Why I love to hate houseplants

By Mary Bisciaio

I am a murderer.

I am solely responsible for the death of countless harmless houseplants over the years.

I don’t have a green thumb. My father’s gardening gene apparently completely missed me. When my husband and I moved into our first house, I thought raising greenery would be a nice decorating technique—color and relatively inexpensive. I soon learned there was a bit more to it. What was the right amount of water, light, temperature, and love to keep my plants thriving? I’m embarrassed to admit I didn’t know then and haven’t figured it out since. In a short period of time, each plant withered, crumbled, and died.

And it wasn’t just houseplants. I’m not much better at outdoor plants. I hate that moment in spring when my husband drags me to our local nursery to buy flowers for our yard. Damn, there’re plenty of bushes, and in Michigan, flower growing is a three-month adventure. I shouldn’t be this stressed, but I get absolutely no pleasure digging in the soil, dodging worms and other creepy-crawly things to put down the usual variety of pretty spring and summer blooms.

Thankfully, other than the initial planting, my husband saves me from the watering, weeding, and fertilizing he does to keep our landscaping beautiful. And my children and the subsequent pets that followed saved me indoors. (Houseplants can be poisonous to other living things if ingested. I say that with a totally straight face to hide my ineptness.)


Last fall, my daughter-in-law, Melanie, whom I will preface with the fact that I love her dearly, walked into my house with a beautiful African violet plant. This plant had been sitting on her kitchen table for months till her mischievous cat, Storm, decided to dine on it, and it had to go. I inherited it by default. I really gave it my best effort. Since I too have a curious cat, I put the plant on the ledge near my kitchen sink. Perhaps I’d even remember to water it. That ledge, by the way, is on an inside wall of our house. Doom was about to strike. By spring of last year, the plant had taken a decided turn south. What filled the pot was then just a tiny piece of limp green plant hanging on for dear life. In April guilt filled me, and in desperation, I tossed the struggling plant into our sunroom. It sat almost invisibly on the small round table, surrounded with panels of glass, sunlight, and warmth and…

A funny thing happened. Magically, the first signs of life reappeared. Tiny leaves crept from the soil to inch towards the rim of the pot. I realized I hadn’t even watered the plant in…well, it had been a while since I didn’t have any hope it would have a stunning resurrection. Over the course of the summer, new growth joined the pot and by September I almost cried when my healthy thriving plant bloomed. Soft pink flowers filled the pot. I admitted I was terrified of killing it again and basically left it on its own.

By late October it was becoming too chilly to sit in the sunroom except for an occasional Indian summer day. I had no idea how my precious plant would survive once I brought it back into the house. So, I scoured the internet, searching for the optimum conditions for African violets and hoping to break my curse with houseplants.

I discovered these plants basically need three things. First, temperatures between 65 and 80 degrees. Check. Second, minimal watering. Check. And third, direct sunlight. Ouch. That had been my problem at least in this case. My plant was headed for a predictable disaster again.

I invested in a grow lamp. Just a small inexpensive light that attached to the corner table and shines about eight hours a day. The results were unbelievable. I still forget to water, but the plant is very forgiving. Unfortunately, it looks a bit odd since African violets are typically short plants that hug the rim of the pot. Mine reaches for the stars or, at least, the light, but hell, it’s healthy and alive, and I’m grateful. I’m counting my blessings.

When I can finally open the sunroom again, Violet, we’re back on a first name basis, will return to her home on the table. I’m sure we will both breathe a sigh of relief that she’s survived the winter well. Does this inspire me to invest in more plants? Fill my home with lush green, sweet-smelling, and beautiful houseplants? No. I got lucky this time, and I’m not pressing my luck. After all, murder is a crime.

Happy Spring, everyone. Have faith. It’s coming!

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