Squatting in the dark in the middle of a winter evening, my hands covered in freezing cold potting mix, I had to wonder: am I taking care of my plants because I can’t take proper care of myself, or can I not take proper care of myself because I’m too busy taking care of my plants?
My plant obsession sprouted (sorry) from my great fresh flower obsession of 2015. Unemployed and with no right to be spending money on flowers, I continued in a vain attempt to brighten up my bleak employment prospects with the cheapest blooms I could find. But flowers die, as does your hope when your job applications keep getting knocked back. And then came an afternoon trip to Bunnings, and the acquisition of a rubber plant that would change the course of my life.
It was easy, once I had some flora, to see the merits in getting more. This plant made my house look great! I had something other than myself to focus on feeding and watering and not killing! The latter was a futile exercise, I learned, as I proceeded to kill a number of ferns and fiddle-leaf figs, striking fear into the hearts of my other plants, and leaving me wondering about my future health prospects. I learned about plants that cleaned the air, and how too much fertiliser was probably what led to the demise of my fallen plant comrades. My grandmother, thrilled by my emulation of her favourite pastime, delivered me cuttings and advice and a greater serving of love than my siblings – every grandchild’s dream.
But I also found myself spending money on new plant display pots when I should have been reserving that money for, you know, food. Holes in my shoes, I walked past the cobbler and straight into a white-walled plant boutique to pick up a slightly different version of a plant I already owned. A quick trip to Bunnings to pick up some more potting mix saw me spend 20 of my last 30 dollars on some plants I have since murdered in (literally, given the Melbourne winter) cold blood.
My friends and family intervene, asking, “Do you really need any more plants? Do you think you should maybe focus on eating more vegetables instead of filling your new courtyard with plants you will likely kill this winter?” I acknowledge their concerns while staring out my bedroom window into said courtyard, freezing in just a towel, fresh out of the shower, distracted by the jungle I have assembled in place of the life accomplishments that have eluded me.
I have a job now, and I must admit, the time I have to acquire new green friends is limited. The fortnightly Seasol-ing of the neediest plant children has ceased, and my latest attempt at maintaining a fiddle-leaf fig has once again led to disappointment, with my screaming at it, “What do you want, I don’t understand you!” failing to keep it alive. But I am alive! My house is clean, and I eat three meals a day now. I still have plants, but I’m trying to keep us at the same level of health.
I’m still not eating enough vegetables, though.
Pretty pic by Tatjana Šuškic.