Is your local IKEA frequently out of pots and planters? Do the words “Sungai Buloh” conjure an image of verdant nurseries and nodding orchids (instead of its more recent sombre pandemic connotations)?
You certainly wouldn’t have escaped the flood of social media posts of carefully tended potted plants, with Instagram-appropriate foliage, naturally. Who would’ve thought that millennials would have fully embraced the traditionally twee notion of gardening- maybe even some Gen Z-ers? Accounts like the widely celebrated @plantsonpink and the hashtag #boyswithplants #crazyplantlady certainly affirm that tending to your saplings is trending. If you’re still having doubts about being a first time Plant Mama though, read on.
Liven up your living space
Undoubtedly, the Covid-19 pandemic has a part in this renewed interest of having a piece of Mother Nature at home. With most of the world forced into some form of lockdown in the past 18 months, it has made many of us look inwards at our everyday living spaces, with a real urge to make them cosy yet light and airy. Plants fill these needs brilliantly as it provides light and shadow in a sunny nook; softens the hard-edged corners and graciously breathes oxygen into the stuffy confines of any dwelling. There is hardly a home that would not benefit from a plant or two.
Dzurina Dzulkhaini, co-founder of the creative collective and cafe Wondermilk, has her at-home version of “outside living in.” Her outdoor space adjoins her living area and serves as the setting for her sizeable collection of potted plants. Staghorns and trailing pothos rub shoulders with prickly cacti and the popular giant leafed monstera – all housed in an array of terracotta pots, wooden crates on castors, supersized tempayan and even repurposed tins.
Set against exposed brick walls and raw concrete, the effect is like a tropical conservatory of sorts. It has also become her daughter Suri’s favourite play area and art studio. Little Suri is also Dzurina’s keenest helper in their container garden – “I love how gardening has also taught her lessons in the circle of life as well as given her a sense of responsibility.”
From hydroponics tray to table
Working kitchen gardens have also recently boomed in popularity as the desire to be more self-sustainable becomes more urgent. Elizabeth Yong Lee, founder of the jewellery line Bowerhaus, invested in a hydroponics assembly indoors and a multi-container kitchen garden that she DIY-ed with her husband, Benjamin Yong of BIG Group, during one lockdown. In particular, she was surprised at how her hydroponic seedlings of pak choi were ready for harvest in weeks, fuss-free, with no need for pesticide or chemicals. However, it’s the container planting where she feels that the exciting stuff happens – “there’s a lot more you can do that hydroponics can’t like growing papaya trees, and passion fruit flowers with creeping vines everywhere.” Just like Dzurina, Elizabeth’s children have also had positive outcomes with gardening – “They are more likely to eat their vegetables if they have seen it harvested from our rooftop!”
Desirable as it may be to live amongst leafy ferns and pick your chillis from pots daily, those who have dabbled in gardening know that it isn’t always so straightforward.
How committed are you, really?
Dear fellow mamas – plant rearing is a delicate, balancing act. Personal experience has shown that the freshly misted plants in the nursery may look like its begging to be brought home. But the same specimen may end up withered and brown at the edges specimen or an over-watered, soggy mess in just two short weeks.
Ngeow Pui Lin, Education Director of gardening social enterprise, Eats, Shoots & Roots and co-founder of Rimbun Montessori, adds that edible gardens in particular “do require a certain amount of commitment and love.” As these plants are meant to flower and bear fruit, they need more than just watering and sunlight. Careful pruning, fertilising and soil monitoring is also required. As such, Pui Lin and her team conduct tutorials on-site to assess their clients’ knowledge and commitment levels before designing a garden space that matches both needs and requirements. Hence if you’re less than green-fingered or short on time, your ideal edible garden could be as low maintenance as a few pots on the kitchen window sill as opposed to a more sophisticated multi-container setup.
Plants have feelings too!
Whatever it is, just like a child or a pet, plant mamas need to know that daily TLC is required for thriving, drama-free plants. Both Pui Lin and Dzurina agree that checking on plants every day allows you to troubleshoot any issues such as rot or infestations from an early stage. Dzurina goes as far as reciting her plants daily affirmations while watering them. Her antics of saying “ I love you!” or giving them finger hearts has been widely copied by her 18.5k strong Instagram followers who strongly agree that, yes, plants have feelings too.
On that note, ornamental plants bought simply for well, their ornamental purpose, may not like the dreary space you want it to enliven. That Instagrammable spot may actually lack sunlight or have too much of it. Or it may take the full brunt of the aircond’s cool dry air. A valuable piece of advice once given by a nursery owner was, “Try standing in the spot where you’ve placed your plant. If you can comfortably stay put for ten minutes without feeling too hot whilst still having access to sunshine, it’s good for your plant”. I’ve also found that just because one area has been a death zone for certain plants, it doesn’t mean it won’t work for another. A spot in the study that has seen many fiddle leaf figs come and go has now suddenly embraced a monstera deliciosa quite welcomingly.
It’s not always plain sailing when it comes to tending any living things, as any parent can tell. In the horticultural world, they wilt and wither or rot and fail to bear fruit. They may be flourishing in your attentive care but get attacked by voracious aphids.
Despite it all, just like parenting, there’s something unmistakably life-affirming about cultivating plants. As I spot yet another tightly wound tendril unfurling it’s adorable Swiss cheese leaf, I think to myself, yes, this is why I became a Plant Mama.