As I was preparing to leave my marital home last summer and thinking of ways I could bring some much-needed joy into my new life, I made a decision. I was going to fill my landing pad with green things and love them tenderly. No more plastic ferns for me. It was time to start caring for house plants. Real ones.

This was a big deal. I’ll explain why in a moment, but first …

People often cut their hair after breakups. Ever done that?

I recall breaking up with a guy in my twenties and my grandmother (or maybe my brother) saying, “please just promise me you won’t cut your hair again.”

I’ve never thought much about why women do that, but I just googled it. There were 8,620,000 results so it’s definitely a thing.

Now that I think of it, I guess it’s a way of saying good riddance to the past but that’s not where my head’s at these days. I’m older. Wiser. Humbler. I’m thankful for the past. Everything about it has paved the way for today, which is paving the way for tomorrow.

Instead of using up energy to try and cut ties with my past, I’d rather use it to nurture a future of joy.

So, here I am caring for eight house plants with zero green thumbs.

Let me explain how BIG that ZERO is.

Before purchasing my plant babies, I did my research. I wanted sturdy plants that could survive without much water, with too much water, and without any light, because:

a) I was bound to forget to water them at some point

b) I was bound to over-water them at some point

c) I have a problem with light

Okay, not a problem with light exactly. I’m not a bat or anything. I just can’t seem to wrap my head around the difference between sunny, shady, somewhat sunny, somewhat shady … Just ask my mom. I once told her that I needed to move to a shadier spot on a patio, and then plonked myself in the sunniest seat. “See that shadow on the table – that shadow from your arm? That means you’re in the sun,” she said.

I was 50 at the time.

Low maintenance. That was the goal.

How hard could caring for house plants be? With my research complete, I placed an order through the Plant Collective. A couple of weeks later my plants arrived. I unpacked them with joy, read their labels, and quickly realized that I’d completely botched it up.

Two of my new plants required full light.

Two required just the right amount of water.

Four of them were toxic to dogs.

I have two dogs. I was in over my head. Still, I rolled up my sleeves, lay some newspaper on the kitchen floor, transplanted my plants into pretty containers, and promised I’d do my best to keep them alive.

caring for house plants 1

For the first few days, I was on high alert.

Like a new mom constantly checking her sleeping baby to make sure it’s actually breathing, I was constantly dipping my fingers into the soil, trying to figure out if it was moist enough, too moist, dry enough, or, heaven forbid, too dry.

If a plant looked even remotely unhappy, I’d switch it with another in pursuit of the perfect (pet-safe) spot. Speaking of spots, were the spots on those leaves supposed to be there, or were they a sign of disease?

Perhaps they weren’t getting enough sun. Or maybe they were getting too much sun. Darn it, I knew the containers I was using weren’t big enough.

So much for easy.

My plant family includes two Dieffenbachias.

Both reside on the baker’s rack by my west-facing kitchen window.

A couple of weeks after their arrival, I noticed that Dieffenbachia #1 was green and perky while Dieffenbachia #2 was becoming yellow and limp. In the past, if I’d notice that a plant had given up the will to live, I’d give up the will to water it (if I had indeed been watering it at all). But not now. Nu-uh. I’d made a promise to these house plants and I intended to keep it, so I sent out an SOS to my plant-savvy friend, Jenn.

After several back and forths, we eliminated potential causes. It wasn’t the heating vent, nor was it the soil she was planted in, nor was it a case of over-watering. We knew this because Dieffenbachia #1 was thriving in exactly the same conditions.

“Are there any drainage holes in her pot?” Jenn finally asked.


Imagine having to wear sopping wet socks all day, every day. That’s essentially what I’d forced my plant to do. As if the shock of being shipped to me by FedEx weren’t bad enough, her water-logged roots were now rotting. Remorse set in. I had failed her. I had killed her. And then … Rejoice.

Another message from Jenn.

“She can be saved.”

As directed, I moved Dieffenbachia #2 into a plastic pot with drainage holes and gave her a trim, leaving behind only a few leaves so that she could soak up the sun. (Picture Charlie Brown’s Christmas tree.)

“Also, tell her she’s beautiful and don’t let her hear you laugh,” Jenn instructed me. So that’s what I’ve been doing. I’ve been talking to her, and her seven siblings, and you know what?

My plants are growing!

I know this is what plants are supposed to do but this is something I honestly hadn’t taken for granted.

My plants — the very plants being nurtured by me, the one with zero green thumbs, the one who can’t tell sun from shade, the one who has never successfully nurtured a plant from adolescence through to adulthood — they’re not just alive; they are actually growing.

I don’t just mean their existing stems are getting longer (although that alone is pretty remarkable given my track record). I mean brand spanking new shoots are springing forth and new leaves are unfurling.

Every day, I peer deep into the foliage of my plants to see what’s new. You know what the coolest thing is? My snake plant is having a pup! Yeah, that happens — to aloe plants, too. Little stand-alone babies appear and they can eventually be separated from their parents and go on to live independent lives.

I can’t wait for the day I get to launch my snake pup into the world.

Holy crap. Did I really just write that?

I did. Would you just look at me; a proud plant mama! I’m not only caring for house plants, I’m totally nerding out on it.

If I had more flat surfaces in my home I could totally see this becoming an addiction, like tattoos. (I’m not addicted to tattoos but I’ve heard it’s a thing, like post-break-up haircuts.) Unfortunately, space is limited indoors, but I do have a garden and a porch, and a deck. And it’s spring.

Is that a hint of green I see on my thumb? Why, I think it might be.

With love,

Viv for Today xo

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