04/23/2014 10:29 am ET Updated Dec 06, 2017

Secret Messages of Your House Plants


Some people have a green thumb. I once had a roommate who had this gift. The contrast between our rooms was distinct. My room was drab post college Ikea ticky tack. His room was an Amazonian jungle. Long luxurious vines, springy leaves as big as platters spilled from ceiling to floor from hanging pots. You could barely see his bed through the lush and dewy green foliage. Once, I even saw a monkey swinging from the vines. Well, maybe it was his cat. I'd be in my room, thinking, what the hell is that sound coming from behind his door? A toucan?

Needless to say, I did not possess a green thumb. The plants I brought home, all cheerful, sprightly and optimistic, seemed to get hopelessly soused overnight and flop down to the floor in a drunken stupor, and despite my overwatering and coaxing, refused to get up and be an upright citizen of the plant kingdom again.

Lately though, I am having a bit more success. I still kill my share of plants -- I plead no contest your honor -- but some of them, the really tough ones that have been around the block a few times, the ones that can actually survive in a desert with no water or nutrients, miraculously manage to live under my hands.

Part of the difference is that I am paying more attention to them. I don't just leave them in the corner that I want them to dress up, stubbornly watching them get yellow, shrivel up, or strip down to their wobbly plant knuckles. Now, I try to listen to them, about what where they want to be, how they want to be treated. And in the process I am learning not only how to take care of them, I am picking up a few clues about how to take care of myself. They say talk to your plants and they will be healthier; but in this case the plants are doing the talking, and what they say actually makes sense.

Some of them even have some pretty strong personalities:

"Hey you. Pssst! Humanoid caretaker. Yeah, I'm lookin' at you. Don't just walk on by. C'mere."

For some reason, this new fern has a bit of an attitude.

Listen kid, I didn't grow this big and buff, germinate from a tiny seed, bust my noggin through dirt, fight off some nasty beetles, sprout this luscious head of hair, just so you can toss me in the green bin after a week. I got some pointers for ya, kid. No, don't get distracted by your phone. Why I aughta... Listen up, you might learn a little something.

Let me ask you: Do you see me strugglin' here? I watch you eating your oatmeal, oh and how precious, you're adding a sprinkle of dried cranberries, and meanwhile, I am sittin' here in HELL, sweatin' it out in the direct sun, getting fried like a Frito-Lay. Enough already. If you're such a smarty pants, why don't you try moving me to another location? In the good old days we just grew where we wanted, where the digs were good, like under a forest cover alongside a creek or somethin'. We didn't willy nilly get sent to the garden section at Home Depot.

Let me help you out. If I'm hurtin where I am, just move me to another spot, okay? Check in with me sometime. You can learn a thing or two from me.

You don't look so good yourself. You look a bit frazzled. A bit fried. Have you thought about maybe finding a better spot for yourself, where you can thrive? Dealing with all this smog and traffic and commuting two hours to your job everyday is making you wilt. Maybe moving out of this overpriced condo and simplifying your life might do you some good. Just sayin. Think about it, kid. If you're struggling, try getting yourself to a different spot that suits you better. Word.

I can't believe what I'm hearing -- Is a plant really schooling me on how to live life? What the heck is in this oatmeal -- magic mushrooms? I really need more sleep from now on.

Couple weeks later, he starts up again.

Hey kid. Yo, Quaker Oats. Don't look around the room. Yeah, it's me talking to ya. Listen, I got more chlorophyl for your soul and what not.

First of all, I want to give you a shout out for moving me to the shadier side of the room. That's what I'm talkin about! I'm no longer schivitzing around the clock. Look, I'm even sprouting new strands. The chicks are digging it. But do me a favor, will ya? You see these brown dried up leaves hanging on the bottom? They need to go. Trim away amigo. I can't grow if these bloodsuckers are draining the nutrients, you get my meaning?

Frankly, if you want my opinion, you could use a little trimming in your life too. Those dead relationships that are just draining your energy? Let's face it, you've outgrown them. I know you want to hold on to people for sentimental reasons, but look what it's doing to ya. I watch you pace around here, your brow knotted, trying to work things out, but kid, it's not worth it. Water the relationships that are good for ya. Let go of the dead stuff if you want to grow. Word.

Let's see, where did I put those gardening shears?

A few months later, I walk through the living room and hear clapping:

There she is, my favorite oatmeal eater! High five champ, give me some skin! Nice job partner. I am green and magnificent. The chicks are falling all over me. It's a beautiful thing. Alright, I think we're ready to take it to the next level, Oats. I need more room now. I've become a Cadillac kind of guy, and you've got me in a Hyundai. That ain't right. Yeah, dig out a bigger pot -- no an eight or 10 inch -- go all the way, go for the 20 inch. Yeah baby, spread out those roots. Now I can finally stretch out. Ahhhhh, this feels goood. Hey, don't forget to give me an extra dose of that good stuff -- that extra stinky organic fertilizer -- I love me some of that nitrogen, on the rocks.

You should try this. I mean it. Isn't it about time you start looking for more room to maneuver at work? You've been doing the same ole thing at that dead end job for nine years, and you're bored out of your gourd. Time to look for a new career, Oats, one where you can stretch yourself creatively. Make sure to give yourself plenty of room to grow.

While you're looking, just be sure to give yourself a lot of extra compost. Change is scary, kid, and you want to be very good to yourself when you're going through it. Go ahead, take some long walks in the park. Get a Thai lady with strong fingers to work out those kinks in your back. Don't forget to fertilize regularly. Maybe if you humanoids learn how to take better care of yourself, you'll take better care of the planet. Now put me out on the patio, Oats. I'm ready to rock and roll.