a leafy sanctuary

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At the time when it became obvious (at least to me) that we were all going to need to spend much more time at home—for our own well-being and that of others and for a very long time, I realized that I was unlikely to spend daily time in our gardens, caring for our California native plants, even though that would have been a healthy break from indoor responsibilities. Since I was working at home, I would be seeing the same walls each day, the same furniture. I needed more living things around me, not just my catnap maven, Lyla.

I had two Thanksgiving cactuses and a struggling prayer plant. I knew nothing about their particular needs. In fact, I thought the Thanksgiving cactuses were Christmas cactuses that started blooming early. I assumed that you water all houseplants weekly with a deep soaking. I never seemed to remember to fertilize these bits of greenery. And while I believed that potted plants should be watered regularly, mine were not. I would say that my houseplants suffered from benign neglect, but left on their own—as they all were—only these three had survived my inadequate efforts.

Nevertheless, I began to consider adding plants (and keeping them alive) within the house. Rather than repeat my established approach to houseplant care, I started this project by researching the needs of various houseplants and chose ones that I thought could thrive. I was committed to their long lives before I bought the first plant. Every month or so, when the plants I’d purchased seemed to be established in their new pots, I added two or three new plants and colorful pottery planters to the collection.

A year into this pandemic, my collection of plants—now numbering eighteen—has become part of our home’s interior decorating, with shades of green, burgundy, and white as the color palette. The plants by the south-facing window in my office reach their branches and stems toward the sunlight. Both the sunlight and the plants make my mood brighter throughout my workday. The thick-leaved rubber fig is now tinged with burgundy over its green and cream-colored leaves. The lipstick plant now has deep-green, cascading vines that spill over the top of the bookcase where it sits. A curly leaf spider plant has already given me three child plants. And the long-struggling prayer plant, now with dark green leaves marked with delicate red veins, is so healthy that new leaves, curled as they emerge, gradually open to add to the lush foliage.  

I am not the only one who has found pleasure in our houseplant surroundings. The bookcases beneath the office window have become an enticing garden for Lyla during her adventurous hours. With her lithesome feline form, she leaps from floor to windowsill, then moves between and around the plants, sometimes sitting amidst them like a jungle cat in a budding tropical forest. She peers over the window ledge to track the movements of the animals that pass through our gardens: scurrying squirrels and fluttering bees, butterflies, and birds—from tiny black-eyed juncos to imposing American crows.

It would be clear to anyone who saw Lyla amidst her houseplant jungle that she is in her element. She is alert and focused, sometimes instinctively crouching as if she will leap through the window to pounce on a distracted butterfly or bird, should one appear.

I regret that it took a pandemic for me to understand—firsthand—the value to my well-being of healthy indoor gardens. Once I am again able to venture freely to hiking trails and shoreline nature preserves, I will be in my element. Lyla, now and into the future, will be in hers, watching flora and fauna from within her leafy sanctuary.

Patricia

Patricia is the author of a wide range of essays that span narrative, persuasive, and informational approaches. She believes that most writing benefits from an interdisciplinary approach, drawing on knowledge acquired over decades of diverse learning endeavors.

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