Monday, November 15, 2010

Responding to the Needs of Houseplants

Ever since I read Harmonious Environment and How to Grow Fresh Air, I've been committed to bringing more plants into our home. There's only one gigantic glitch: I'm terrible at taking care of them.

Seriously, I unintentionally (yet systematically) kill plant after plant that I invite into our house, even when they are supposedly the easiest plants to take care of. It sucks.

However, I am slowly getting better and better. I've started to approach my houseplant tasks more like a scientist. I pay more attention to the plants and try to be more responsive to what it is that they seem to need. I've realized that I can't just follow the directions written on the plant pot. Many of the directions say, "Water sparingly. Let plant dry out completely before watering." And yet in our house, these plants may need water once a week (which means I need to water the other plants even more frequently!).

Instead of following the directions, I've started trying to follow the plants. I try to look for the first signs of dehydration and respond as soon as possible. I've also tried to pay more attention to our plants' sunlight requirements. "Bright but indirect light" means different things for different plants. I've been experimenting with different spots for different plants and paying close attention to their progress.

Of course my new approach is completely in line with the Montessori teaching philosophy, which is based on an empirical model. Teachers are supposed to observe the children and respond accordingly.

It's also a good lesson as I head into parenting. Everyone keeps warning me that I can't learn how to parent from books and that I need to learn how to read our baby's cues and respond accordingly. (In defense of the books, most of them say the same thing!)

I used to joke that I needed to progress from taking care of plants to taking care of a pet before I would be ready to take care of a baby. It looks like my little joke is coming true!

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Anonymous said...

Ah, love it! This is how we parent... and care for our plants. Sadly (for the plants) what the really are showing me that they need is more sun... something I simply can't give them since our yard is heavily shaded and we do not get direct sunlight through the windows. Since my plan has been to only grow edible plants (in case my toddler eats them!) and since most edible plants seem to take full sun... I am still not having much plant luck. Hopefully my toddler is thriving better!!!

Good luck with plants and parenting!

~ J

Anonymous said...

It sounds silly, but talk to your plants, too! My Nana kept her houseplants alive for over twenty years on most of them, some of them for well over that. My mom's getting close to that herself, and taught me how to care for plants when I was little. She always told me to make sure to talk to them...I'm not sure if plants can actually respond to the attention or if it makes me personally more attentive to plants, but it seems to work well.

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