The Basic Needs and Care of a Friendship Plant
By: Francesca Ferrauto
Recently, I discovered the power of propagation. When plant cuttings are placed into small and often visually appealing containers full of water, they will develop a brand new root system. Honestly, it makes me feel a lot like a scientist. I get to see how different plants react to sun and shade, and I make up theories on why one specimen grows faster than another and so on. It’s a beautiful process that has clear rules for every different plant type. The only wild card is me and how quickly I can read the signs my plants are clearly showing me.
At the moment, I have successfully propagated six plants, and I just started the propagation process for ten more: I’m excited for the results. My obsession with these little baby plants in propagation has brought to my attention a tendency of mine to over-analyse not only the plants in my apartment, but also the people in my life, or bettering the relationships I have with them. Almost as if I’m looking at every relationship for clues on how to grow a better one next time, like a scientist… or an obsessive plant mama. Plants are easy enough to understand: dry leaves usually means more water, yellow leaves means less water, burned leaves means less sun, fading leaves means more sun. The problem is humans, who often don’t speak in such easy terms, which makes my role as a plant mama a bit harder and tainted with an obsessive twist.
Take the case of a once-upon-a-time best friend of mine. Let’s call her Carolina. She and I became friends during my freshman year and remained friends all throughout my many relocations. One day, Carolina stopped taking my calls. Truth be told, this wasn’t the first time she’d made herself unavailable to me. In the past, I was persistent, trying every means of communication to reach her. I did the same this time until, during one of my latest attempts, I was reminded of the desperate measures I took to salvage my poor Orchids. This beautiful and sexy plant simply didn’t seem to want to stay in my home, as it started losing all its flowers almost instantly upon my purchasing it. The sudden decay of my plant was explainable only by a hidden disease I didn’t detect before. I had in fact bought the Orchids on a whim without knowing how to take care of them.
In barely a week’s time, they’d officially died on me, and this episode made me reevaluate what I was yet again trying to do with Carolina. I kept on watering my Orchids, repotting them, trimming their roots, but they still died: actually, the more I worked on them, the faster they died. As I was calling my friend, texting her, and writing her long heart-felt emails, my need to talk to her became weaker and weaker, because, with her also, nothing was working. I saw our friendship decaying quickly, and it paralleled my Orchid’s experience. It occurred to me that so much insistence had never made me nor Carolina happy before, but was this the reason our friendship failed at times?
The wound hurt so bad that I doubted every single conversation we ever had and concluded that maybe she’d never really liked me in the first place, similar to the Orchids that were actually already sickening at the flower shop: I simply hadn’t noticed. The Orchids taught me that I should never buy a plant without first checking how healthy it is, especially because my good intentions and my persistent love might be the death of it. This lesson translated into the human world as a warning to simply watch out while getting to know someone new, to look for signs hinting that they may not really enjoy your presence. That’s as good a theory as any, so, like a good plant mama/scientist, I put it to the test.
Abigail liked me a lot. She wanted to hang out all the time, asked for my opinion constantly, complimented me, my home, my writing. There couldn’t possibly be any doubt that our friendship was going to be a long-lasting one. However, the spark went extinct quite quickly, as her life became, apparently, more interesting than it was when we first met. She started calling less and less until I was left again with a very unhealthy vacuum inside of me. I had opened up to Abigail, thinking that anything I was giving was an investment into the future of our friendship. From my perspective, when she stopped actively engaging with me, my investment had not been returned, and this very biased and probably wrong view cast a dim light on the memories of the moments we shared. Abigail reminded me of my first Bromeliad, which I adored and had to painfully watch over as it dried up, withered, and died. The Bromeliads’ plant care is very simple: it needs little water and medium shade, it blooms beautifully and adds a splash of colour to any room. The thing I didn’t know about Bromeliads is that they are short-lived and usually die right after blooming. So, basically the more beautiful my Bromeliad looked, the closer it was to dying. Not because I did anything wrong, it’s simply that… that was it. There was nothing more this plant could have given me. So, why am I so angry with Abigail… I mean, my Bromeliad?
The answer is probably to be found in my obsessive tendencies. Being a nosey plant mama that wants to see the root system form and forecast how strong of a plant I will be able to grow, I over-analyse my plants and end up suffocating them or not enjoying the moments we actually do share. For how good of a gardener I flatter myself to be, plants grow on their own and all I can do is give them the best environment to grow in that I’m able to. Sometimes it works, other times it doesn’t. This is a painful truth, applicable also to relationships, both romantic and platonic.
As a very sensitive woman who needs to talk a lot, I need a lot of friends. However, I’m also a very anxious person, who tends to project much of her inner turmoil on others, often failing to listen and watch and wait. The most essential aspects of exploring gardening for me has been learning Patience. Sometimes letting things unfold on their own is the secret to a healthy plant. Other times you might have chosen a lost cause to pursue. I, for one, still struggle with Orchids (yeah, that one hurt).
I made a new friend recently, who reminds me a lot of the little cuttings I am propagating around my apartment at the moment. Since I don’t know how our friendship will turn out, I speculate regularly on it. She could be similar to my Schefflera who lives but doesn’t propagate, who grows taller but not in the shape I wish for it. Who knows? She might even be like my Spider Plant or my Golden Pothos which grow stronger by the day despite (maybe even thanks to) the many mistakes I made with them. She could also be something completely new and unexplored, like the dark and mysterious Calathea I was gifted only recently and that seems to have found the perfect spot in the corner of my bedroom but about which I know absolutely nothing.
Either way, I truly wish to be able to let go of my anxiety and express my needs clearly, to let this relationship form without over-analysing and without sending off mixed-signals. My needs, when it comes down to plants, are sacred. I don’t have the brightest apartment, and I share it with a cat who might attempt to eat whichever plant enters in its vicinity, hence my plants need to be shade and pet-friendly. Both of these needs have to be met without fail, at the cost of the plant’s or my cat’s life. This is why my lusting over a Giant Monstera at the flower shop will need to remain a look-but-don’t-touch kind of relationship. I wish to develop the same simple logic for when humans are involved. Plants have very specific needs and are very easy to read. Humans are not as easy to read, yet we all have very specific needs.
If my needs come together with someone else’s to create an ecosystem in which we cannot both thrive, then our relationship is doomed from the start. Patience is key; the patience to let time go by, to study how the roots are growing, if they are growing at all, and check up on our new relationship every now and again, seeing if the environment is healthy enough for everyone involved. This is the only care required. Growing relationships isn’t that different than growing plants after all.