Site icon Kathryn McClatchy

Why Houseplants? Portal to important people and memories

Does anyone share or trade plant cuttings anymore?

Houseplants … I know it’s a different topic for me, but I’m feeling nostalgic and simultaneously attempting to rebuild my plant collection. I don’t do many story-times, but here we go…

My grandmother had an amazing green thumb. Indoor and outdoor plants. I can’t even guess at how many plants she had. She knew which plants grew best in which windows. She knew all the names and native lands her plants came from. I loved her plants, but even more so, I loved the stories those plants prompted. (See, I can tie this in to reading and writing 😉.)

As Grandma would walk me around the house, she would name the plant, but then follow quickly with, “Mrs. [ _____ ] invited me to lunch in 19xx. We had such a lovely visit, and her sweet daughter made the dessert. [Insert here…she would tell me more about something that happened or that she learned at that lunch, how she and Mrs. _____ became friends, or when Mrs. _____ passed away, etc.] She gave me cuttings from her [name of plant], and every time I care for this plant I think of her and that lovely day we had.”

Grandma wasn’t a big reader, although she read her Bible and the newspaper daily. Sometimes we’d be sitting in her living room, and a plant would catch her eye. She would point at it and say, “Look at that plant, the third from the left. It’s a [ _____ ], and it grows native in [ _____ ]. Do you know where that is? Let’s look at the map so you know. …I read in the paper that [some terrible thing that happened there]. We must remember to pray for those people and the missionaries serving there.” I learned a lot about geography and compassion from her and her plants.

And botany! Grandma had a high school education, but she knew more about plants, how they grew, what they needed, their native backstories, and how they propagated than most experts. Consequently, she could also identify every bug, fungus, bacteria, and other evil that could attack them. She was my first model of a life-long learner and the power of observation and experimentation.

Dad and Grandma with dirty hands in the middle of re-potting houseplants. (Kerrville TX, 1987).

The first cuttings she gave me I raised in my bedroom as a teenager and took to college. Unfortunately, the AC/Heater unit in my dorm room was right under the window. I didn’t realize until it was too late that the dramatic change in hot and cold air killed my plants. Grandma used that as a a life lesson, too. Everything and everyone who lives eventually dies. Focus on the good memories. Learn from the relationship. Get another plant that will do better in that environment. Start another relationship. Thirty years later, I understand that these lessons also apply to pets and even people.

When I got married, a friend of my mother gave me a number of Tradescantia zebrina, Wandering Jew, plants to use as decoration for the front of the church, and said to keep them for my new home. They were gorgeous! Caring for them reminded me of this lady and that wonderful day. We moved often our first six years of marriage, and the plants didn’t make all the moves. I’m waiting for someone to gift me another Wandering Jew, or at least some cuttings.

Spathiphyllum, Peace Lily

When my dad died, a cousin sent me a beautiful Spathiphyllum, or Peace Lily. That plant grew and divided, and went through another move with me. They are supposed to live three to five years. I had mine for eight years. The next year, after another move to a new city, my older brother passed away. Our new Sunday school class sent me a plant as a condolence–another Peace Lily. It just seemed meant to be. Every day as I pass that plant, now happily living on a stand near our entry, I think of my dad, my brother, my cousin, and God’s provisions of new friends in our new community, and the continuity of relationships.

A few years ago, my friend Pam asked me to adopt a Chlorophytum comosum, commonly called a Spider Plant or Airplane Plant, that she had rescued. I nursed it into a lovely little plant. And then we moved again. I asked my niece to keep this plant for me until we got settled so it wouldn’t get damaged or killed. She did a wonderful job caring for this plant, even sending me pictures of how it was thriving. Now it is thriving in a hanging basket on my front porch, and just a few weeks ago I propagated one of its baby plants that now lives in my study.

Chlorophytum comosum, Spider Plant

My daughter-in-law has recently gotten interested in houseplants, and was given a few starters from her abuela. I’m so excited watching the tradition continue! I look forward to having someone in the family to talk and share plants with again. Years ago, as a homeowner with dogs and boys racing through the house, I focused more on my outdoor vegetable garden, flower beds, and roses. Then we had five years in an apartment; the boys moved on and we got a cat. The cat ate or destroyed most of my plants. Now we are getting settled in a house that has perfect windows for a variety of houseplants, no cats and no kids. I need more plants. And yes, I could go buy some, but those don’t link me to people, places, or memories.

Which brings me back to my starting question? Do people share cuttings and plants like my grandmother and her friends did? Do you collect plants, or anything else, just because you love them, or because of the memories and people and places they connect you to? If you are a local friend reading this who loves plants, and has cuttings to share, I can provide a good home for them.

I would love to know more about what you collect and why. Please let me know in the comments.

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