November 14, 2018, 5:52

Confessions of a Houseplant Addict |

Confessions of a Houseplant Addict |

Only two years ago, when I was finishing my memoir of gardening
obsession, “Rhapsody in Green,” I claimed that I had no time for
houseplants. Prickly, diminutive, macramé-reliant: I’d rarely been less
tempted by anything. Or so I believed. Dimly, I noticed that the press
and social media were filling with accounts of mustachioed creative
types with nine hundred ferns; that every coffee shop and office lobby
had ditched the cool neutrals and installed, among the neon and crates,
psychotic-looking Sansevieria cylindrica, a row of tragic
houseleeks, a couple of tall dusty ficuses like the ghosts of happy

But I am a late adopter, so uncool I’m cool. Fashion? I scoff at it. So, even when I was seized by a strange, Zeitgeist-y compulsion to buy,
experimentally, a string of hearts, or Ceropegia woodii, I knew I’d
never love it. It was dryish, grayish, inedible: What was the point?
Like an innocent born to a house of hard drinkers, given her first taste
of the booze she was doomed to adore, I thought I was safe. I fashioned
a little hook for the plant in my study, right next to my desk, and
vowed to ignore it, which I did: several times a day.

Have you ever watched a toddler try a lemon? I recommend it; she’ll have
a suck, scrumple up her face like a banshee, then try another taste. To
distract myself from strawberries at a local plant sale, I bought, as
aversion therapy, a grotty aloe vera. “Good for burns,” everyone says,
as if there is any domestic wound between Ignore and Emergency. The
butcher was selling home-reared Chinese jade plants, horrible rubbery
things, for charity. I’m not a monster; I bought two. Then I spotted a
reddish sedum dangling unloved from a crack in the railway bridge. My
godmother’s stephanotis needed foster care. A glossy, deep-purple Aeonium arboreum Zwartkop came home with me because . . . well, by this stage, I’d run out of becauses.

Call this slope slippery? Watch me polish it to a sheen. This year,
despite the mild London winter, I decided that my scented pelargonium “attar
of roses” was too delicate to sit outside. I’d always meant to try
sprouting an avocado; suddenly, I have three. Might the cat prefer
homegrown cat grass? I was sprinkling oat and wheat groats on organic
compost in rather a nice old terra-cotta pot within an hour of having the
thought. Now I sadly scan the shelves in charity shops, longing to
retrieve the ceramic pot holders that, when my grandmother died, I
recklessly surrendered. The park near my home is scattered with shiny
and pickupable conkers, as rich and russet as a healthy pony flank;
yesterday, I found myself standing, like an absent-minded flamingo,
transfixed by the sight of a pink shoot emerging from a broken shell. It
would either be trodden on or uprooted. I remembered seeing, and
sneering at, on Instagram, a hipster’s windowsill on which baby horse-chestnut trees sprouted in jars of water. I’d thought it cruel to the
poor plants, but, wait: Could it actually be a kindness?

And, with the clarity of love, I can’t stop thinking about the Swiss-cheese plant that, in my secular Jewish childhood, we draped with
tinsel every Christmas. Recently, on the way to write in the British
Library, I accidentally entered a small and dismal florist. They had one
for sale; this seemed significant, even if the British Library guards
were curiously immune to its charms. Now it lives by the sofa: dark,
glossy, splendid. “Have you seen its holes?” I croon to startled
visitors, polishing a leaf with my sleeve.

Actually, I’m getting worried; I’ve started fantasizing about a trip to IKEA’s
extensive houseplant section. It seems that rock bottom might
soon be reached. And, yes, I know there’s always hope, if the addict
wants to change; I almost do. I’m nearly there. I honestly think that
with just one burro’s tail, and maybe a Calathea, I’ll be ready.


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