Building my inner garden
And choosing what to put in it.
Once in college, I had a little cactus that I religiously watered every other day. Within 2 weeks it grew soft and mushy. So, I threw it out with the trash and I decided that houseplants weren’t for me.
When the pandemic came around, I learned how to be at home — since we couldn’t be anywhere else. I was used to bouncing from trendy restaurant to restaurant, bar to bar, but now I was stuck at home with my mismatched furniture and dim lighting.
So we moved. We bought a home with beautiful, tall windows spanning two stories. I started more carefully curating the things I wanted in my home. I’ve always been drawn to lush spaces — cafés with trailing pothos, tropical themed bars with huge birds of paradise and banana plants. So now that I was stuck at home, I wanted to create my own urban jungle.
I started small, with a few cuttings from friends. I started to learn different families within plants — philodendron, anthurium, epipremnum, monstera, alocasia. I learned that not only did each family have their own care preferences, individual species did, too. And even more interestingly, each individual plant had its own quirks, too. I learned that following the rules didn’t always yield the best results.
Slowly, I learned how to care for my plants based on what they needed. I stopped counting days between watering and instead just started observing. I looked out for bugs and mites on leaves. I felt the soil and moss for moisture. This one’s thirsty, time for some water. This one’s doing fine. This one’s unfurling a new leaf! This one’s kind of droopy, do I need to move it somewhere with more sun? Or less?
I started to feel more confident in my ability to listen to my plants and care for them. I started importing increasingly rare varieties. Sometimes, the leafs would shrivel. One by one, the leaves would drop until I had an unsightly brown stick of a stem. I’d sight and put them in moss and leave them alone.
Three months later, a small leaf started sprouting out of the dead-looking stick. I was amazed. I’d gone from killing plants to resurrecting them.
This process of listening and noticing before acting taught me a lot about how to care for myself. After all, we’re just like plants. Sometimes we need a break, a sip of water, and some more sunlight.
The other day, I went to a plant nursery with a friend. We walked down rows and rows of plants from foxgloves to bamboo to fruit trees to succulents. I was drawn to muted colors and pastels while she was drawn to bright blooms of fuchsia.
We talked about what we wanted in our career and workplace. For her, a people-first organization where she can focus on mentorship and growth of her team. For me, an inspiring vision and product that I feel excited to build every day.
What we want in our gardens were different, and it made me realize more deeply how there is no right or wrong way in our life. We choose what we fill in our garden, be it flowers for cutting, veggies to enjoy, tropical leaves and foliage, or bonsai trees. Some people like a challenge. Some just want to appreciate beauty. Some let it run wild. Others like it clean and austere.
The best part is that you get to choose. You don’t need anyone else’s approval to plant what you want in your garden. And you sure as hell don’t get to plant what you want in others’ gardens.
Your garden is a reflection of you; choosing and curating is an essential part of our lives. As Thích Nhất Hạnh notices:
We are too undemanding, too ready to watch whatever is on the screen, too lonely, lazy, or bored to create our own lives. We turn on the TV and leave it on, allowing someone else to guide us, shape us, and destroy us. Losing ourselves in this way is leaving our fate in the hands of others who may not be acting responsibly.
So next time you talk about life with people close to you, consider that what you put in your gardens may be different. Appreciate when someone lets you in to enjoy their garden.
And ask yourself, what do I want in my inner garden?
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