Growing Alone Self Portrait by Brooke Colombo

My name is Brooke Colombo, I’m 20 years old, and I currently own 30 houseplants. Since the coronavirus outbreak, taking care of my plants is one of the few things keeping me sane. I moved back to my parent’s house in Plano, Texas, and I brought all of my plants with me. The world has been so strange and unfamiliar recently, but at least my plants give me some sense of normalcy. I'm caring for my plants but, in a way, I’ve also been caring for myself. I think plants can reduce stress and give you one more small thing you’re capable of accomplishing during the day, which is an important feeling during all of this.

This is one of my favorites in my collection: the stromanthe thalia “triostar”. I’ve had it for about six months now, so it’s ready to be moved out of its nursery pot and into its permanent home.

I’ve been spending a lot of time indoors since I’m not walking around campus or going many places anymore. My plants give me an excuse to get some fresh air and spend time outside the four walls of my bedroom every once in a while.

I find this plant particularly interesting not only for its colors but because of its behavior. The white, green and pink leaves that rise to stick straight up every night and lower each morning as the sunlight reaches it.

Plants are also nice because they give me a sense of time when the current state of the world has otherwise left me without any semblance of it. If I don't wake up every morning to open the blinds for them, they'll suffer.

After a long time of being in its nursery plant, the triostars roots have tightly wound themselves around the barriers of the container. If I never repotted it, eventually it would stop growing because it would run out of room.I think people can be similar to plants in that way.

One of the characteristics I pride myself most in is my ability to evolve. We all outgrow our ways of life and have to adapt to new ones to survive. Sometimes when you first repot a plant it can go into shock and freeze-up or self destruct. But it gets used to its new pot and that's when it puts out new leaves or flowers. We get similarly stressed out when change occurs, but we have to push through until it feels normal to us.

Plant collecting is not always as glamorous as some social media influencers with hundreds of plants make it out to be. The dirt doesn’t really bother me though. Even when I blow my nose after planting and find dirt in my snot.

Repotting plants is probably my favorite part of caring for them. It feels a lot more involved than just watering them or trimming them. It's a sort of tactile task that can help get your mind off things.

I can be a bit of a perfectionist when it comes to academics, so I get stressed out quite a bit. I know when I was really starting to hit a wall this semester right before spring break, I took the day off from my responsibilities, went to the store to buy a bunch of new pots, and spent the day repotting plants. It can be therapeutic.

I’m a big fan of calatheas. I have three in my collection and this one is a calathea white fusion. They’re definitely not the right houseplants for the average person. They’re needy drama queens who have to be watered pretty frequently, can’t have too much light or too little, and need high humidity (the hardest part to achieve).

I do my best to give them everything they need. I think for the most part they are happy, but there are some days where I just can’t afford to give them the attention they require. And in those scenarios, I do my best to forgive myself. I don’t always have to do a perfect job. It’s okay to be too lazy to do something as simple as turn on the humidifier for them. I don’t have to do everything right all the time.

Here are some plants I really enjoy caring for. In the front is a peperomia prostrata “string of turtles” (left) and a calathea lancifolia “rattlesnake calathea” (right). In the back is my miniature spathifyllum wallisii “peace lily”. One thing I do for my plants to increase humidity is to spritz them with water.

It wasn’t until I went to edit this photo when I noticed the rainbow spread across the water droplets. I can’t think of a more symbolic image for this photo series. Beautiful things can come from such simple actions, like taking care of my plants. Not only do I get to witness growth and beauty in nature, but I also get to witness those in myself. Taking care of my plants is a hobby that nurtures nature and my mind. Although sometimes you don't notice that until you look back and reflect.

I run an Instagram account to show off my plant collection and give some care tips. I started it for a social media class I’m taking, but I actually dedicate quite a bit of time to it.

Sometimes I find myself trying to make my plants look a bit deceivingly perfect. I’ll try to find the angle that hides that one leaf with some brown on it. But I’m learning not to come off as flawless.

I started an instagram story specifically for my pitfalls in plant care to highlight how plants aren’t always ideal. There isn’t enough time or energy to give them all the right conditions all the time. I think that can extend to other areas of life too.

I still want them to look good in photos, but not in a way that masks the truth.

This is my Instagram page for my plant collection. It's nice to have a class project that can also be a personal project. I plan to continue it after the semester ends.

This is the Instagram story I created to show how plant owning isn’t always sunshine and rainbows and to educate anyone who might need advice on plant problems. I want to be transparent about the health of my plants. They are not always an ideal vision of beauty and I want to convey that.

This is the newest addition to my collection, a monstera adansonii. I don't take yellow leaves as a personal failure or anything. It just means the plant is trying to tell you something is off and you need to speak its language to figure it out.

The yellowing leaves on this one probably happened because the plant just came from a greenhouse where it's used to much higher levels of light from all angles. As it adjusts to the light levels of its new home, it will pull energy from smaller, lower leaves to conserve its photosynthesis-creating powers for more essential leaves.

I think everyone always wants their plants to look pretty and if one little thing goes wrong, they frantically google symptoms to find out what they did wrong. Sometimes you have to step back and realize life isn't always as pretty and perfect as you want it to be. You're going to have yellow leaves. bare spots or crispy edges. You do what you can to mediate it and what you can't fix, you accept.

Despite everything that has happened, this time hasn’t been all negative. I’ve had a lot of time to reflect on my priorities and I feel like I have put too much time into activities I don’t necessarily enjoy but feel obligated to do.

I’m realizing I need to spend more time on what I actually enjoy: my hobbies and my friends. Quarantine has given me a lot of “me time” and that turned out to be exactly what I needed. There are many terrible aspects of the world right now. But the little things, like my plants, are bringing me joy.


Photos and Text by Brooke Colombo