Have you ever picked up a plant that called your name at a store, taken it home and then had no idea what to do with it? Does your thumb tend to trend a little darker than the green version? Alessia Resta says you just need a little #plantconfidence.
Resta, whose book Plants Are My Favorite People: A Relationship Guide for Plants and Their Parents came out this month, knows the feeling of not knowing how to care for a plant. “After I graduated college, I started working from home and was a little down in the dumps, kind of isolated by myself in my apartment, staring at the white walls,” she says. “I always loved plants and fish as well and always wanted them in my space. The apartment that I moved into had beautiful west-facing light.”
She had a cactus, and it sparked some ideas. “I don’t know anything about this plant. It’s a cactus, but what else? Where is it from? What’s its natural habitat?”
Resta began to research the plants she already had and soon learned that her space wasn’t the ideal environment for that cactus. So she started looking online at designers to see what plants they were using, checking Pinterest, and searching to see what people overseas were doing with plants. And she knew she had found her passion and started her @apartmentbotanist Instagram account.
“It starts with attraction first,” Resta says. “I like this. I don’t know why, but I want to know more. Serious collecting started in 2017, and I wanted to document the experience. It was so much fun to remember when this plant came in and when a shipment would come in and I was doing all the wrong things right off the bat. But then I started learning things from that.”
Getting Plant Confidence
This is where “plant confidence” came in. It is giving yourself permission to make mistakes while you learn how to do things better and turn that brown thumb green. It’s learning all you can about a plant and its required care so that you can be the best plant parent possible.
“I was making huge mistakes, not knowing what I was doing, fumbling around a little blind in the dark,” Resta says. “I started to not kick myself when I was done.” She gained that confidence by being methodical.
“It’s like middle school science, when you are trying to realize what went wrong with the science experiment,” she says. “Because I did this, it resulted in this. By process of elimination, realizing what logically went wrong. Learning what went wrong and how to do it right next time boosts your plant confidence.
“Now I know this plant works in my space,” Resta says. “You start gaining trust with yourself and trust with that plant. It’s a bond like most relationships.” Once she figured it out, she was off to the races. Eventually, she had more than 200 plants living in her small apartment.
Still Making Mistakes
Resta and her boyfriend recently moved to a new, larger space. The move underscored that even if you are a confident plant parent, you still make mistakes.
“The biggest mistake I made in indoor plant care was not isolating my plants when they came in.” she says. “You never knew if there were pests hanging on and coming into your collection, and that could be really detrimental.” When she moved this time, she says one of her plants had mites but she couldn’t isolate it. “So then 10 plants had mites!” Resta says.
She buys some plants locally, but she tends to buy a lot of plants from overseas because she wasn’t finding a lot of options near her. She generally orders from Ecuador, Thailand and Italy. “It took a while to find who my trusted buyers are. I wanted them to be sourcing ethically, making sure they are making a living wage,” Resta says. “I have my set people I go to, just a few.”
Now, she says the plant community has grown enough that she is seeing more options nearby, in all kinds of stores. “It’s very interesting how the market has shifted.”
Split Up the Care Responsibilities
You might think, with hundreds of plants all around her home, that Resta spends all her time caring for them. However, she says she has come up with a plan that makes plant care manageable so she can enjoy them.
“I split up plant care. Usually by daily plant care, weekly and monthly,” Resta says. “Daily is looking at the plants, spending time making sure everything is looking all right. Look for pests, checking the plants’ overall well-being. If things aren’t OK, I usually isolate it in the kitchen area and kind of diagnose the problem.”
Her weekly routine is taking care of the problems she diagnosed throughout the week. Monthly care is larger projects like a big repotting of a few plants or a soil refresh.
Determine Your Plant Care Style
Creating your plant collection depends on doing some reflection. “Finding out the kind of plant parent you want to be and are is important,” Resta says. “Find what relationship with plants is going to work for you. There’s a little give and take. The plants are stubborn.” She says that her plant parenting style falls “between being a helicopter plant parent and a 9-to-5 plant parent. I can only do so much.”
A lot of people started a plant hobby in recent years, and some got a little discouraged with the results. Resta has some advice. “Give yourself the grace and time to figure out what kind of plant parent you want to be and have it be OK if something doesn’t work out. Accept it and know there are plants that are out there for you and that will work in your space. Have fun and try not to take anything too seriously. Get plants that make you happy and try not to overwhelm yourself.”
Images reprinted with permission from Plants Are My Favorite People: A Relationship Guide for Plants and Their Parents by Alessia Resta copyright 2022. Illustrations copyright 2022 by Lucila Perini. Published by Clarkson Potter, an imprint of Penguin Random House