“Serendipity” has been my favorite word for as long as I can remember. Aside from its meaning, which in and of itself is appealing, the very shape of the word is great. Se-REN-di-pi-DEE! Say it. It skips off the tongue and twirls across your lips, tumbling into the world. It is a delightful, dancing word. Ah, serendipity.
So with that in mind, the arrival of my Uppercase magazine, volume 53, arrived this week, just as I was drafting my essay for this month’s Baum-kuchen Love Letter. If you are not familiar with Uppercase magazine, it is delightfully beautiful. A publication of eye candy for creatives. Its arrival was serendipitous because this quarter's theme is flowers, plants, and gardens, which aligns perfectly with the theme of my BK essay this month. Even more serendipitous is the fact that I took the time to begin reading it and came across a gem of a quote that I’d like to share with you. And I say this was serendipitous because I have been so busy that it should surprise no one, if the magazine sat on my desk, unread until the semester had ended, all papers had been read, and my final grades had been submitted. But I flipped through it, and then I went back to the letter from the editor, at the start of the magazine and took the time to read it.
At the end of the letter for the editor’s desk, the magazine’s extraordinary publisher, editor, and designer Janine Vangool, writes “Often the best way to take care of one’s self is to care for something completely outside of your own being.” Yes! I do believe that this may be the very reason why I have fallen in love with the idea of caring for houseplants. Early in the pandemic, when I’d finally allowed the idea that we were going to be in the house for a while to settle in, I picked up a houseplant on one quick, anxiety-ridden, masked trip to Whole Foods for a few necessities. It was a small pink polka dot plant, its scientific name hypoestes phyllostachya. That first one has since died because I really didn’t know quite how to care for it. But it lived for quite some time, and the fact that I lost it has inspired me to learn more about my surviving plants to keep them healthier.
The trend of nurturing houseplants increased exponentially during the pandemic. Some sources report a 50% increase in the sales of houseplants, but sadly not all of those houseplants survived. Many, like my pink polka dot plant, met their end at the hands of novice plant parents. But some new plant parents, like myself, are determined to make this work. In order to increase my chance of success and my plants’ chances of survival, I have started trying to learn more about them. I’ve discovered that it’s not as easy as just sticking them on the windowsill and remembering to water them once a week. For months, I thought that was all I needed to do, and even doing that was a challenge. But now I know, there’s much more to it than that. Different plant species have distinctly different needs. Some plants need to be watered once a week, while for others that would be too much water and lead to root rot. Some plants love humidity and bright sunlight, while others enjoy the shade and thrive in low sunlight. And there are different types of soils and ways of creating healthy environments for your plants.
The idea that there is so much to learn and know, excites me. Recently, I started a plant log, a notebook, of course. It is housed in a red Field Note notebook that I plan to keep at home near my plants. In it, I have the photos and names of each plant, along with each plant's specific care instructions. While it might seem like it would have been easier just to buy a plant care book, I think it was much better for me to create my own. Different sources have very different ideas of how to care about the same plant. So, I will experiment and try different things, learning as I go along, adding notes to my plant journal. Also, my research has brought me to all sorts of interesting information that I might not have discovered, had I just purchased a single plant book.
As with anything notebook-related that I share with you, there is no right way or one way to keep a plant journal. Please don't think that you should design your plant journal if you decide to keep a plant journal, the way that I’ve designed mine. Part of the joy comes from figuring out what works for you – your own personalized process. The main thing in all of this is the joy that I am deriving from learning more about my plants and watching them grow and thrive. Just today, while putting the final touches on this article, I found myself reading more about my pink polka dot plant, and I learned that it gets leggy quickly. I don’t remember the website I was on, but it was something I’d never read before. In plant speak, “leggy” means that the stems get very long with very few leaves on them. That was exactly what happened to my first one and most likely the reason why it didn’t do well. Eventually, the stems became so long and were so thin that they became weak and started to die. What I didn’t know, at the time, was that I was supposed to be pruning it on a regular basis, so that it will remain short, bushy, and full.
I learn through research and writing, in a way that I don’t learn from reading. Organizing and recording information writes it to my brain. I’ve set up each page, in mostly the same way, with all of the basic care instruction categories. As I go along, I will add specific care notes about each plant. As I have just started this plant logging process, I don’t know how it will look or turn out in a few month’s time, but it will be interesting to watch it all unfold, as it is to watch all writing and “notebooking” processes unfold.
By the way, my jury is still out on the term “plant parent,” but I’m using it for now. Happy spring and happy “notebooking,” y’all.