Whenever I visit an apartment or student dorm for the first time— be it a friend, an acquaintance, or an enemy— the first element that draws my eye is the house plants. They can make or break a living space: transforming featureless walls and stale air into a living, breathing, sanctuary. All of my favourite spaces drip and hang with vines and leaves. And there is a thriving community of plant parents who, like me, are learning the joy of caring for something that blesses you with a host of physical and mental benefits.
But keeping plants indoors has its challenges, especially in academic communities. For those of us in classes, labs, teaching, performing, athletics, or sciences, finding the time to care for ourselves is demanding enough. Keeping something else alive is a whole different ball game. I will forever bear the guilt of killing my middle-school cactus George.
At times like this, we can turn to the experts. Sackville is blessed with a vibrant community of gardeners and growers eager to share their knowledge. Founded in 2010, the York St.. flower shop Blooms sells ornamental greenery of all kinds. Visitors often leave with more than expected, both with adorable greenery and advice. Vanessa Blackier, Mt. A alumnus and involved community member, works at the store and comes from a family of plant lovers. She carries on the tradition in her own home: “My family has had plants and has always had a garden […] My grandmother was like the biggest plant person, so I think I take after her, a little bit.”
The big factors in a houseplant’s health, she explains, include the quantity of light and moisture. Where certain species of plants thrive in dry, shadowy corners, others might succeed in the opposite environment— or somewhere in between.
Blackier’s low-maintenance (and beginner-friendly) picks include Sansevieria (or snake plant), philodendrons, pothos, spider plants (notable in their exceeding air purification), and aloe vera, which proves useful through medicinal properties for burns and small wounds.
“There was such a plant craze over the pandemic,” she shares, “I think because we were all in our spaces, going a little stir crazy. But I think that everybody started realizing it was really peaceful to have plants and something to nurture.”
Lending hope to cacti-killers like me, Blackier urges not to be discouraged, “If you end up killing a plant. Because it’s just a learning experience, and you learn something new every time you get a different plant.”
Deftly weaving flowers and stalks into an autumnal arrangement, Leo Kalverda gives me a glimpse to the artistry that goes into working at the store and shares his advice with me. “Even if you’re not a person to go out and connect to nature, it is very easy to bring nature into your space. It is a very easy compromise.”
Kalverda favors tropical plants, and suggests succulents, for their hardiness to neglect, as well as Dracaenas and the low-maintenance Peperomia Hope. Some plants, he shares, will communicate their needs dramatically: “The peace lily gives a really good visual cue: the whole plant will kind of flop over when it needs to be watered. It will look dead, and then you water it really well and it perks right back up! It looks like nothing ever happened.”
As easy-going as some species are, he reminds me, “A low-light plant is not a no-light plant.”Just like any living thing, a vine or succulent has unique needs. There are a host of resources available online or through people like Kalverda and Blackier for those who want to learn more.
For both, along with countless others, growing plants was a passion born partly out of the COVID-19 pandemic, as a response to feelings of disconnect stemming from lockdowns and isolation. In a world with seemingly more and more distance between our communities, our environments, and ourselves, the joy of growing something for ourselves might just be part of the solution.