How I Became a Plant Lady



BY JEN OLENICZAK BROWN

“You must have the best air ever.” 

“Are you a plant?” 

“Should we call you Poison Ivy?”

Ok, look – I NOW have a lot of plants. I’m not entirely sure how it happened, because I used to be a plant murderer. It all started when I was trying to have plants in my first place here. Before this, I was living with cats that I’m fairly certain ate my plants – and flowers, and herbs, and anything – just to spite me. No joke – Milo, the boy cat, would look at me while taking a bite of my flowers.

I digress.

I was in my first apartment here in Winston-Salem and I bought a plant while my then-boyfriend, now husband, and I were out shopping. I was so excited – a medium-sized plant with big hot pink flowers. The tag said “flamingo plant” and how fun! We put the plant in the back of our car and…went to see a movie.

Yep, I killed one of the first plants I had here.

After creating a small killer greenhouse, we went to re-purchase the same plant. YES! I thought, with reckless optimism, I am finally going to have a plant that a cat doesn’t try to kill and digest! I set the plant by our back patio door in a beautiful pot, gave it some water, and went about my day. Every week I would give it a drink – surely the plant needed water weekly!

Until all of the hot pink flowers started to turn yellow…then brown. The leaves got mushy. Maybe it needs more water, I thought, again with optimism. I started watering it every few days…until the plant was very, very dead.

Maybe this just wasn’t a good plant, I thought, still with the optimism of someone who hadn’t just murdered two plants in about three weeks. I’ll just get another plant for our bedroom. So I got something that looked a bit like a small tree, put it in a bright red pot in the corner of our bedroom, and went about taking care of it like a new child. I watered it weekly, and for a while, it was doing well!

Until one day, I went to water it and I thought I saw something moving in the dirt. That can’t be right, I thought. What is…oh, my goodness, those are worms! There were dozens and dozens of WORMS in my cute little corner bedroom tree. WORMS!

Marching my tree outside and to the dumpster, I flipped the whole thing in, my optimism quickly turning to “maybe I just can’t have plants.” Three murders behind me, I let time go by before thinking about another plant – until I saw a brightly colored fall plant called croton. It said easy-care, so I decided to give it a shot. This plant seemed to handle things a bit better than the others – although every once in a while, a few leaves would fall off and I would prep myself for another death.

After living in that first place for a few years, we decided to move to a new place – one with massive windows. Me, still desperately wanting to be a plant person, put my sad croton – now only with three leaves – by the window. I am going to not kill this plant, I said to myself, without any optimism but clear drive and motivation. I hopped on Google, something I should have done years ago, and looked up, “why do I keep killing plants?”

The first response: too much water and not enough drainage.

Drainage, I thought to myself…I never…. OH, NO! NONE OF MY PLANTS HAD DRAINAGE!

I kept reading and apparently, you’re not supposed to love your plants as much as I did…you’re supposed to water them ONLY WHEN THEY ARE DRY! And they need a hole on the bottom of the pot. FOR DRAINAGE!

Fast-forward three years, and I still have that little croton, with many, many more leaves. I also have about 5 dozen plants, one taller than me. All because of drainage.

And that’s how I became a plant lady.


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