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Mother of Plants

don't let the existential dread set in comic
I wish I knew who to credit with this masterpiece!

Cou cou – greetings from Chez Nous.

I am on my second month of furlough and the existential dread has started creeping in.  Not today though, it’s a sunny day by the sea, so I thought about writing about my favourite obsession:

See, I’ve been making a man, with blond hair and a tan.

I mean plants, of course. Defo.

rainbow tulips

So go on and get yourself a nice cup of tea while I take you on a spin around my lifelong houseplant addiction.

I am still waiting for my inner Monty Don to kick in regarding gardening, but houseplants…  I can funk with that.  Not that it could have gone any other way – my mother is the original #plantmum.  Our home was a real jungle growing up.  From African Violets to Flame Nettle, you name it, it was thriving on the windowsills of our dinky council flat.  Each time my mum ran out of space for her pots my dad crafted her a new plant stand.  These were pretty grand affairs, sculpted from scraps of pine and lovingly lacquered to look like antique hardwood.  My favourites, however, were the hanging planters, made of either macramé decorated with tiny little seashells or braided jute twine.

Me and my wee sister around 1995
Me and my wee sister around 1995 (I’m on the left)

My mum’s cuttings accompanied me to my first flat.  Through a bit of trial and error, it did not take long before I too had a windowsill full of flora.  I loved that dinky apartment with its massive set of south facing windows.  It broke my heart to move out when I was accepted to study art in Edinburgh four years later.  The first thing I bought to brighten up the grimy bedsit where I ended up was a Peace Lily from IKEA, the only plant that refused to die in that damp hole.  Offspring of that tenacious Spathiphyllum continue to oxidise our cottage here in Ilfracombe.

my wee peace lily

I met my tall dark stranger James mid October 2013.  He is a man of the cut-flower variety – can’t kill a plant if it’s already dead, right!  Opposites attract I suppose, as we moved to France together soon after.  During our year in Brittany I produced a crop of chilies on our front room and grew my first avocado plant.  Compared to the dark and damp house we rented there, our first apartment in the South of France was flooded with natural light and made for cultivating greenery.  I never had a sunnier spot for my tomatoes than our balcony overlooking the Montagne Noire.  Although the Toms didn’t live to see us settling in Chez Nous N°21, the plants that did, however, are mostly with us here in Ilfracombe.

the famous Breton chilies
the famous Breton chilies

Yes, I rather packed the car full of pots than made sure I had enough to wear in the UK.

If you ask James, we probably have enough plants already.  Like with dogs and brogues, I think you could always have another pair.  However, it’s variety of foliage I appreciate, not quantity per se.  Following my latest re-potting marathon, I decided to donate most of my new cuttings to the poor plant-less people of Ilfracombe.  Less than 20 minutes by the kerb, with a “free to a good home” sign and the whole tray was gone.  Quite literally, although it was later returned with a thank you note.  Feeling positively saintly, I thought it was only right and just to reward myself with a medium-sized Cala Lily from Lidl.  As the newest member of my plant-family, it is also my current favourite, narrowly taking the top spot from an adorable Angel Wing Begonia.

My mum has recently re-discovered her love of plants after a few years of being too busy to take care of any.  I can’t wait to be able to swap cuttings with her.  Our joint love of plants is something that makes me feel closer to my mum, regardless of the 2000 miles between my home in England and hers back in Finland.  I think every mother and daughter need a thing of their own and this one is ours.

(You can see her green-babies below.)

I hope browsing through this short history of houseplants of Chez Nous N°21 has brought you as much joy as it has been to write it.  Looking up old photographs with my mum via WhatsApp and remembering blooms of the past has been a real delight – a proper break from the bleakness of lockdown life.  Hope you enjoyed that cup of tea, btw.  Just remember to give a wee drink to the thirsty plants at yours as well.

That’s what I am going to do next.

À plus tard!

Tx

Published by

Tiina Lilja

Painter, mother to Rusty the dog, living her best life in North Devon

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