Get succulents, they said. They’re soooooo easy to look after, they said. And practically impossible to kill. You will see, succulent gardening is a breeze – even in a tiny flat. Especially in a tiny flat!
Well, guess what? Here I am with a whole lot of dead succulents on my hands and I swear it’s not my fault!
I mean, it’s not like I didn’t try. I planted them in the choicest terracotta pots. Placed them where they would be able to soak up the golden sunshine that streams in every afternoon. Dripped tiny drops of water onto their plump leaves every few days. Talked to them. Loved them. Played them Bach suites and North Indian classical music.*
But nothing was ever enough. The sturdy Spekboom’s elephant-foot-shaped leaves shrivelled up as though it had been sitting in a hot bath for too long and eventually dropped right off. The Desert Rose and Frilly Echeveria each stretched right out of their pretty natural squats into macabre vegetable interpretations of ever-searching antennae. The spiky Cactus did the same and the Zebra Plant pluckily kept reaching for the stars while the tips of its many limbs turned brown.
I’d desperately try to revive them… and inevitably end up making the whole dreadful situation even worse. Then I’d buy a new batch, swearing to get it right this time round. But no. A vicious cycle of succulentacide. And so much guilt.
Then one day I realised what was going on here. Succulents are like those people that, when you’re in a group together and need to decide on something to do, say they’re ‘totally chilled with whatever’, but then end up being real party poopers when a plan is put into action.
They pretend to be so super easy-going, but deep down actually just like having things a certain way. Their way. Which is totally fine, of course, if only they were open about it from the start.
And, well, my beef with succulents is that they aren’t. They’re like, hey look at me growing here right next to the road where I get motor vehicle gas emissions full in the face ALL DAY. Look at me just soaking it up, growing and thriving, like it ain’t no thing.
Wow, succulent. That’s really impressive. Now just imagine how happy you would be living with me, in my nice, warm, sunshiny, cosy home where you’d never suffer from exhaust fume inhalation again.
Hey, I’m keen for whatever. Let’s give it a try.
And then two weeks later… Umm… so to be quite honest, this is really boring and I’d much rather just hang out on the side of the road, weathering the elements, working hard, turning carbon dioxide into oxygen. Soooo, I’m out.
It happens EVERY TIME and, honestly, I’ve had enough.
I also have a Peace Lily in my home, which despite its fragile appearance and in stark contrast to the succulents, just never gives up hope.
It used to prettify my office desk and I’d always return from the weekend to find it wilted and sad on a Monday morning. Feeling terrible for even thinking that I could leave it to its own devices for 48 hours, I’d empty two or three glasses of water into its soil, which it would soak up thirstily. As the morning progressed, its leaves would start perking up one by one (I used to see the tiniest upward movements from the corner of my eye) and by lunch time it would be its fabulous self again.
Nowadays it’s something of a decorative centrepiece in my little home and keeps on keeping on, no matter what. In fact, just yesterday, it gently unveiled its very first flower of the season – snow-white, sun-seeking and perfect.
So, on my most recent trip to the nursery, I realised it was time I broke the cycle.
I thought about the succulents and how they’d all come to such sad ends. I finally admitted it to myself: they hate the confines of your terracotta pots and the window-filtered rays. They want the wind and the rain and the sun beating down on them at noon. They want the fresh air and the gas emissions and the wide open skies. Trying to capture their wildness is no use, neither is nurturing them when all they craved is just being left alone to do their thing.
Maybe one day, when I have a little patch of actual earth at my disposal we could try again. But for now, it was goodbye.
Then I thought about the Peace Lily and knew what had to be done.
I turned away from the Spekboom and got a Love Palm instead. Set aside the delightful Desert Rose and rather picked up a Peace-in-the-Home. Two Polka Dot plants – a white one and a red one – caught my eye and another dappled guy I couldn’t quite place, begged to be part of the gang.
They all look alarmingly fragile to me, even now on fresh display in their pots, but I’ve learned my lesson well. When it comes to indoor container gardening (and the rest of life), things are hardly ever what they seem. Also, this urge to tame the tough? It will only end in tears.
So, here’s to a whole new chapter of my tiny apartment greenery. Here’s to hoping it’s a whole lot happier than the last!
*I didn’t really play them Bach and North Indian classical music. I just googled ‘music plants like’ and that came up.