I Am A Serial Plant Killer In My Family.

Portrait of Tammy Strobel

Unless you have been living under a rock, you would know that growing plants at home is officially cool now. I myself, live in a jungalow – a house that is filled with tropical flora of every kind imaginable. And I hate it.

All the blame goes to my hubby, Justin*. Three years ago, on a whim, he picked up on the hipster trend of decking the house out with greenery.

At first, it was just a few small cactus plants, placed on his study desk and across our windowsills – they were easy to take care of and even cute! My then 10-year-old twin daughters followed suit, and started collecting mini potted cacti of their own, buying two of each kind (as twins sometimes do). It took just four months for all of our tabletops to be transformed into miniature desert scenes, with numerous barbed vegetation finding pride of place as centrepieces. At first, I appreciated having some greenery to soften the industrial-looking grey of our flat. As I lack a green thumb, I encouraged them on the side. I did, however, join in on the act by fixing up tin planters in the kitchen for herbs – mint, parsley and basil were my favourites – so that I could use them for cooking.

Within two years, Justin and my daughters’ healthy pastime soon became an obsession. They graduated from simple portable plants to larger, exotic succulents; flowering species such as orchids and Guzmanias; and huge ferns that could only fit in cauldrons. We even installed a hanging trellis across the kitchen ceiling and grew a green wall in our living room balcony using wooden pallets which Justin had found at warehouses.

I was happy that my loved ones spent quality time together on their greening projects, but was resentful of the amount of time, space and effort these projects took. Weekends were either spent taking care of our “greenhouse” or visiting far-flung nurseries. Our five-room flat was being overrun by weeds (as I called them), and cleaning became a massive undertaking. Pots had to be shifted whenever I needed to carry out any kind of household chore, and soil and leaves were found in every nook and cranny – some were even lodged in my freshly laundered dresses!

My complaints about the mess, smell and increasing presence of insects, fell on deaf ears – I felt dismissed and left out. I soon decided to carry out some “pruning” of my own… At first, I just gave away some of the plants – there were so many that Justin and the girls never even noticed. During housecleaning, I would get so bothered that I disposed of some of the older plants at the neighbourhood refuse bin centre. On one occasion, I even uprooted my entire herb garden out of a moment of childish annoyance!

Justin and my daughters appeared nonplussed – in fact, it encouraged them to buy more to add to the collection – and I became more petty and vindictive. For the past half a year, I refused to water the household “shrubbery” and left some infected ones to die. For some others which I disliked – especially those of the common, plainer-looking or larger varieties – I would “poison” them, by pouring unfinished drinks or detergent-filled water that were used for cleaning on them. Quite a few perished under my cruel ways – and I would fault their demise on Justin and the girls’ bad gardening habits and inattention.

About two months ago, I came home one evening to yet another new bloom. It was a purple orchid, tied with a grosgrain ribbon and a note wishing me “Happy Mother’s Day”. Many of the existing larger plants were also gone, with colourful pots of aromatic herb plants and flowers in their place. The note explained that the orchid was a hybrid, specially cultivated over the years and named after me. “Thanks for putting up with us crazy monkeys in the wilderness that is our home”, the note had said. I cried, realising that Justin and the twins had worked hard for years on just this one green project for me, the eco-criminal of the family.

In the past couple of months, I have come to make peace with the jungalow life. Now and then, I still get irritated when managing the household botany, but at least there is much less foliage to deal with. What’s more, I get to curate the family’s assortment of sprouts and blossoms, alongside my “crazy monkeys”. Love, it seems, can help a black-thumbed villain grow into a green-thumbed nature lover.

*Name changed to protect privacy. 

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