by Dan Pogust
It’s hard to truly care about something as abstract as environmentalism—it’s too vast and complex. We find that educating each other about the intricacies of climate change and mass deforestation is the most effective way to spread awareness. We have also found that learning to care for a piece of nature can be a great way to stay inspired to love the Earth, which is why this month we are inviting you to find a plant to fall in love with; no matter how black you think your thumb is.
I love plants. I love plants so much I have converted my bedroom into a jungle, complete with vines, orchids, and ferns growing on all the walls. With that said, you don’t get to raising 500 rare tropical and subtropical plants without a little dedication and motivation. It makes me sad to hear someone tell me that they have a black thumb, because for the longest time I actually thought I did, too.
My mother loves gardening, and as a kid I was her duckling, trailing behind and watching her tend to her Eden. Later, working in the nature lodge at my summer camp gave me one week every summer to have college graduates teach me about botany. Horticulture has always been something that interests me, but it wasn’t until October 2013 that I bought my first plant: a Philodendron named Phil Collins. From then on everything was a blur. Sorrow from killing plants and elation from seeing new growth, mixed with the stress of college meant that my moods were all over the place. Every succulent I tried to grow died when I touched it. I killed herbs left and right. Don’t even get me started on “indoor foliage” plants. I found myself at a strange crossroads. Do I keep buying plants and watching them die or do I just stop? Instead I took a third route: try something new. Maybe there's a chance that I was just trying to grow all the wrong things.
If I could offer one piece of advice to anyone struggling keep a plant alive, convinced they are cursed with a black thumb forever, I don’t believe you. Similar to pets, I think there are plants that are just not going to like you. If you’ve killed 6 cacti, stop buying cacti and try a different plant group. Get an orchid. If that dies, get an African violet. I firmly believe that there is a plant for everyone, but you just have to do a little digging first (no pun intended). For me, I grow almost exclusively passionflowers, orchids, gesneriads, arums, African bulbs, and ferns. Here and there I try new things that may or may not survive, but considering I have the largest private collection of tree passionflowers on the west coast, I don’t really kick myself over a couple dead air plants. Here’s my 8 step process from me to you:
1. Consider your personality:
Do you like seeing constant growth? How many flowers do you want per year? These are questions that are important to ask when you’re buying plants. I’ve been dealing with anxiety and major depression for the past several years, so having a regular water/feed regimen and watching plants grow every day has been quite therapeutic for me.
2. Do some research:
You don’t need to go out and read a textbook on horticulture or native plants or whatnot, but I do recommend scouring through the web for plants that appeal to you. It’s always nice to have something funky and unique in your house; something that excites you when you water it. If you get bored of your spider plant, what’s to stop you from forgetting to water it? I recommend starting your search at a local used bookstore rather than the eternal depths of Google. Powell's Used Books has several fantastic aisles completely devoted to gardening, farming, and horticulture. You can just sit down with a nice cup of coffee and a book and enjoy learning about your future plant. Sometimes you even get lucky and find first or second additions for very uncommon and misunderstood plant families. Next time you're in Powell's, Click HERE to get 25% OFF your entire purchase.
3. Locate a seller:
After you’ve picked a plant, you’re going to want to do some research on where you can acquire it. Visit your local nursery and ask if they carry it or if they have ever carried it. Many locally owned nurseries are willing to help locate, order, and educate. Experts at local nurseries have years of schooling and experience, and they can answer any question you have. Asking questions is the best way to learn about plant care within your microclimate, and talking to a human is much easier than digging up and deciphering advice from old online forums. Local nursery employees will be able to recommend the best balance of moisture, food, and light to help you improve your plant’s quality of life. Check out some of our favorite local nurseries here! After you've bought your plant, you get to bring it home and start caring for it!