I was a sad, stagnant bitch when I first fell into my plant obsession. Recently dumped with a new apartment, a dwindling bank account, and too much time on my hands, a quick google search told me that I needed some serious Feng Shui money vibes in my life. If energy and placement were the keys to manifesting a better life, ya’ girl was lost and desperate to find her way out of this hole.The truth is, I only became interested in plants out of sheer selfishness. My mom tried to get me into plants and gardening when she was alive, but I never cared much for them outside of her admiration. She’d buy a new Nikon every couple of years to take photos of her unfurling flowers but I never understood her fascination with them, “Ooh, cool Mom, that’s pretty….” I’d tell her as she showed me yet another impeccable portrait of her flowers. “Look, this one had a dragonfly on it” she’d say as she’d flip through photos of her green babies and the friends they’d make in her garden. I knew she was proud of not only her plants but of her photography skills too, her father, my abuelito Don Chuy, was one of the first photojournalists for La Opinion after all. Photography and creativity runs deep in our blood, so naturally, my mother had a knack for noticing beauty in everything. At the time, I didn’t get it, it all seemed so boring to me, so stale, and viejita of her. It took over 10 years, and an entire photo album dedicated to my plant babies, for me to finally understand the joy and healing power of plants. I only wish it hadn’t taken me so long to join the club, we could have enjoyed the shifting of the leaves together.

Because I was so disheartened, and broke, I spent a lot of time in my apartment, on the internet. According to google, if I were to purchase a Chinese Money Tree and place it in the SouthEast facing corner of my apartment, money would begin to flow freely and effortlessly into my life, and who needs a broken heart when you have money? 

I had nothing else to lose, so I hopped onto the Goldline, took my ass down to Chinatown, and got myself a Pachira Aquatica, or otherwise known as a Chinese Money Tree. You know the kind with the big pretty leaves and braided roots? I made sure the plant I chose had 5 braids, to represent the 5 elements of Feng Shui, wood, fire, earth, metal, and water, thanks Google U, I wasn’t about to fuck this one up!

Surprisingly, my Sugar Plantty as she’s appropriately named is still alive to this day and sits on top of my refrigerator. I couldn’t tell you if that’s the SouthEast corner of the kitchen, but she loves it there and if there’s one thing you can take away from plants is if they love where they’re placed, you should probably leave them there. Unfortunately though, I didn’t win the lotto after I brought SP home, and almost 6 years later, my finances are barely starting to balance out. However, what I did manage to acquire is quite possibly, the healthiest habit I could have ever manifested for myself, but not without a very important lesson first.

Over the course of 6 years, I’ve slowly accumulated over 30 plants. Now I know that doesn’t sound like a lot, but there were many casualties along the way. In the beginning, once I realized I could keep a singular plant alive, me, the girl who needed to leave post-its around my apartment to remind myself of the most basic day-to-day responsibilities, like, “Did you turn the stove off ALL the way?” Or “You don’t need it!” Hanging on the back of my front door as a reminder to quit coming home with chingaderas that served no purpose. I was able to keep something alive, and oh my god, what a noble feeling that was! I soon became addicted to hoarding plants, I brought home plants I didn’t even love, plants I knew nothing about. I developed a reflex of extending my arm out anytime I’d pass the plant section at Trader Joe’s, bringing home yet another roommate, it never failed. Sometimes I’d even come home with a plant I already had because I didn’t even pay attention anymore. As you can imagine, many of them died along the way, I handed off a few to my dad after realizing I was slowly killing them, and their chances of survival in my home were depleting with each passing day.

Have you ever killed a houseplant?

It’s heartbreaking.

Those poor suckers have no say in what home they end up in. If you don’t give them the proper care and attention, they will literally die in front of your eyes. 

I can’t count how many times I had to walk yet another casualty to their grave, down the long, dark hallway in my apartment complex to the dumpster outback. Who did I think I was bringing these unsuspecting victims into my home just to kill them?

Like all living beings, plants respond to love. If you nurture them, they will reciprocate that energy. And if you neglect them, well, they die. I soon realized I was biting off more than I could chew. I was becoming greedy, and I wasn’t even able to keep all of them alive. That for me was the turning point. 

It wasn’t fair to them, so I started to pay closer attention. To listen. One of the most powerful lessons my plants have taught me – and there are many –  is the beauty of the sacred mundane. Caring for them taught me to s  l  o  w  d  o  w  n. To tune into the rhythm and laws of nature. It’s there, it’s always been there and it will always be there. This, my mother tried teaching me years ago, but I was too preoccupied, too distracted to pay attention to her wisdom. 

From then on, caring for my plants wasn’t as difficult as I thought it was going to be either, it was only a matter of reminding myself to take the time to look at them, to dip my finger into their soil. If my finger met moist soil, they were doing okay. If my finger felt nothing but loose soil, they were thirsty. That was easy enough to remember. Then, I’d start paying attention to the leaves. Do they look scraggly or full? Are they turning yellow or brown? The yellow leaves usually appeared on the plants with very wet soil, okay, so cut back on the watering. The brown leaves were usually paired with dry soil, that’s easy, too much sun, not enough water. Those were the beginning guidelines I laid out for myself, and then I began to think about placement. Did they look happy? Did they feel cheerful? Were they growing fuller or not at all? Did they feel stagnant? The more I began to listen to them, the more they began to speak to me. 

Photo by Rosemarie Buentiempo

The conversations began to get even louder during watering days. I realized when one of them was thirsty, they usually all were. Some required more watering during the week than others, but I soon began to understand all of their schedules, all of their preferences. I started a journal for them, a tip I got from my proud plant sis Azin, “Keep a journal, and add every new plant you bring home. Read up on them, their country of origin, look at the climate in those regions so you know what kind of climate they’ll thrive in the most. If they require more humidity, get a humidifier and bunch all those plants together.” 

What I once thought of as a nuisance, soon became my sacred me-time. Watering days began to coincide with my self-care routine, something that would usually only happen when I realized I’d been put through the wringer or was feeling down in the dumps. Sometimes I would go weeks without a good self-care session, but that changed when the plants came around. Taking care of them meant I was taking care of myself too. Because when they got love, I got love, and so did my apartment. There’s something different about having happy plants in your home, the energy feels charged, vibrant, and clean.

Have you ever noticed how radiant you feel after you shower?

Plants feel that too.

I began dedicating Sunday mornings and Thursday evenings to us. I’d play my special Sunday jams, either oldies like Brenton Wood or country like Strait and Waylon, music that invokes tender love or a broken heart. Then the plants get a full bathing in the tub, and then a quick trim if they’re looking scraggly or if I promised anyone a clipping. One of my favorite things to do is take a clipping, root it in water, plant it in soil when it’s ready and gift it to someone I love. It’s a long process that takes a little over a month to complete, but it’s such a rewarding feeling handing over the pot to someone else’s hands and being able to say that I played a role in this growth. 

Photo by Rosemarie Buentiempo

My momma would be so proud of how far I’ve come in my journey, of how many people I’ve shared the shifting of the leaves with, of how many times a new leaf has brought a smile, and sometimes a tear to my face. 

She’d be so happy to know that her healthy habit is now mine too, and that I’m spreading the wisdom of the sacred mundane one glorious, green clipping at a time. 

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