Caring for Plants Can Be a Form of Self-Care
How being a “plant lady” keeps me in touch with my roots — especially now.
“Do they make you happy?” My therapist asked me this about my plants after I told her how I’d sort of blown my intended budget the weekend before; I’d bought seven more plants to add to my newly single lady casita. When I nodded vigorously, she noted that it was good to have a hobby. (It turns out she is also a plant lady). And I spent the rest of the session waxing poetic about how much my plant babies meant to me and how the care and maintenance of them have been a blessed diversion to my divorce process but also a lesson.
There is something to be said about putting my hands in the soil and letting it fall through my fingers as I carefully place each plant baby into a new pot. A feeling of accomplishment and joy as I cheer on each new leaf. It’s almost like giving birth ad infinitum. Sitting among the variety of greenery in my home brings such joy and peace to my soul like no other hobby ever has.
I feel a deep connection to my grandmother and those that came before me when I’m knuckle deep in the dirt. I spent summers reading on the bench in her backyard while she tended to her garden, but never really understood the appeal of digging in the dirt until now.
The same sentiment applied to listening to my mother spray the flowers on the back patio while playing Earth, Wind & Fire on Saturday mornings when I was 17. I’d just groan and pull the covers over my head.
I never really considered myself a plant person because I never actually tried to be. That is until two years ago when my marriage was waning, and I needed a change. Something that was just mine. I loved the way plants perked up rooms that I was obsessing over on Pinterest, HGTV and Instagram, so I started out slow and bought two easy to care for starter plants: a Snake plant I named Sadie, and a Pothos plant I dubbed Penelope (Penny). When I didn’t kill those, I added a few more, eventually growing my current collection to 37 plants.
The varieties range from a vibrant green Philodendron Brasil hanging lazily in my office to a giant rubber plant Tineke dominating the dining room. I give them all names, have a watering schedule and snap photos of their growth.
And while it (may have) started as a thing to do to change the energy of the house after my ex moved out over the summer of 2019 — while the kids were at their dad’s house — it evolved into something much more. Through spending so much energy on my plants I’ve learned to be gentle with my own complicated roots and take my time when trying to solve problems. Caring for plants also has helped me be more patient with my children and my own growth. There is no shortcut to plant care, and I can do real damage if I rush things. The same can be said for my self-care. I spend hours examining leaves and losing myself completely in the task, reading as many books as possible to learn about pests and potential disease and how to treat them if infected. Reaping the rewards of that effort with new growth. It’s all so symbolic in this season of my life. It gives me time to clear my head and process all the emotions.
It’s also been an amazing and unexpected way for me to expand my community. I’ve deepened friendships with girlfriends as we text each other eagerly with the unfurling of each new leaf, and as we discover new-to-us varieties, enter giveaways and share sales on pots and stands. We commiserate when things go sideways (like when my croton suddenly keeled over) and cackle over how we fuss at our plants like they’re our children. In between, we have heart check-ins, talk business and plot our world domination.
As I lose one part of my extended family and some friends through divorce, I gain more within the plant community. They don’t judge and tend to celebrate the smallest of things, and that feels like exactly what I need right now.
Grappling with who I am now as a 40-something divorced mother of two, settling into this new life and now thrown into the middle of a pandemic, the plants have become my safe space, a constant and source of joy.
With the outside world going crazy, I can — and have — turned inward and focused on tending to my own home first.
Nearly 20 years ago, I remember watching Baby Boy for the first time and seeing A.J. Johnson as Jody’s mom in her garden telling him not to mess up her joy. I didn’t know what she meant at the time. Now, it all makes sense. There is a meme circulating in the plant community from that movie that says, “All I wanna do is buy my house so I can start my garden and act like Jody mama.”
I see it, look around my space, smile and reply; “Me, too, sis, me too.”