Interdisciplinary artist Quek Jia Qi shares her journey and lessons from caring for houseplants during the pandemic.

Portrait of Tammy Strobel

As feelings of distress simmer in times of collective grief, we are called to create new routines for resetting and reflection. From Zoom to Google Meet, the affordances of digital platforms have allowed us to stay connected while being apart. Yet when screens become overstimulating, I am learning to divert my attention offline.

With a longing for green spaces, my houseplants become my new companions. There is an emerging obsession with houseplants, and I take this rising trend in my stride to connect with the houseplant community and grow my knowledge. Care takes the form of receiving a gardening tip from a stranger halfway across the globe after posting “What’s wrong with my plant?” They say you create more green thumbs when you share plant tips. Surely, I am learning something new every day – be it moisture control, root systems, plant species, or making my potting mix, organic fertilisers, and pesticides. It is uplifting to witness how we can grow a community when we share our knowledge generously or simply, anecdotes about everyday life. 

Living to grow

Caring for plants brings wonder. The process is both rewarding and revelatory as I watch them thrive. Growth is distinctively made visible during plant propagation by leaf cuttings, stem cuttings, air layering, root division, and more. Each plant requires differentiated care, which forces me to pay attention and embrace their unique traits. There is something cathartic about this enduring process as I journal and await new growth.

Moving towards growth, relationship & regeneration

Through routines of gardening, tending, and pruning, these green companions remind me that we can grow as we find our flow. Grounding in nature, Adrienne Maree Brown’s writings in Emergent Strategy have been timely, bringing wisdom to both my gardening and life’s work. Particularly compelling is her chapter on Intentional Adaptation as she meditates on how we can stay purposeful to adapt for the better in constant change.

She reminds us that we are part of nature; urging us to be intentional about where we channel our energies and let go of what no longer supports our visionary work. While easier said than done, the resilience of plants is humbling in showing us how we can work towards this possibility. We repot when plants outgrow their pots. When leaves turn yellow, we prune to let go of what stunts growth. We keep going when things are working. When things do not, we lean in and figure out how we can adapt. Other times, we learn to take a deep breath.

Our plants as mirrors of our well-being In a way, this is a confession.

There is a parallel desire to nurture, as well as to be nurtured. In precarious times, caring for our surrounding beings reminds us of the importance of healing, nourishment and patience for the body and soul. For plants, care is made visible through pouring time, water, and love. Perhaps we too would appreciate some watering and pruning as we recharge to create our new normal. 

Quek Jia Qi works at the intersection of art, education and civic practice. An avid plant mum, she journals the growth of her leafy babies. Find her on Instagram @jiaqiquek.

This article was adapted from a piece published by www.brack.sg