Lessons Learned from Houseplants


Let’s be real: I’m a plantaholic. My bestie recently gifted me a t-shirt that says, “I have enough plants…said no one ever,” and it’s perfectly me. I love the warmth plants bring into a space, the calm they bring to my soul. I sometimes even sit on my couch and admire how my babies have grown, and I’m not talking about the kids.

A collection of houseplants sitting on a tableUsually, people discover my obsession when they walk through my front door and see my living room decked out with plants—on stands, in macrame hangers, and in dusty, neglected corners. It’s only natural to give guests a tour of the land, and in my mind, that means my plants, so I tell them about each one—who gifted it, what type it is, its deepest desires. Most guests listen patiently to my monologue then move on, but there are some who want to know more.

With those friends, I launch into conversation about the dos and don’ts, the yes plants and the not-yet plants—and sometimes, to my bewilderment, these friends take my advice. When we take a chance on a plant, we hope for a better future, and it’s with that vision I share these lessons.

Small wins boost confidence.

A few years ago, my bestie’s mom mentioned she couldn’t keep a plant alive, no matter what. I could hear the disappointment in her voice, so I gifted her a snake plant, my go-to for beginners. These cuties thrive on neglect and minimal light, plus they fill in odd, empty spaces. Today, that lovely plant sits front and center on her coffee table, as happy as could be. When I noticed it the last time I visited, she proudly exclaimed, “I kept it alive!”—to which I responded, “Yes, you did!”

Plants thrive in their most natural environment.

I visited my close friend in San Diego last year. During our walk, she pointed to the copious aloe and succulents decorating the yards. As I took in the dry, rocky landscape, I realized something valuable: several of the outside plants there were my indoor houseplants in Portland. Succulents flourish in sunny, dry climates, so they require succulent soil and bright light as houseplants; in contrast, ferns grow abundantly in our dense, misty Pacific Northwest forests, so they need dappled sunlight and a daily spray. A happy plant is one in its most natural habitat, so it’s wise to simulate it indoors.

We’ll never know until we try.

A few years ago, my neighbor handed me a mason jar with water inside and a piece of an Anthurium plant, given by her mother-in-law. I hadn’t yet delved into the realm of cuttings, so this was new to me. Her insistence was unparalleled, so I hesitantly grabbed the jar despite what little hope I had for the poor thing. Day by day it sat on my fireplace mantel, basking in the sunlight, until it finally sprouted roots. I potted that beauty, and now it’s one of my favorites with red blooms year-round. I’m grateful for that insistent nudge outside my comfort zone.

What we surround our ourselves with becomes our focus.

Our city removed a grove of trees to bury new pipes. As we drove past the barren patch of dirt a few weeks ago, my five-year-old said, “Mom, that makes your heart sad. You’re a plant lover, and they just took away those trees.” Caught off guard, I responded that my heart hurt indeed.

Child smiling while camping

It’s often in the most unexpected ways we realize our children are watching. I’ve made it a goal to immerse ourselves in nature, so together, we’ve grown our own food, created art out of leaves, twigs, and acorns, and camped under the stars. We’ve grown houseplants, conversed about oxygen plants provide, and marveled at nature’s beauty. Encircled by nature—indoors and out—she has learned to notice and care.

It’s about so much more than the plants.

A cactus sits on my plant stand, reminding me of a night when my husband drove to a nearby yard and plucked a piece, just for me. In macrame, Burro’s Tail hangs, calling up fond memories of time spent with my parents for Thanksgiving; lining my kitchen window, African Violets flaunt pink and purple hues, evoking memories of dates with my daughter; adorning my fireplace mantel, a Christmas Cactus perches, awakening memories of a good friend before she moved away. 

Christmas Cactus

Recently, I propagated and gifted a cutting of that Christmas Cactus for a friend’s birthday—to which she exclaimed, “It’s like you’re giving me a piece of you!” And that’s exactly it. A plant is more than its physical attributes: it’s community, love, friendship, and service. It’s someone saying with their actions, “I saw this, thought of you, and cared.” It’s memories evoked and nature’s potential to continue life. It’s a story of love shared.

As the rainy season approaches, take a chance on a plant. This is the perfect time to bring the outdoors in, challenge our comfort zones, and share love with friends and family.

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Tara is a mom to two kiddos, ages 5 and 9, and has been married to her best friend for twelve years. Raised in the Air Force, she’s from everywhere and nowhere. If asked today, she claims the Midwest, having lived in Illinois for eight years during graduate school and the birth of her first child. Five years ago, Tara and her husband took a trip to Portland and instantly fell in love. As they drove to the Oregon coast in the rain and saw the bright green moss and towering trees, it felt as if they were transported to another world. In that moment, Tara knew it was the place to raise their kids. They packed their belongings and made the cross-country move while Tara was eight months pregnant with their second. Tara homeschools her older kiddo, hosts a monthly mom’s book club, works as a freelance proofreader and a part-time bookseller, and co-leads her daughters’ Girl Scout troop. As an introvert, Tara is the first to admit she’s horrible at small talk, but if asked about the deep stuff, she’s all in. She’s a serious plant enthusiast, and she recently found that exercising and playing piano calm her soul.