This week we talked to Naomi (@naomiplanter) from Portland, OR about collecting plants and gaining an amazing community.
WATER & LIGHT (W&L): HOW DID YOU GET INTO PLANTS?
Naomi (N): Up until about 3 years ago, I loved the idea of plants but I found them mysterious. Every so often I would buy a plant and hope I could keep it alive, and I had about a 50/50 chance of doing that. In the beginning of 2017 I left my job with no notice for complicated reasons and lost most of my support system since I'd had close friends there, and it was really traumatic for me. I was unemployed for three months, during which time I searched for jobs and bought plants. I really missed being needed and constantly being busy, and I ended up spending a lot of time researching the needs of each of my plants. It was gratifying that I could spend a very small amount of money on a plant that would give ongoing joy and be an interesting project. When I started a new job I felt very lonely there and had very long breaks that I didn't know how to fill, and a plant store was just down the street, so I continued to collect and take solace in plants at home and at work. Now I have a much more stable life but plants continue to bring me a lot of joy.
W&L: DO YOU REMEMBER WHEN YOU GOT YOUR FIRST PLANT AND WHAT PLANT IT WAS?
N: My first plant was what I now know as a ponytail palm. I picked it up at the grocery store to have in my college dorm. I mistreated it terribly and mostly watered it with Sprite, and found it surprising that it didn't die. I'm not sure what happened to it when I moved out of the dorm. I feel really bad about it now, although I did manage to keep a betta fish for 4 years at least.
W&L: WHERE DO YOU GET MOST OF YOUR PLANTS?
I do my best to get most of my plants at local shops, and I'm lucky to live near many of them. When I'm looking for something in particular sometimes I need to order online. However, I am very lucky to have met lots of amazing people in the plant community, and have had the privilege of buying from and trading with many of them, and even getting the occasional amazing gift. I love trading plants most of all because it feels very personal.
W&L: WHAT ARE YOUR FAVORITE PLANT SHOPS TO VISIT?
N: The bulk of my local plants came from Portland Nursery, Arium x Intent, Gurton's Plant Shop, Pistils, and Solabees. Most of my plants at work came from Foraged Blooms which is now a private floral studio. I also order online, and have had great experiences with NSE Tropicals, Hirt's, Logee's, Dirty Roots, and The Plant Agenda. There's some other great online shops I haven't tried yet, like Land of Alice Studio, Cultivate Propagate, Urbn Tropic, Steve's Leaves, Brian's Botanicals, etc, I just haven't yet.
W&L: HOW MANY PLANTS DO YOU HAVE IN YOUR COLLECTION?
N: Approximately 120. Some are at work, most are small.
W&L: WHAT ARE THE RAREST PLANTS THAT YOU HAVE IN YOUR COLLECTION?
N: I'm not sure what folks consider rare, it always depends on where one lives. The ones I personally consider rare are: philodendron plowmanii, philodendron rugosum, philodendron gigas, scindapsus trebuii, alocasia black velvet, alocasia maharani, hoya serpens, phyllanthus mirabillis, ZZ raven, philodendron verrucosum x melanochrysum.
W&L: WHAT ARE SOME OF YOUR FAVORITE PLANTS?
N: Why would I own a plant unless I considered it a favorite? I have a hard time with this question. To not be a spoilsport I will say, all of those named above. I have a soft spot for philodendron "micans" and philodendron "red emerald" as well, since I have two of each, which I usually don't do.
W&L: WHAT DO YOU LIKE THE MOST ABOUT BEING A PLANT PERSON?
N: I feel as though I suddenly unlocked a code one day that gave me the ability to understand an entire world, like learning a language. I always admired plants before but was confused and alarmed by them, and was afraid to have one for fear I'd kill it. I feel that much less now (generally I know whether or not my environment and style of care would kill a plant so I can get much more granular about the plants I choose not to bring home). But my extra favorite part is meeting others in the plant community and making pretty amazing and supportive friendships. I started collecting plants because I'd lost my community, and I gained one I never expected in the process.
W&L: WHAT ARE SOME OF THE CHALLENGES THAT YOU HAVE WITH PLANTS?
N: Because I live in an apartment with another human being, I cannot just turn my home into a greenhouse. I typically struggle with light, humidity, and where plants can go. I recently acquired a humidifier again after having to get rid of one because it was ruining a wooden table that many of my plants were on. We have since removed the table and I got a shelf that is not real wood so I'm hoping the humidifier can stay this time. I live in Portland and I never really have enough light, so I have a few grow lights, but they aren't everywhere they need to be because humans need to be able to live here. I'm lucky that my partner supports my plant hobby and also makes sure that our place stays livable. For humans.
W&L: WHAT WOULD YOU SAY IS YOUR PLANT SPECIALITY?
N: I'm not a grower so I'm not really sure. I can say what my specialty is not, which is anthuriums. They really need a lot of light and humidity so we've had some serious struggles. I also suck at succulents. And I'm not great with air plants either. The bulk of my collection is philodendrons, so maybe that's my speciality.
W&L: WHAT ARE YOUR TOP 3 PLANT CARE TIPS?
1. Mix your own soil, or use cactus mix soil at the very least, even if it's not for a cactus. Regular potting soil does not offer enough drainage for most plants and it gets really compacted so it can grow mold, prevent roots from growing, even keep water from getting to the roots.. Lots of people will tell you their soil "recipe" if you ask, but you don't even have to get that crazy with it or worry about following some perfect recipe. Just mix your regular potting soil with anything that will keep some air in the pot and make it "chunky" like perlite, orchid bark, pumice, clay balls, or all of the above. You will notice a difference.
2. There is no plant that does well in "low light." What we think of as low light and what a plant thinks of as low light are two different things. Our homes would practically be considered like caves to a plant, and maybe only moss would grow in a cave. Most plants do best really close to a window or under a grow light, or some do surprisingly well in office environments with lots of overhead florescent lights. Snake plants especially are billed as "low light" plants. They actually are not! They want lots of light because they are succulent like and are used to growing in tropical environments, but they just die in a more unobtrusive way and one day you will find out that your plant had no roots and falls over when you touch it. Put your snake plants by a light and water them only a little less often than your other tropicals, don't ignore them or they will die.
3. As a new plant person, I had no idea that plant pests existed, and I never noticed them. As I got more plants, I got more familiar with pests. They used to freak me out really bad but now I just use a spinosad-based spray pretty often. Neem oil is also great for pest treatment and prevention but if you're not careful with the dilution it can burn your plants.