What Makes a Happy Plant?
Being around plants makes people happy. The presence of greenery has an intrinsically positive association because plants represent what we need for life on earth: sun, air, shelter and plant food. If they are thriving it gives us hope that we can, too. Our happiness is dependent on theirs, but what actually makes a happy plant?
Today, people want to learn about indoor growing and how to cultivate a houseplant sanctuary in their homes more than ever before, but the language of plant care is often complicated with confusing (and even conflicting) advice from different experts. This lack of clarity and coherence can cause plant newbies to get quickly overwhelmed.
We think plant lovers deserve a book on plant care that is accessible to all levels of growing. Happy Plant is a how-to guide that’s designed for everyone. It’s an invitation to grow with plants, not just read about them.
STORY BEHIND THE BOOK
Years of trial-and-error growing (and a lot of dead houseplants) made this book—not a degree in horticulture. The real difference between who wrote this book and who it’s written for is time: the amount of time spent wandering along our shared plant care journey, picking up plant wisdom along the way.
Research is valuable, but it was spending days, weeks, months and year with over one hundred houseplants and running a plant business that has afforded the most insight into what a plant needs to be happy. What builds the greatest confidence in plant care is the simple act of patiently watching plants grow.
A lot of plant care books will offer tools and tricks to make plants happy. Their approach to plant care is less of a conversation and more like a formula that can be hacked. That is not this book. In Happy Plant, we are not trying to solve plants like they’re a mathematical equation.
Instead, we think about our relationship with plants as a dialogue. We focus on behavioral shifts to help you think of plant care not as a chore to perform but as an embodiment of respect for nature. As much as this book is about hands-on plant care, it’s about reframing your relationship with plants instead of viewing them as decorative objects or pieces of furniture.
MAKE PLANT CARE ACCESSIBLE
The structure of this book is unlike any other. It doesn’t adhere to one genre or style of writing but occupies a fluid space composed of research, plant history, personal anecdotes, and easy-to-follow plant care advice that helps you trouble-shoot plant sickness. We carefully explain complex topics in everyday language with visual illustrations, charts and (we think) stunning photography that brings the text to life. In every section, we’ve included individual profiles to highlight some of our fellow plant enthusiasts who we love and collaborate with.
This project has one author but it has been nothing short of a collaborative effort that involved countless people in its creation. Chris Satch, a researcher at the New York Botanical Garden and Horti’s resident plant doctor, was an invaluable source of botanical knowledge and zany scientific facts. Already a well-established food photographer, I brought Cayla Zahoran on to do the photography because she is obsessed with plants and has a sharp, curious eye for detail that naturally crosses over from food to plants. Travis DeMello translated the language of plants into artful illustrations and easy-to-understand infographics that adorn the book’s pages. And working behind the scenes to tweak words and edit tone is Leah Kirts, a writer who has honed the essence of Horti since the beginning. They helped us ground the intention behind this book and preserve its spirit on the pages.
This book is purposefully written in a tone that’s conversational rather than technical. You should feel at ease flipping through the pages without the need for a thesaurus or botany degree to understand what we’re talking about.
Happy Plant is meant to feel like an intimate conversation you could have with us sitting in our plant shop with a cup of tea, sharing stories about why plants matter, and how you can flourish with them. Basically, we took a model that we’ve already proven to be successful in real life with thousands of Horti subscribers becoming skilled plant parents. Just like our company, this book is an invitation to build confidence in plant care through real dialogue.
THE ANATOMY OF HAPPY PLANT
Just like every plant is made up of different parts that serve an important function for the whole living organism—roots, stems, leaves, flowers—this book is divided into four chapters that are each designed to guide you through the key elements of plant care.
Chapter One: Plants.
WHERE DO PLANTS COME FROM?
Happy Plant begins at, well, the beginning. From plant origins and their evolution, this book’s foundation is grounded in plant history, charting the emergence of plant life from the sea to dry land where plants collaborated with bacteria and fungi to grow, transforming earth into a life-giving habitat. Although we can bring plants indoors and give them names, they are originally outdoor creatures that possess untameable other-worldly characteristics.
“There are multitudes of genes, hormones, and sexualities that are contained within all plants. They reproduce and reinvent themselves—adapting in uncertainty, protecting themselves in danger, sending help to sickly or injured members of their communities, and flourishing in healthy environments.”
Thanks to the development of neurobiology, we are beginning to better understand plants as living, biodiverse beings (not things!) and to recognize how indigenous science and native cultural practices honor human-plant relationships instead of drawing harsh divides between them as conventional Western tradition has done. Together, we take a peek inside the world of plant nurseries where we’ve built relationships with growers who are some of the most passionate plant lovers you will ever meet.
Chapter Two: You.
YOUR NATURE FOR NURTURE
Turning one’s love for plants into a life-long passion is explained with “biophilia,” a concept that we unpack in the second chapter while delving into the philosophical ideas that first separated humans from nature, and now are bringing us back into an understanding of our species as part of nature, not superior to or distinct from it.
“Your curiosity about plants and desire to coexist with them is part of an ancient pull toward life. It is an evolutionary impulse to help sustain ecosystems that not only shelter, feed, and clothe you but also provide an endless source of joy and wonder.”
Reimagining plants on their own terms opens up the world wider than ever before, and allows us to recognize our spiritual partnership with nonhuman beings. Plants, much like other animals and fungi, have their own communities and relationships that deserve our respect. Weaving the philosophical with the pragmatic, we consider how indoor conditions can lead to your plant’s growing success or inevitable death when it comes to light, temperature, airflow, frequency of care, and animal companions.
Chapter Three: Your First Plant.
A POTHOS GROWS IN JERSEY CITY
The third chapter is all about firsts and stepping out into the unknown world of plants. This section is part memoir on how a lone pothos growing in a small Jersey City apartment changed the course of a life and led to the birth of Horti.
“For first-time growers, finding a forgiving houseplant that bounces back from novice mistakes can keep your confidence from sagging, allowing you to learn as your plant grows.”
Our firsts are often flawed. Instead of accepting premature failure, what we really need is forgiveness— for ourselves, to each other, and certainly from our houseplants. We talk about the components of a forgiving plant that will boost a beginner's confidence, detailing the five best first plants and how to care for them.
Chapter Four: You and Your Plant.
THE ELEMENTS OF PLANT CARE
In the final chapter, prepare to get some dirt under your fingernails. We dive deep under the soil and unearth all of the facts you need to know about plant food (light, water, soil, fertilizer) and the ideal conditions so your houseplant has a long happy life. We leave no clay pot unturned. Demystifying grow lights and soil supplements, seasonal relocation, and battling plant pests, this section has a built-in toolbox that you will return to again and again for hands-on guidance.
“Plant care is a form of self-care, and the caretaking habits you form around your houseplants will inevitably be reflected in how you take care of yourself.”
The best care in the world can’t stop plants from dying if their time has come. You deserve to know what to do in the case of a plant death beyond a solemn eulogy. We have you covered with details on disposing of a dead plant responsibly and giving yourself space to deal with the emotional toll.
The last few pages of the book are reserved for you as a Planting Journal to document the growth of your plants. Observation is the best way to get to know your plant, so we have created an easy chart that will aid you in building a connection with your plant. Activities like giving your plant a nickname, recording details about their indoor environment, new leaf growth, and watering schedule and keeping track of these changes will help you to understand their growth patterns and determine what they need to thrive as a happy plant.