Throughout the spring and summer, I punch the clock at a greenhouse in the farming community of Allendale, Michigan. While there is little to no training given by the managers of the company, I am thrown into the indoor fields of flowering annuals like a clueless tourist being dumped into a foreign land. As the days drone on, I quickly learn the alternative names of plants and where they are located in the store. It is not long before I begin understanding care and maintenance procedures and their corresponding relations to other plants. I distinguish annuals from perennials, full-sun from part-sun from full-shade. Heat resistance and zoning become second nature to me. I can tell customers which plants attract butterflies and hummingbirds and which ones repel deer and mosquito. The complexity becomes beautiful and I find myself engrossed by the magic of plants. It is an enchantment I do not wish to flee.
So I make it follow me. As I now gaze into the leafy tendrils of my elephant foot palm on the windowsill, I cannot help but smile. This small palm tree brings a sliver of joy and life to my white-walled dorm room during the lifeless months of fall and winter. The grey ceramic pot creates a micro island, an oasis from the grip of seasonal affective disorder. While the trees lose their leaves and the flowers go dormant, my foot palm remains green and lively.
As humans, plants are our perfect companions. We exhale carbon dioxide while they inhale it. Plants give off oxygen, and we take it. Together, we complete the cycle of gases. They breathe and intake nutrients and water like animals, but are generally sedentary objects like rocks. They are the epitome of living art.
Imagine an empty room, cold and industrial. Not living, not breathing. It doesn’t grow or change. Its ambiance is poor, if not bare. Give it plants and it will grow atmosphere. They stretch their green leaves into the living space and give us something to interact with. Unlike furniture, they are organic and require care. Plants force us to foster a relationship. Care is mandatory for their survival. We must feed them water and sunlight so that they may give us joy. The discipline of caring for them is rewarded subtly by the thriving nature of the plant. From sculpting bushes and trimming hedges to growing crops and fruit trees, one’s care of plants is often correlated with its harvest—be it concretely through produce, or abstractly through beauty. It allows us to grow art. No painting or sculpture can bring as much natural beauty to a room as a vibrant plant.