It was a milestone moment for an outlier in an otherwise green-thumbed family when my sister, examining the health and resilience of my two dragon tree plants, exclaimed: “Wow, these are doing well!” A quiet victory, but one that took time to grow.
My sister and other members of my family have pursued both professional and hobbyist plant parenting and gardening all my life, and I learned the power of seeds and the magic of their sprouting journies from a young age via my mom, an avid gardener and landscape architect. Yet while I’ve always been a plant-lover, I haven’t embarked much on floral exploration, always saying to myself, “I don’t have time for one more thing.”
Besides, indoor plants I’d had always died. What was the point? It took a pandemic’s complete isolation for me to, well, embrace my roots as a plant dork. Now my bedroom feels like an eclectic greenhouse, I’m always plotting my next green purchase, and the giant bucket of herbs and veggies I’m cultivating — lavender and thyme and arugula, oh my! — has been with me, subtly enlarging, through two winters and a move.
What I’ve gotten out of keeping house plants isn’t what I expected. I thought watering them and worrying about them would hover around the edges of other stressors and to-do lists, and that I’d be most grateful for them during time spent when sharing them with others. I thought they’d be like little ornaments in my home. But it hasn’t been showing off that’s been the most satisfying; in fact, I’ve had my moments of euphoria with my plant pets completely alone.
The magic is in waking up from a dream in which I’m in a lush forest to see a ray of sunlight streaming through pines outside and arriving dappled on the fresh, young green surface of my own silk spider plant, and gaining a few extra precious seconds in dreamland. It’s in uncovering a first sprout almost hidden in the dirt and catching myself exclaiming out loud in triumph to no one after expecting one of a group of seeds to poke through for days. It’s in tiny growth spurts and the knowledge that I’m the only one noticing.
Bringing the garden indoors has blurred the lines in my life between my shelter and the true home we all share, this Earth. My plants are a witness to my existence, and while I rarely think about them actively, they seem to provide inspiration when nothing else will.
The relationship between plant and person goes both ways. While it isn’t proven science, numerous experiments have shown that positive words of encouragement and affirmation (basically, “good vibes”) can increase plant health and productivity, while negative words and energy directed at plants can stunt growth or even kill the plant. In an article in The Guardian in January of this year, fledgling orchid enthusiast Seetha Dodd spoke with Dr. Dominique Hes, biophilia expert and lead researcher at Horticulture Innovation Australia’s Plant Life Balance, after her orchid produced five times as many flowers during the pandemic when she was around and speaking to it.
“Plants probably don’t hear like we do,” Hes explained to Dodd. “But some research shows that speaking nicely to plants will support their growth, whereas yelling at them won’t. Rather than the meaning of words, however, this may have more to do with vibrations and volume. Plants react favorably to low levels of vibrations, around 115-250 hz being ideal.”
I don’t know if singing and vibing to my plants during the height of lockdown got them through the tough times. But I do know that, just by being themselves, they’ve helped me find inspiration and magic when I’m not looking for it but need it. Indoor plants improve air quality and certainly provide visual stimulation (especially as we gear up for all the green outside to be painted white). But there’s also just a magic something about living with plants, and the relationship between them and their caregiver is one I’d recommend anyone to explore.
Here in Tahoe/Truckee, we’re blessed with a number of local nurseries to start your collection. Villager Nursery and Rock & Rose Nursery & Landscape in Truckee; Perennial Nursery & Landscape in Tahoe Vista; Tahoe Tree Company in Tahoe City; and High Sierra Gardens in Incline Village are great places to start.