We’d been in the flat a few days when my sister arrived at the front door with a housewarming gift: a tiny cutting in a shot glass, looking not unlike the seedling emoji. It was a Crassula Ovata, known as both a jade plant or a money tree, but crucially, it had been taken from a branch of a plant that had itself been a cutting of an enormous and gnarly money tree that sat in my grandfather’s lounge a decade earlier. That was seven years ago. In hindsight, it was the start of a time in my life when things didn’t go to plan - my career, my relationship, my home - and I found myself turning to soil, and seeds, and plants instead.
This was in the mid-2010s, an era that I tend to pinpoint as being the beginning of a resurgence in houseplant popularity that will date this decade as much as millennial pink, avocados and Instagram. The thick fingers of Monstera deliciosa curled over G-plan-style sofas on Pinterest, but people were yet to have heard of the Fiddle Leaf Fig. Remember when you couldn’t move for tiny succulents sitting, stranded, in little concrete pots? That’s where I always think of it starting.
That flat was a white, light-filled, pleasingly symmetrical box in a 1950s block. I loved its Crittal windows and terracotta-tiled window sills. And these, gradually, filled up with houseplants. Nothing of the swaggering size of the rubber plants and figs that you can now pick up in Ikea for a song, but hand-me-down forced hyacinths, aloe veras and kalanchoe cuttings from friends, pink pelargoniums in enamel buckets picked up from Columbia Road Market.
If it sounds like a jumble, that’s because it was. This was hardly a carefully curated collection, but a smash-and-grab of generosity. I’d not looked after a houseplant since childhood, when I was granted a pink guzmania from my grandfather’s greenhouse. I fell into all the usual traps of rookie plant care: watering on a daily basis (and in winter, when plants are often dormant and need leaving well alone more than anything else), expecting plants to stay perfect (and fretting when their flowers died back naturally) and having no understanding of the vitality of light. I learned the hard way - through mouldy soil and rotten stems - and by reading books I’d borrowed from the library.
As spring ushered in summer, my fascination with growing things moved outside to the balcony that would, in time, change my life in offering me solace and stability when everything else was in turmoil. But my houseplant collection continued to grow, too. There was the sprawling Rhipsalis that I found in a charity shop in Chester and earned the nickname of The Claw, an aeonium that, like many Bake Off contestants, suffered a soggy bottom, and the first in a long line of maidenhair ferns that struggled on bravely in spite of low light, draughts and furious overwatering (brutal conditions for any plant, not least one as fussy as this).
The seasons changed, the trends moved on: houseplants became bigger and bolder, a golden pothos snuck into the corner of my bedroom in a macrame hanger and I started to propagate my own little succulents for friends and family. I’d gone from keeping my love of gardening secret to being tapped up for greenfingered tips at house parties. Growing stuff, somehow, had become cool.
These days, I’d struggle to point out which of the half-dozen of money plants sitting on the window ledge next to my desk were that first cutting that started it all off. It has grown and been joined by its cousins and siblings, a small green family that has moved with me through several homes and life events, and will probably continue to do so. The Claw sits on top of a bookshelf, ever more craggy, and that pothos has undergone enough haircuts to be surrounded by a brood of leafy babies. They occupy my life in a rather pleasing, matter-of-fact kind of way; more than part of the furniture, rather something that is simply there. I often water them a little later than I should, and in all honesty, they would probably benefit from more plant food. But home would be odd without them.
Feature image: Pexels
This originally appeared on House & Garden UK | Alice Vincent