Alessia Resta, founder of the blog and online shop Apartment Botanist, is a proudly self-professed “plant parent,” who shares her Manhattan apartment with her boyfriend, two dogs, and more than 175 houseplants. Here, she tells us about her rituals of caring for and communing with plants, and why many other millennials and Gen-Zers are nurturing their green thumbs in an age of uncertainty.
When did you first start getting into plants?
I work from home and run my own company, and wanted to take on a hobby that could just be for fun, and that I could geek out to. I’ve always had plants in my apartment—we’ve been here for almost eight years now—and with all of the natural sunlight we get in here, I just couldn’t wait to get more. At first, I mainly had terrariums with cacti and succulents, and I wanted to start understanding where they came from, and to really understand what their primal care needs were. I started delving into research on Google, and thought, “Oh, wouldn’t it be kind of funny if I started collecting really rare plants and challenged myself to keep them in a New York City apartment?” That’s how Apartment Botanist, which I founded in 2017, came about.
At last count, you were up to more than 175 plants—I imagine you won’t be moving any time soon. What’s your day-to-day like, in terms of caring for and maintaining your growing collection?
I always think, “Oh my gosh, if we ever have to move, it’s literally going to just be several days of just moving the plants. It’s gonna be so intense.” [Laughs] Caring for them is actually not too bad—I mean, watering does take a while, but it’s a little bit of a self-care routine because I have to find a way to answer to something: I have to be here to take care of my plants and make sure they’re okay, and I have to make sure I’m organized and scheduled so that I have time set aside for my plants.
It can seem like a drag, because sometimes it takes so long, usually a few hours each time, but once you start watering the plants and getting into it, it’s actually really relaxing. I just take time to see if each one is growing, or maybe needs to be trimmed back, or isn’t doing well and needs to be set aside and figured out. So it’s a little tedious, but as the collection grows, you kind of get into the habit and it doesn’t become as tough. If there’s a pest breakout, those moments of crisis control are definitely the downside, but in terms of watering and checking in on each plant, that’s the nicer part: to actually slow down, and take time with them.
Are there ways to “feel” if a plant is doing well?
Absolutely, especially when I’m watering. My morning routine is just to observe the plants and make sure everything’s okay and looks okay, and that involves a lot of touching. Also, if I’m very excited about a plant or [when] a new leaf unfurls, I love to just gently touch it because it just feels different when it’s a fresh leaf, before it starts to harden into its mature form. Some of my plants are velvety, some are thicker and some are thin. A lot of spending time with plants is completely sensory. It’s just nice to feel that variety and form a connection.
Would you say it’s more of an intuitive process at this point?
Sometimes I can tell if one of them needs to be watered just by touching it, because the leaf feels … not dry, not dehydrated, but a little like, lacking in its leaf meat, if that makes sense. It’s hard to explain. I guess you could say it felt “half-hydrated.” It’s funny, my friend—and I actually just posted this YouTube video where she blindfolded me—brought me a bunch of plants from my collection, and tested to see if I could tell which plant was which by touching them. [Laughs] I have to say, I did pretty well! But I was actually kind bummed that I got a few wrong.
You have these intuitions that develop, the more time you spend with plants. I always say people have their own superpowers. I guess plants have become a little superpower for me.
A lot of folks have pegged the houseplant trend as a millennial and Gen-Z thing—why do you think that is?
That’s tough because I can’t answer for everyone, but for me, when I get down to the nitty gritty of why I brought plants into my space, the simple answer is: I just wanted it to feel like a home. Having living things, and having something to care for, made it all feel more homey, and then it tied into other interests and curiosities around how things work, interior design, and just nesting in general—and in a feasible way that seemed within reach. My generation can’t necessarily afford a house and a lot of other things our parents could do back in the day, when they were in their twenties. It’s a lot different now. I feel like people who are in the plant community really want to feel that sense of homey-ness, and especially speaking to those in the city, they want to feel closer to nature. I’ve basically turned all of my friends and family into plant people. They wouldn’t consider themselves that, but I’ve definitely turned them. 🌱
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