Over the past year, my sister started home gardening as a new hobby.
You are probably picturing clean, Scandinavian-designed pots with supple round leaves fanning out from a stout stump. The Lin household, however, is nothing like that. Our plants grow out of dollar store tomato tins and empty furikake jars. My sister gives out free plants for adoption with the sole condition that you have to use the names she chose, names randomly generated online that often do not sound like plant names. Some of the greatest hits include “Constitution” and “Rug”.
She comes home around twice a week, moving heavy concrete pots in and out of the shower to clean and water the bigger plants, transferring clippings to nursing pots and tending to her compost bin. All this hard work seemed simple – I mean, nature does most of the growing anyway. As such, I always wondered: What could go wrong? Partly out of curiosity and partly out of naïveté, I decided to embark on my own journey as a home gardener.
The Touch of Death
Most hobbies have a low barrier to entry, often having disproportionate returns for beginners. The sense of accomplishment one might derive from making their first aglio-olio pasta or painting their first still life often requires just enough challenge to get an overwhelmingly positive result.
However, home gardening stands out as an anomaly in this respect. If you were to pick up home gardening, you can most certainly expect emotional betrayal. You will name your first plant, get attached to it, speak to it and water it, until one day a snail climbs over the fence and kills your plant. That, coincidentally, was how I lost Bryan the Basil. Bryan, you will be missed.
My second attempt came when my sister gave me a fledgling plant. As per tradition, the name was randomly generated. It was named Index Funds, a surprisingly fitting name for a money plant.
Now, money plants are nigh-indestructible. They prefer indirect light and therefore do well in houses, where direct sunlight is harder to come by; they do not require a lot of nutrients, nor do they require much water. The best way to take care of them is to forget about them most of the time and water them every two to three days only when the soil dries out.
However, there was a problem: My severe lack of prior knowledge. Out of eagerness and faithfulness, I watered him every single day, which is precisely what a money plant would hate. Eventually, I overwhelmed Index Funds with my fatherly love. Indeed, gardening takes a certain degree of sensitivity to understand what the plant needs.
The Fingertips of God
A dead plant is never really a failure. The gravity of a life grounds us to be more empathetic people: we begin to notice the slight yellowness of an overwatered plant, the slightly droop from dehydration on a hot day, and the different arrangements of nodes along a tree branch.
Gardening gave me fresh eyes to see the world. The subtle shades of differences between mere leaves and vines – things that typically blend into the background of our garden city – began to distinguish themselves once I developed a set of vocabulary to name them.
Take for example the monstera adansonii plant. This specific plant in the photo on the left is Stream, who will soon be adopted by a friend of mine. At this age, Stream appears rather unassuming, or perhaps even appears to have been eaten by worms due to small holes along its leaves.
Over time, Stream will begin to form holes on its leaves like the ones seen in the picture below. These leaves, known as variegated leaves, gave monstera adansonii the nickname “the Swiss Cheese vine”.
I began to realize the prevalence of variegated leaves in our everyday life as soon as I started taking care of Stream. This look is often adopted in décor of third-wave coffee spots and tropical-themed boutiques. Try looking out for them in your next visit to Jewel at Changi Airport and you too might be surprised at the ubiquity of this previously unnamed leaf.
We are often told how great potential awaits the young, yet we often find ourselves paralyzed by the fear of failure. Sure, the monstera plant looks interesting, but what if I kill it by accident? Perhaps you’ve had some past passion projects which did not come to fruition, or there were some things you wanted to learn but did not because you thought that you would probably fail.
My journey in gardening has taught me to recognize that though this fear is all too real, every dead plant so far has taught me something. Challenging endeavors may well be bound for blunder, but it may also water our growth. Therefore, sow the seed regardless, because harvest must come in one form or another.
Gardening has also made me a better friend. Showering someone with acts of kindness indiscriminately is suffocating. Instead, concern and understanding should take the main stage instead. After all, thoughtful and attentive care is what makes living things thrive in nature. This starts with the small things: putting down our phones when having a meal, or giving someone our listening ears when they are in need. The sense of reward for being present in their everyday life will be worth every heartache and every second of inconvenience.
Home gardening is not for everyone. It often costs more than what it returns, and having a bunch of casualties before they eventually thrive is not unusual. That said, there is something unique about going to a neighbor’s house to collect a pre-loved plant and trading stories about the successes and failures in the garden. There is a unique rootedness to the experience that can be grafted onto any other hobbies you may have.
So, if you are looking for a challenge this summer, give gardening a shot, and may your Index Funds remain forever bullish.