For today’s plant tour, we are headed to New York City.
Your name: Olena Shmahalo
Occupation: Art Director at a fantastic non-profit science magazine – QuantaMagazine.org
Where you live:New York City
Number of plants you own: Around 150
How long you have been into plants and how did you get introduced: I’ve always loved plants and the idea of overgrown places (ivy-covered walls, abandoned structures, things growing with abandon even against all odds). But, mostly from afar until recently. My grandmother has a wonderful “green thumb” but my mom didn’t, so I just thought I wouldn’t either. Turns out, plant care aptitude is more experience-based than genetic! I decided to create the indoor jungle of my dreams and the rest is history.
Where do your windows face (east, west, north, south) and what plants have grown best in your home or close to those windows?: I’m lucky to have found an apartment with big South, Southeast, and North-facing windows. But, because my place is tiny I group mostly by humidity needs and light tolerance. I also supplement with LED grow lights for plants farther away from the windows.
Name any benefits you get from your plants: Calm; tending to them is meditative. Enjoying their beauty and watching them grow (and sometimes do funny things) is a great mood-lifter. They help the air quality, too! Also, in a short time, I’ve learned so much and have met a lot of great people and new friends thanks to this hobby.
What kind of plants (genus, species or family) you like the most? I’m partial to aroids; so many great specimens in that family. But besides that, interesting forms, textures, and colors catch my eye. Velvety and iridescent plants like Philodendron verrucosum and Begonia pavonina are just otherworldly!
Can you share the biggest challenge you have had with your plants?: I’ve had a lot of… Accidents. Plants lost to overwatering, underwatering, low light levels, infestations, and generally because I had no idea what I was doing. Thankfully, as time passes, the losses decrease! I’m always improving my methods.
Can you share one mistake you made as a gardener? My first Monstera deliciosa suffered a horrendous fate. I’m embarrassed to mention it. First mistake: removing it from its nursery pot right away, replacing the soil (reading forums, people make a huge deal about “gritty mix”), “pruning” (read: butchering) the roots, and subsequently over-potting it. Next, incorrectly thinking that “keep moist” meant “don’t let it get dry” and then trying to fix the overwatering issue with hydrogen peroxide and more soil “amending”, etc. Just… horror story all around. Sorry you had to read that!
If your plants were to be taken from you and you could only keep one (can’t bear the thought I know), which one would it be and why? NOOOOO! I have wondered what I’ll do if I ever have to move out of the country and can’t bring them. I think I’d try to sneak a few cuttings… If only one, I’d choose based on rarity and which would be most difficult to obtain again.
Now, if I had to live with only one thereafter, it’d be a Philodendron, like gloriosum or micans. They’re easy-going, grow fast, and before you knew it I’d be cheating the system by repopulating with cuttings!
Best advice you can give about any aspect in taking care of plants: Laissez faire. Seriously, messing with them too much usually makes things worse. Unless it’s insects — nuke ’em with your choice of cocktail (I recommend azadirachtin or pyrethrin concentrates) and be persistent: if you think the war is over, it probably isn’t.
Where can others find you on social media?
theoperatingsystem and OlenaShmahalo.com
Thanks so much Olena for sharing your plants with us. You have quite an Aroid collection and I love the different patterns. I haven’t found a place here in Ottawa that carries that much variety. I identify with you in loving the idea of overgrown places and I’m so thrilled when I find others making it possible in their home. I would love to do the same to my home too, only if D will go for it 🙂 .
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