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on the mind

Philodendron Versus Maidenhair

Do your plants ever talk to you? Mine do, and they often sound like surly children.

2015-06-06 17.21.57
we are philodendrons and we are dangerous.

I love plants. Growing up in a forest with towering evergreens, sticky salal and wild rhododendrons, I’ve spent much of my adult life attempting to recreate that unruly approach to greenery.

While working on farms, my duties were often centered on weeding in between the rows of veg — and, trust me, I get the practicality, the necessity of the work. Shit needs room to breathe. But while a bit of my OCD nature felt sated by such activity, I always felt, instinctually, that I was doing something wrong. It just didn’t feel natural to me.

I want everything unkempt.

So that’s probably why I’ve never dug bonsai. And that I usually choose plants that, at their core, misbehave. Philodendrons have my number: Trailing vines that are incredibly forgiving if I don’t water them for a month; all I have to do is add a bit o’ water and they’re luscious again. I have them on shelves surrounding my bathtub, and I love that they often dip down and take deep sips of the water while I bathe.

Conversely, I have been having a rather tempestuous love affair with a maidenhair fern. For years now, it’s been a constant back and forth: Steady pruning, watering several times each week — in fact, if I even dare to let the water tray beneath her go dry, I’ll hear about it. No, actually, I will; there will be a high pitched sucking sound coming from the maidenhair until I fill the bottom of the dish with water, then she’ll relax. Our relationship seems to be constructed in the following manner:

look, i shouldn't be in a pot. i'm a fucking forest fern.
look, i shouldn’t be in a pot. i’m a fucking forest fern.
  • Her: Look, I shouldn’t be in a pot. I’m a fucking forest fern.
  • Me: Yeah, I know, but you’re pretty and I want to keep you near me.
  • Her: Look, I shouldn’t be in a pot. I’m a fucking forest fern.
  • Me: Hmmm … well, honestly, I bought you at a nursery so you have probably never lived in the forest. But I get where you’re coming from.
  • Her: Look, I shouldn’t be in a pot. I’m a fucking forest fern.
  • Me: You keep saying that, and I’m not arguing with you about it … but don’t I treat you right? I trim you up, water you regularly, sometimes I even dance / sing next to you. I even gave you some luscious fertilizer balls last week! Yum, no?
  • Her: Look, I shouldn’t be in a pot. I’m a fucking forest fern.
  • Me: Okay, okay, I get it. You’re a fucking forest fern. Now shut up and drink.

Now, it’s true and I’ll fully admit that there have been times when I have left town for several weeks and just hoped for the best re: longevity / health of my collection of plants. My succulents look upon this kind of experience as a challenge: Yes, you can not water us, yes we will continue to grow, yes, when you return home, you will not be able to see your floor because we have taken over. Because we are succulents, and that’s how we do.

And maybe, at the crux of it, that’s where my relationship with mademoiselle maidenhair breaks down: She’s high maintenance — and I am, too! Can two high maintenance bitches really roll together? I keep trying to make it work, and I’m not going to stop now because, amidst my rebel succulents and rowdy philodendrons, I want something gentle, something fragile. The maidenhair’s fronds are rice paper thin, their delicacy a distinct art form, and that kind of gorgeous simply needs extra pampering. Just because she demands more from me doesn’t mean she lacks joie de vivre, right?

So I’ll keep manicuring her, I’ll keep watering her, I’ll keep dancing next to her. While the philodendrons cover the ceiling in trailing vines and the succulents develop biceps from their hearty dedication to living without water, I’ll stay focused on managing the maidenhair’s tender fronds.

Because, ultimately, neither of us belongs in a pot; we’re both fucking forest ferns.

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