The Secret Life of Inexpensive Plants

As I write this, in the middle of an almost year-long pandemic lockdown, plants have replaced expensive designer handbags as the must-have items du jour; and they cost just as much, too.

It was also a couple of weeks ago that a good friend had sent a post (it has since been deleted due to backlash) from the Rare Plants Group on Facebook touting potted plants, some of them looking worse for wear, ranging from Php30,000 to Php300,000 for a sad specimen.

My mother’s philodendrons and various lush aracae. The price: zero. They had become tree parasites from cuttings discarded on the ground!

I am an impossible gardener with a permanent Black Thumb, though I do my best to keep whatever indoor babies I have alive. But all that ridiculously priced greenery being passed around as “rare” gave me a better appreciation of my mother’s garden, where cuttings thrown on the soil become full-grown plants a couple of months later. Her own rhapis cuttings from a few years ago by the garage had become so overgrown as adult palms they were in danger of overtaking our car (see main image above).

I showed my mother the online price of golden pothos (Php300 for a tiny plant with three leaves and Php5,000 and up for one with tendrils) and she nearly fainted in shock, especially since she had asked our neighborhood Manong to hack down the giant golden pothos that grew over our backyard’s fence (size of leaves: one and a half feet each; price: Zero pesos).

My son in our overgrown garden. The secret to its lushness: volcanic soil, constant rain, and not fussing over them.

Just three years ago, a quick tour of the gardening shops in White Plains, Quezon City would reveal plants that went hardly beyond Php500 (and White Plains was already known as the “pricier” garden place). Here’s a rundown of the 2017 prices: White orchids costed Php50-300; succulents went for a mere Php30-100; potted herbs, Php120-1,200; lucky bamboo for Php250. When I read the recent article of a ten-million-peso succulent being stolen from a local nursery, it was a sign things had gotten out of hand.

Blame it on inflation, but I could give you three reasons why plants are so expensive now: 1. People are bored indoors and need new hobbies (it’s all good) 2. It’s a trend 3. It’s a status symbol. And because of this, demand will definitely drive up the prices. Some plant species are very rare, and merit that cost, but you must also think: shouldn’t it be in its natural habitat like a rainforest or in some lush and fertile province where it will thrive, and not cooped up in an airconditioned condo?

(Left) Here’s my Buddha’s palm plant adopted from Tin de Leon (it has since sprouted three more leaves). (Right) Basil I am trying to root from cuttings. They have since grown roots and are ready to pot!

If you’re really into plants, here’s an idea: why not do it the old-fashioned way and do a swap meet with like-minded plantitas and -titos? (It is possible to do this online, as well.) Patronize the sellers with the reasonable prices, or those with an excess of plants who would give away cuttings, or sell them at a low cost. Tin de Leon (follow her on Instagram @krist_ima) occasionally sells her plant babies or has friends “adopt” them. And “ordinary” plants are just as beautiful, sometimes even more so, than the rarest plants out there.

One of the saddest outcomes of the gardening trend is when plant owners don’t know how to take care of their plant babies and neglect them. Because like pets, if you get into plants, you have the responsibility to keep them alive (ask the seller about its care; it will also give you a clue if the seller is legit). And please don’t get suckered into buying an overpriced plant for yabang’s sake–you might be better off buying the designer bag, instead.

Published by medinarach

I am an interior designer, writer, and content editor for print and web. Join me on my adventure as I look for design inspiration, art, and culture in everyday life.

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