Surrounded by Growth

For weeks I’ve been stressed, trying to get ahead of a crisis, possibly of my own making. My office avocado tree has been dropping leaves, and looking so sad, and just generally clearly communicating “I’m dyinggggg,” and I’ve been in active triage mode trying to figure out what the fuck this lovely being is asking me for.

I don’t know if it needed a monsoon or what, but in the past 2 weeks I have been watering it nearly daily and finally after only dropping leaves, it is growing new ones.

This avocado tree came from a store bought avocado; I sprouted the pit with some toothpicks and a pint glass of water, and have watched it grow since then. Unlike most other avocado trees I’ve grown (this is not the first, and would not have been the first to die on me) this one sprouted two trunks, little twin sprouts that both grew and gained leaves. I loved it for this little deviance, and had no interest in it dying.

So the new leaves are a crisis averted. I have not killed the thing that I’ve tasked myself with keeping alive. Look at it!

A 3ft tall avocado tree grows new leaves on each of its stems. the tree sits in front of a small bookshelf next to some other plants.

Before the pandemic, I had maybe 5 houseplants? It wasn’t many. I moved to Chattanooga (where I currently live) in April 2020 and being in a new town with no friends in the midst of a global pandemic meant led me to start acquiring plants. At the beginning of 2021 I met my partner Alyssa (thanks, dating apps) and she’s way better at plants than me. She asked me very early in our relationship “why don’t you water that Monstera more? It’s very thirsty.” It very much was, and with more water, it started thriving.

All of this to say, the past few years I’ve gone from being curious about plants, to surrounded by them. Thanks to Alyssa I’ve gotten much better at reading their moods and understanding their needs, and now our house is full of greenery. The living room is a jungle, almost all rooms in the house have at least one plant, and I style my office so that the background of all my video calls is filled with greenery.

A few years ago I purchased an Aluminum Plant because I loved the variegated leaves. That poor plant struggled for so long as I learned to take care of it and give it what it needs. But this spring, I finally had it all good; a fresh new pot for spring growth, good soil, and watering it before it looked at me all droopy like. Now it sits beside my desk, full of dark leaves and always growing more, and I reach over and pet it regularly while working.

Walking into my workspace this morning and seeing the avocado tree growing new leaves (crisis averted!) and the aluminum plant popping out new leaves and then just seeing all the wall of plants for my new zoom background (photo below) reminded me once again the joy of houseplants: I am surrounded by growth.

plant library

Growth, when I am tending to and caring for houseplants, is not a metaphor. It’s a real process that is happening in front of my eyes. New leaves, new branches, needs being expressed and being met. I am surrounded by other living beings who are so much less needy than me, and I can thank them for their presence and offer them care as an act of gratitude for their existence. These are meaningful rituals that are part of my daily life now, because I got curious about houseplants.

I had no idea back when I started acquiring plants that this was what would come, to be honest I just liked seeing some green in my house. But in the past few years, what started as a desire to improve the aesthetics of my post-divorce living has evolved into a dozens of relationships with other-than-human-beings. Alyssa and I share what we notice about our plants (“did you see that the fig is growing 4 new leaves!” “I think this dude is getting too much sun, seems like it needs to move”). I praise plants for new leaves, touch their soil to measure moisture, and trim away dead leaves. I express gratitude to them regularly, for their beauty, for their growth, for their existence. And in return, I feel them unfold and settle in, to live with me and accept this reciprical relationship. What joy, to be surrounded by growth, to share space daily with many forms of life.

If you’ll excuse me, I need to water everyone here in the office, I can tell they are ready.

Recently Read