Something I’ve been thinking about a lot this year is the question of scale — quantities, qualities, how to streamline my belongings, my kitchen cupboards, my plants. In this post I want to share my thoughts about taking a more mindful approach to keeping houseplants.
It’s true that a lot of these reflections have been prompted by moving — if you read my moving posts you’ll know that I moved 300 miles with 200 plants in the last few months… + all my belongings too of course! Reading Marie Kondo a few years ago did make me overhaul my ‘stuff’ + have a good old sort out, but at the time, plants didn’t really come into it — they were a non-negotiable necessity. Or perhaps more likely, I was too overwhelmed to know where to start with addressing the pretty sizeable collection I had accumulated gradually throughout the writing of my PhD a few years ago. They made the rented apartment feel like home + were a hobby + a qualitative refuge from the realm of academia.
I wrote a post 3 years ago about making mindful plant purchases + the timing seems right to re-visit this notion in light of the changing face of the online plant community. When something like houseplants becomes a widespread ‘trend‘, the excitement of new plant lovers to start hoarding/ stockpiling plants in a relatively short space of time can become a potential issue.
It also raises the topic of sustainability because slow + steady purchasing (after doing some research!) is a much more effective way to grow yourself a collection that stands the test of time. That’s not to say that you can’t have fun at the garden centre or plant nursery, it’s just a heads up to stop + consider if you are able to provide the right environment for these plants before parting with your hard earned cash. It’ll also save you money + stress in the long-term because what’s the point in buying some beautiful calathea if your house has low humidity? Plants aren’t ornaments to last a few months + there’s nothing worse that trying to tackle a pest issue with those that have been sitting in totally wrong conditions.
All of us are learning as we grow (or condense — more on that later) our collections but I wanted to flag this up because an influx of ‘plantstagram‘ accounts over the last year has really made me notice peoples’ often excessive habits with a drive towards quickly creating an eccentric ‘plant-filled-jungle-home’. As with every niche interest there are parts of the internet where freebies + insta fame are the aim of the game for some. I have spoken to a few of you individually + know that this inauthentic behaviour can put pressure on other new plant lovers to also act in this way, or to feel inadequate because they don’t have the space or budget to splash on lots of houseplants.
I also make this point about excessive new plant collections because many of us that set up the first wave of plant instagrams a few years ago are moving in the other direction + reducing our collections, choosing quality over quantity. This year, I have only actually bought a grand total of 2 plants! My plant friend Brad is the best at this out of everyone I know + he has the most beautiful, curated collection of plants that work in his space + that don’t cause him much stress.
I take great enjoyment in propagating cuttings from my plants to make the existing pot fuller, or making up a lovely little pot to grow on into a brand new plant (for free!). This side of plant care can be so much more rewarding than just spending out on something big. As I reiterated in one of my instagram posts over the weekend, whilst there can be a buzz about buying new plants, the ones that mean the most to me are my oldest plants + cuttings from friends that have grown into plants (just to clarify…my cuttings have grown into plants… not my friends!).
Whilst I do have a lot of plants, I know what works for me + I have grown my collection over the last 8 years. I also know what I enjoy looking after — my space is most suited to foliage plants so I choose lots of pothos + ficus + monstera over finicky humidity lovers. Personally a humidifier is not suited to my current home as I collect mid-century furniture + an excess of moisture can cause mould problems + damage to my beloved ercol + g-plan. It all about balance.
The key considerations in choosing a plant collection that is right for you should take a few factors into account…
- SPACE: What space do you have for plants in your home?
- LIGHT: What’s the light like where you have spaces for plants?
- HUMIDITY: What sort of humidity do the spaces in your house have? Older properties I’ve lived in have quite high humidity — around 60-70%. New builds tend to be more on the dry side.
- DRAUGHTS: Do you have single or double glazing? Are your windows draughty + cold over winter?
- PETS: Some houseplants are toxic to animals. Whilst some pets aren’t bothered about plants, pet friendly plants are the safest choice — you can look these up on the ASPCA website here.
- OUTSIDE: Do you also keep plants outside? Does your garden take a lot of work?
- TIME: This is very important. How much time do you have to dedicate to your plants? Are you away a lot travelling or for work?
- EXPERIMENTATION: Do you prefer statement plants or does plant experimentation, growing cuttings + playing with propagation fascinate you?
I don’t think there is a specific ‘optimum figure’ of houseplants to have in your collection. It’s far more elusive than that + this number will fluctuate + vary over time based on all of the factors I mention above — basically it’s always a work in progress. Along similar lines, even the idea of a ‘capsule wardrobe number‘ has opened up since the early days of a rigid ’37’ to a much wider spectrum of between 10 + 50. Instead of a rigid numerical guide, the best way to curate your plant collection is by taking a more qualitative, considered approach.
The key to keeping your collection from becoming too unwieldy is to choose plants based on all the factors above. For example, if you don’t have much time but still like to keep plants, snake plants, spider plants + aspidistra are a good starting point. If you are heavy-handed with the watering can look at keeping ferns, or if you have sunny windowsills cacti + succulents will be a great place to start. Most importantly, once you understand your environmental conditions, choose plants that fascinate you + that you enjoy sharing your home with.
This influx of indoor greenery certainly has positive benefits — plants actually do reduce stress + promote well-being, mindfulness + self-care. This messaging has certainly been prevalent across online platforms over lockdown. Whilst the sentiment of self-care is as important as ever, it can sometimes feel like it has been reduced to a few empty hashtags + phrases that are bandied around social networks. Our green plant-y friends are lovely to have around our homes but I think we must make sure that the hobby doesn’t just descend into retail therapy.
If you begin to feel overwhelmed by what the unobtainable social media bubble perpetuates, it’s important to take a step back + spend some time offline + remember that plants aren’t there to stress you out. It’s not all about having big statement plants either — I find as much enjoyment in admiring a small stem propagation jar (see the photo above) as spotting a new monstera leaf unfurling on my pretty large taller-than-me plant! So choose plants that suit you + don’t feel pressure to build up a collection that doesn’t reflect your life, style + taste.