Growing With Intuition: Gardening Without Rules

Just under a year ago, I moved from the middle of the mountains to find work in the city. Anybody who makes this type of move knows that it can completely change your lifestyle and separate you from the nature that normally energizes you. 

I already had a love for indoor plants, but this move is what turned that love into an obsession. As a typical Gen Z girl in her 20’s who is renting, I didn’t want to invest in long-term gardening or landscaping but still wanted to be able to get my hands in the dirt on a daily basis. With each new plant I added to my indoor collection, I learned a new set of tips, tricks, lighting and watering preferences plus… rules. 

One night, I was scrolling on one of my favorite plant community pages, House Plant Hobbyist, and found the most glorious comment section I could ever dream of. The post read “What’s the one houseplant trick you’ve learned that you think everyone should know about? GO!”

Within a few hours, there were over 100 comments of solid gold, but the best of them all? 

“Listen to them!”

These three simple words carry so much importance that this comment outweighed the rest in a heartbeat. I mean, isn’t that what nature is all about?

It made me realize how much of this community is based around getting the biggest, fastest growing plants that hopefully will bloom so that you can post it on Instagram. I feel that a lot of plant-enthusiasts tend to lose the joy that comes with growing a new houseplant because they obsess over black and white answers to rapid growth. I see so many folks get a new plant, diagnose it with an overall care plan and move on to purchasing a new one so that their prized collection can sit pretty on their shelves like a museum. 

Especially in today’s world, we want immediate satisfaction – and that is something that simply cannot be grown- especially when we want it and how we want it. Gardening develops care, patience, and attention, all for the end surprise of a new variegated leaf or spring bloom that makes it all worth it.

The truth is that gardening, indoor or outdoor, is the exact opposite as being black and white. I may be making myself sound like a hippie here, but a relationship between a plant and the caretaker should be symbiotic. There is something rewarding about putting the effort into actually getting to know each plant.

According to a meta-analysis study by Science Direct, gardening helps reduce depression, anxiety, and body mass index, as well as increases in life satisfaction, quality of life, and sense of community. The more care and love that you pour into your new green friend should bring you more happiness and contentment, rather than a hunger for a new pretty piece to place on your windowsill.

The life of even a houseplant is a life in your hands. Having indoor plants has forced me to slow down, pull my hair back, and to get raw and instinctual. In a world of moisture meters and watering schedules, we tend to lose the intimacy of being able to feel and visually inspect our plants and determine whether they are healthy or not. I really believe this behavior takes away from the most important qualities of indoor gardening- patience, observation, and connection.

Filmmaker and farmer, John Chester once said on one of my favorite Podcasts, The Good Life Project (by the way, go check it out), “If you keep beauty in mind as the leading indicator as to what you should do when you don’t know what to do, cultivate beauty.” 

He later explains that growing something is the constant repetition of “Observation, followed by creativity, followed by humility.” He claims that when you observe the problem, work creatively to try to fix it, and when it fails, you start over again with more understanding. That’s the beauty of it all.

I truly believe that gardening in any form is a way of art- the art of trying and failing, learning and figuring it out. As any fellow plant fanatic knows, the container, watering schedule, light, humidity, elevation, species, soil, season, and so many other things contribute to the overall needs of the plant, and each one is different. 

I accepted John’s word of advice and changed the way I interact with my plants because of it. I put down the YouTube tutorials and started picking up my plants- simply spending time with them, examining them to see how they respond to different care techniques. In the end, this builds the best skill of all- being able to hear them clearly.

By getting more in tune with the process of caring for my plants, I not only am seeing their health flourish, but I am also finding so much more meaning in the actual caretaking of each one. It has given me an authentic connection to something that I have worked hard to know and help grow. 

I remind myself daily that when in doubt, in the beautifully said words of John Chester, “When you don’t know what to do, cultivate beauty.”

Happy growing, 

Madison Ford

Also, Let’s follow each other on Instagram! @AccordingtoMadisonFord

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