemingly effortlessly. But now, my mom’s plants are struggling. Nothing has changed about their circumstances or their care, but the money tree is now only a trunk, her own aloe vera (also a gift from the family friend who gave me Lilly) is hanging by a thread, and CeCe’s sister has never put out flowers for her in a year of being with her.

I wonder if I was right, that my plants sensed back then how stuck I felt, how I longed for a change of scenery to help me grow. Now that I’m in a different place and have different plants, perhaps we work off each other’s energies and try to prosper. I’m sure one of them will have their bad days or periods at some point, just like I will, but hopefully we can get through it with some water, natural light, and patience. Without even noticing, all of us may grow.

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