Plants are my coping mechanism.
There is no better way to end a stressful day than repotting or deadheading or trimming a plant. There’s a rhythm to it. It’s repetitive in a meditative way, like watching waves roll in.
I picked up a habit years ago when my depression got bad that I would go out to the big box stores and look through their discount plant rack. I found the cheap more-dead-than-alive plants for 50¢ and used that as my focus point to drag myself back.
The habit hasn’t changed much. I’m more aware of my mindset and the Why behind my scooping up plants headed for the dumpster. I need them just as much as they need me. Emotions are not clear cut and easy and having something to channel all that chaotic energy into and seeing it grow and bloom is the best reward.
I’ve been vocal for a few years now about police brutality and killings, but George Floyd’s murder has scattered and enraged me in unprecedented ways. I thought perhaps I was better informed of systems of oppression, their history and their present state, and that was the reason for this visceral rage and pain.
This is my oldest plant: Abbott. Abbott is a Kiwi Dracaena that was repotted last year with these Plumosa ferns and Pothos. Once upon a time, there was a Costello with Abbott, a Parlour Palm. Unfortunately, Costello did not survive repeated maulings from a cat named Griff. Parlour Palms have feathery foliage which is too much temptation for playful pets.
Dracaena are easy beginner plants. They need water about once a week if they’re going to be somewhere like Abbott where they get a lot of sun and a draft from the A/C. Dracaena will start to turn brown at the tips of their leaves if they get too dry or if they’re not getting enough humidity. Once they brown they don’t recover. It’s normal for this type of Dracaena to drop its spikes as it grows. Abbott’s roommates help keep the humidity levels up and balance the moisture levels in the soil so I don’t have to constantly check the soil or mist their foliage. I wasn’t sure how Abbott was going to do with his new friends, but they’re all growing at the speed of light this spring, so they’re happy.
George Floyd could be my dad. Or my dad could be George Floyd. We’ve all seen the accounts from George Floyd’s family and friends saying he was kind and happy and wouldn’t hurt anyone.
My dad’s neighbors call him Mr. Smiley because he’s always smiling and laughing. His optimism is relentless.
But the world doesn’t see my dad’s smile or his laugh or his unwavering optimism any more than it saw George Floyd’s kind heart or quiet voice. What the world sees in my dad and what it saw in George Floyd are Black men. George Floyd wrote a check and died for it. What happens if my dad pays cash for something and the cashier decides it looks counterfeit? What happens if someone sees him wandering through houses under construction in the neighborhood?
This is Vera. Second oldest and a wonderful friend. Vera was divided last year and at the rate she’s going now, she might have to be divided again next year. Aloe Vera is my favorite succulent and they are super useful in the summer if you forget the sunscreen or if you’re active in the kitchen.
While Aloe is a succulent, it does require a little more water than the average Echeveria. Not a lot, though. Too much and it will rot like any other succulent. Vera is on a stand near Abbott, so she gets the same sun and draft as he does. I water her about every ten to fourteen days. In July and August when the sun comes in hard, it’s closer to the ten day mark. In the winter, she only gets water once a month.
Watering succulents in winter can be tricky because they’re not actively growing, just storing energy for warmer days. But they do need some moisture in the soil. Vera is in a 12” pot and during the winter I’ll pour a cup of water or less around her base. If you have a smaller pot, you’ll have to use less water and vice versa.
I managed to trace that livewire of anger I’ve felt for this week to its true root: Fear. George Floyd tried to buy groceries and they killed him for it. He did nothing wrong. He left his house to get food and he’ll never go home again. My dad could be George Floyd. What is it that separates my dad from George Floyd except the razor’s edge of Luck.
And I’m angry. I’m so angry that there are still people more upset that Target burned. More upset that windows were broken and bottles thrown and graffiti painted on monuments than they are that a man was killed while people stood by and watched. A man was filmed being killed and it still took four days of fires and rage to even get one murderer in custody.
I admit, I thought for years Fiddleleaf Figs were a ridiculous waste of time. But now I have two and my apartment wouldn’t be complete without them. Both are castoffs from the greenhouse. The larger plant is Fiddleleaf-on-the-Roof and stands about five feet and the small one is Figgy Pudding.
Fiddleleafs, like most Ficus, have a reputation for being difficult. I always tell customers when they buy the Fiddleleafs that they’re a bit dramatic. They’ll drop their leaves, edges will brown, they won’t grow for a bit. The whole nine yards of angry drama queen.
But I found that the reputation is not quite the truth. Houseplants, like dog breeds, often suffer from popularity. In an effort to cash in on trends, growers will sometimes grow plants too fast which leads to weak plants. They grow plants in climate-controlled greenhouses with sixteen hours of gentle LED grow light, perfect temperature and humidity, they get watered with seventy degree water with the perfect balance of nutrients for optimum growth. Perfect.
And then it’s time for them to be shipped out.
They’re plucked from their rows, tossed in a paper sack and thrown into a refrigerated truck for shipping. They get locked in a dark truck until they arrive at a greenhouse where they’re pulled off the truck and thrown around before the paper sack is ripped off and they’re put on display. They get watered with cold city water and generic fertilizer, there are drafts and breezes with temperatures that fluctuate more than the stock market. Depending on the greenhouse and where they’re placed, they get anywhere from eight to twelve hours of unforgiving sunshine.
And these little pampered plants have a nervous breakdown. They shatter. Literally. That’s what it’s called when plants abruptly drop all their leaves. Fiddleleafs are notorious for leaf dropping and, really, who can blame them.
I wonder if any of the people who know my dad would stand in protest if he’s killed.
I already know the answer. It’s nothing but my dad’s optimism leaking through to even consider these suburban white people would demand justice. These people who have never had to question their comfortable, safe place in the world. These people who are so upset that insured buildings have been burned, that billion dollar corporations lost profit from looting.
They might post on social media or send empty messages of condolence, but they aren’t going to take to the streets. They’re not the ones who will stand outside precincts demanding those responsible be held accountable.
The newest addition: Persephone.
I’ve been thinking about getting a Venus Flytrap for a couple years, but I’ve always talked myself out of it. Carnivorous plants require specialized care. Everything from their soil, to the water, and of course their unique diet.
Venus Flytraps are bog plants. Bogs and swamps are not the same thing. When you visualize swamps you’re probably thinking of Louisiana. When you think of bogs, it’s probably Scotland or Alaska. Venus Flytraps are full sun plants and are happy to take eight hours or more of light, no need to diffuse it. They’re native to North and South Carolinas so humidity is a must. Good news for someone who lives in Indiana with its hot and humid summers. If your summer is milder, you might have to use a pebble tray or a misting routine to keep the moisture up.
As for soil, I have mine in two parts peat and one part perlite with a small layer of pebbles at the bottom of her unique container. Avoid using potting soil if you can. Potting soil is mixed with nutrients and fertilizer that can harm these specialized plants. Venus Flytraps need to stay moist throughout, but not in standing water. Since the Triceratops pot doesn’t have any drainage, the pebbles at the bottom will make it easier to turn the pot over and drain excess water without disrupting the plant.
Water will be a bit trickier. I’m experimenting right now with the water I use for my Calatheas which is tap water I leave out overnight to allow chemicals to evaporate. But, if she starts showing signs of stress, I might have to pick up distilled water from the store until I can get a rain collection system set up.
Venus Flytraps only need to be fed once a month and you only need to feed one of the traps. This is one of the reasons fertilizer can be detrimental to Persephone. Carnivorous plants get their nutrition from their food, not the soil. I picked up a can of freeze-dried meal worms from the pet store and its got enough to feed her for probably the next five years.
The most unique need for Persephone is that she must have a 3-4 month dormancy period. This is the tricky part. This fall, she needs to stay outside until her foliage dies off, but she needs to be inside before her roots freeze. After I trim off the foliage, I’ll put her rhizome in an airtight bag and put her in the back of the fridge until spring. Then she’ll be rehomed and put back outside after the threat of freeze. During their dormancy period, Venus Flytraps work on their root system so that when spring rolls around they’re strong enough to send up new and bigger traps. You can skip this dormancy period if you keep they flytrap inside, but the plant will only live a few years before its root system will weaken too much to support its continuous growth and it will eventually die.
We all need periods of rest to re-center and strengthen our cores. Persephone needs a few months to get herself strong enough to emerge in the spring. I need a few days to find a way to channel the fear induced rage that’s had me on a hair trigger all week. It’s okay to take time away from everything. You have to. You must find joy in things, even if its just a new bloom or trimming leaves or picking up a new plant you’ve had your eye on. Coping mechanisms are how we channel the feelings that are too big and too tangled to put into words.