Musician Annette Philip was happy to find friends for her Herbie. Founder-director of the Berklee India Ensemble, the prestigious performance group of the revered Berklee College of Music, Annette says via email: “Herbie is my darling jade plant who’s been with me since mid-April. He’s a constant source of joy and calm.”
When Annette moved from Boston to New York during lockdown, Herbie travelled with her and she brought home two other plants, Cat and Phoebe, as company for Herbie. At present, Herbie is on vacation with Annette. She explains that independent Herbie is happy to grow at his own pace and has taught her to take things as they come and not keep trying to stretch herself thin.
Like Herbie, plant pets are putting down roots in many homes all around the world, and their owners cannot stop gushing about them. Instagram is where all the action is, with proud plant parents putting up snaps of their ‘pets’ and making neighbours go green with envy. “Great companions”, “non-judgmental”… the praise showered on the pampered plants are many.
Actor and television hostess Kushboo Sundar admits that her plants are stressbusters. “I have a large terrace garden at home in Chennai. If I find one lifeless or not blooming, I get worried. I talk to them and I consider each new leaf and blossom as a reward.” She is particularly attached to the Ylang Ylang plant she has had for five-six years and a jasmine bush. “My Ylang Ylang plant has large yellow blossoms. In the case of my jasmine, I prune it really short every six-eight months and it blossoms within three weeks,” she adds.
Some choices for an indoor companion
- Snake plant, Pothos (Money plant), Jade plant, Spider plant, Fitonia, Dracaena, Wandering jew, Purple heart, Monstera, Turtle vine
In offices too, ‘pet plants’ have found a niche in cubicles and on tables, bringing in a bit of the exuberant outdoors inside sterile offices. Divas Sadasivan, an IT professional with a green thumb, has a large garden at home. But the Fitonia (nerve plant) that he keeps in his cubicle in office at Technopark, Thiruvananthapuram is special.
“I ensure that each leaf is healthy. During the lockdown, I requested housekeepers to water it. Since I had repotted it, I now have four pots of the same plant that I keep around my workstation at home,” he says.
Delhi-based entrepreneur Vinayak Garg believes that his tabletop companion Spidy, a spider plant, is happy and cordial. “Spidy is outgoing and always reaching out. I really like that attitude. Moreover, he has been with us since the beginning of our enterprise 13 months ago.” Founder of online nursery and garden store Lazy Gardener, Vinayak says that their following on Instagram more than doubled during lockdown and once courier services resumed, sales registered an increase.
All over India, the lockdown to reduce the spread of COVID-19 saw an increase in people testing their green thumb or nurturing it. Vinayak says that a book on gardening says growing plants satisfies three needs in us: aesthetic, biological and psychological. “It gives us a high to see seeds we have planted grow and bear fruit. It is also a way to acknowledge the passage of time, especially in times like this when one day seems to be telescoping into another ,” he says.
Friends without fur
As professionals juggle careers and homes, ‘plant pets’ become ideal companions to talk and sing to, and to come home to. An advantage is that they can be temporarily looked after by friends when plant parents are out of town.
Annette, for instance, says though she loves cats and dogs, her hectic schedule and travelling do not permit her conscience to go for a furry pet. Anchal Kumar, an employee of Chumbak in Bengaluru, learnt the hard way how demanding it can be to care for a plant, a cat and a baby. “I had a Raat ki rani (night-blooming jasmine) plant on my balcony. My living room would be filled with its fragrance. I would play music, cook dinner and have it by candlelight. But during my pregnancy, I was unable to care for it and it withered away.”
That is heartbreaking for plant parents. However, Pragya S, whose Instagram handle Mad over Mud has pictures of her “beloved babies”, says millennials get a psychological boost from the responsibility of caring for plants. “They can be demanding too, in terms of the right amount of sunlight, water or nutrients. Plant care is nuanced and what works in Kolkata may not work in Chennai. But we find happiness in watching the blossoms and helping one beat an infection. It is magical to see how they respond to us,” says the Kolkata-based MNC employee.
Her workshops on plant care are attended mostly my millennials from cities like Bengaluru and Hyderabad. “In metros, it is only through gardening that one can connect with Nature. I get an instant dose of happiness when I come home from work,” she says.