How I Became a Plant Mama

You, too, can make your home a plant-friendly space.

tropical houseplants in colorful containers sit outside balcony in India

Veena Nair / Getty Images

I grew up in India’s capital city, New Delhi. Our home overlooked the central ridge, a sliver of hilly forested area. In the courtyard below, my mother had grown her own tiny jungle to compete with the forest. Replete with gigantic monsteras and messy tendrils of honeysuckles, her assortment of foliage jostled for space. When we moved to Mumbai, we gave away her entire collection of plants, just keeping a select few for our tiny apartment balcony. 

While my mother has a thriving green thumb, alas, my skills, apart from envious admiration, extended little afar from competently watering plants and getting occasionally stung by dwarf bees. I had been working to upgrade my gardening skills, and what better time than the pandemic to do so? While all and sundry were getting puppies, pragmatism drove me to order houseplants.

My first set of four was a selection of small indoor plants, including a fern (which died soon enough) and a variegated rubber plant (which got stolen from the building compound at a later date). Since then, I’ve been carefully selecting plants that are hardy and suited to our tropical climate. This is what I've learned in the past two years.

Boost Your Confidence With Beginners' Houseplants

Sometimes plants can wither away despite your best efforts, and that can really dent your confidence. Start with easy-to-maintain indoor plants that thrive at home. Thus, even if you forget to water them or roast them under the harsh morning sun, they will survive.

My favorites are the snake plant, the spider plant, the ZZ plant, and syngoniums. These low maintenance plants are a pleasure to look at, and I have various assorted pots lying across the house, all thriving despite suspect care. Once I was comfortable with the smaller brethren, I moved on to the larger fiddle leaf figs, palms, and monsteras.

Streamline the Process

A beautiful corner with cascading plants requires some ingenuity. You can consider self-watering pots. I use trays or coasters under the plant to hold the water overflow, so I can hydrate them where they are, instead of lugging them to the tap each time. A handy tip for larger plants and trees is to place them on a tray and then in a burlap basket. It’s easier to water and move around, plus it oozes #farmcore vibes.

Build a Thriving Ecosystem

Just before the pandemic struck, I had started composting, an activity that changed my life. With all the compost I was making, I had enough for my pots and more to distribute. I bought some seeds and started kitchen gardening, growing tomatoes and melons. I started feeding the crows with fruit rinds and sparrows with millets. For them to perch, I needed larger pots, bigger plants, and some branches. Now every morning I’m greeted by sparrows in my balcony trilling birdsong; I’m making enough compost; and my garden is thriving.

Give Them Some TLC

I’ll admit I am guilty of killing plants, but every wizened stem and dehydrated leaf was a learning process. With a little research, it’s easy to discover how much light and water a plant needs, so that you don’t shrivel them in the sun or swamp them with water. But what makes them thrive is going beyond these basic needs. Depending on the plant, I spray the leaves with water and wipe them clean, prune them, remove dead leaves, and watch out for any bug infestations. The secret sauce, however, is talking to them—an activity which my mother indulges in with great results. 

Watch Your Plant Addiction

The millennial addiction of plants is well documented. I’ve pleasure-scrolled though the Instagram feeds of Jungalow and The Frenchie Gardener, harboring fantasies of creating my own plant palace at home. While plants bring in grounding energy and a pop of purposeful decor, there is also the underlying issue of numerous plastic pots (here is how to avoid them), pesky mosquitoes, and other practical concerns.

To prevent every inch of my home being covered in plants, I’ve created a rotation system. My large wilting plants are entrusted to the condominium gardener, who nurtures them back to life or replaces the plant in the pot. If I have too many small pots, I present them to friends. A steady rotation refreshes the decor and stems the urge to buy a huge frangipani tree or a towering Philodendron Giganteum.