The drought and everything else got to me. Something had to give.
Gardening in our summer-dry climate of Sonoma County requires adjusting to winters that are usually verdant and soggy with vernal pools, morphing into summers dry enough to burst into flames if you sneeze too hard. It’s like living in two separate ecosystems at once, as if Ireland and Arizona were mashed together in a given year. So it’s always a bit mind-bending to think moss for half the year and cacti the rest of it.
And it’s been more parched than usual this summer, since last winter bore few rains. Even the cacti are looking peaky. Any irrigation water has been very carefully apportioned for food and habitat purposes, and, as mentioned before, grey water buckets, the words “mellow” and “yellow” (you locals know what I mean) and every-other-day-showers are the norm. I’m thinking of writing a blog piece entitled, “Gross Things I Did During the Drought” but I wouldn’t want to admit to any of it publicly.
Without wandering too deep into the murky pond that has been the last couple of years — with the pandemic and so many trials that friends and loved ones have been through, the drought and wildfires, and my own challenge of finding myself on crutches the last three months — let’s just say I was desperate for a healing space around me. I needed something that invigorated the senses with vibrant life and didn’t involve travel (or even moving around much) or an outdoor watering spree.
Enter the houseplant haven!
Actually, at high-summer every year, when the wet green of winter dries up to dusty desert beige, I find myself starting to dream about a lush garden oasis in the manner of the Moroccan courtyards, (riads, I believe they are called), with their colorful tiles, fountains, rills and exotic greenery — a place protected from harsh dry winds, sun and rapid evaporation.
And I always try to imagine how I could create a miniature version of a riad outdoors, given the limited means available (meaning, build it myself). It finally occurred to me that the inside of my house could be turned into the space I long for in summer — a lush overgrown oasis with bold colors and protections from the elements. It won’t be anything like a riad of course, but it will be an oasis with foliage, color, a water element, and shade. I tend to hibernate indoors during the hot dry days of summer anyway, I just never had any indoor plants to keep company with. Now I do.
Admittedly, I’ve never been a houseplant person, unless you count the neglected dracaena I had in college. There was always so much to focus on in the outdoor garden that it seemed pointless. But welcoming some houseplants into my space has been so novel and enriching that now I’m sorry that I deprived myself of them for so long! Well … we’ll see if I still feel that way in a year.
It remains to be seen if I can keep these new plant friends thriving and growing, and fend off any ant invasions, among other things. To that end, I’ve been reading some new garden books to see what knowledge I can glean.
The book “Wild At Home” by Hilton Carter is eye-candy to the plant-lover in me, and very inspiring. I wish my space was as jungle-like as his! I just want to snuggle up in that chair with some tea or cocoa and sing lullabies to the plants all day. Alas, I lack the bright light and extra high ceilings. But then, that’s the fun of gardening–to learn and discover and create what works in each space, and to keep getting better at it.
“Plantopedia” by Lauren Camilleri and Sophia Kaplan out of Sydney, Australia is another book I’m appreciating. It is a terrific reference book for growing many common and uncommon houseplants while also delivering on plant eye-candy. And any reference book that comes with not one, but two ribbon bookmarks is immediately raised in my opinion.
I’m still reading a few other books as well. Some online sources I’ve been using are The Spruce, SFGate and Apartment Therapy. If you have a favorite houseplant book or source, please share in the comments.
One shocker is the cost of houseplants these days. Were they always so expensive? Happily there are online groups for sharing plants and cuttings for propagation.
To begin my houseplant oasis, I splurged for a few larger specimens — just to give some structure and instant gratification. The rest are adorably tiny.
Until I memorize what each one prefers in terms of watering, I am finding this app helpful to track them: Planta. It not only reminds me when each plant needs water (based on the local conditions and the type of plant) it will also ID a plant with the phone camera. This is handy since it appears that houseplants are not always labeled. I can imagine this app being useful to a plant-sitter as well.
Naturally, a new plant vista means I’ve been having fun visiting new nurseries and plant shops. My latest plant high occurred upon finding the shop called Botany Zhi in Santa Rosa CA. See photo below.
For you locals, I also found essentials and treasures at Kings Nursery in Santa Rosa, Harmony Farm Supply, and a nice selection of air plants and other gems at California Sister Floral Design & Supply. A happy surprise was finding a lovely selection at the small but excellent living-plant florist in Mill Valley called Green Door Design. I look forward to discovering many more places and if you know some, please note them in the comments!
Turns out that houseplants are sort of like having dogs in regards to social situations. We used to marvel at how many people said “hi” to us on a walking path when we were with our dog (lots) versus when we were by ourselves (nearly invisible). Unlike outdoor garden plants that vary by ecosystem, indoor plants are often the same across continents and are therefore common conversation topics.
For example, I was recently delighted to learn that my niece, who lives in a different climate zone, is an avid houseplant gardener and it’s been fun to share with and learn from her. She tipped me off to an LED plant light that I like. She’s also named every one of her plants. I love that! I hope to follow her example, especially for the plants whose common names I’m not keen on, like snake plant and spider plant. (Snakes and spiders are welcome outside, but I prefer not to be reminded of them indoors. 😉 ) But how about these adorable names: kangaroo paw, elephant ear, dragon tree, dolphin necklace, fiddle-leaf fig, lipstick plant, ponytail palm, panda plant, moth orchids and bunny ear cactus?!
Are you growing houseplants too? Which ones? Have you passed any down through the generations or exchanged with neighbors?
Hope you are all hanging in there, or better yet, doing marvelously well! ~lisa