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Being Young and Finding Fun in Charleston: Apartment life means indoor planting

By Sarah Francke
Sarah Francke
A succulent in a decorative planter adds interest and greenery to an apartment.
Sarah Francke Pothos plants are forgiving both to over-watering and neglect.
Sarah Francke The scent alone makes a gardenia a must-have.

CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- One of my earliest memories dates back to the conversation I had with my dad when I asked him if I could have my own piece of the yard to plant, garden and harvest.

I spent years nurturing tomato, cucumber and pumpkin plants, along with anything I could help with in my parents' garden. One door down, I'd spend hours alongside my grandmother watching and learning from her about her beautifully flowering gardens and the art of flower arranging.

By the time I was a young adult, I was driven by a great passion for gardening and was thankful for the years spent developing my green thumb.

Deprived of the time and space needed to nurture a garden during my college years, I was ready and excited to dive back into the adventure of growing plants when I got an apartment. Lacking certain things like a balcony or a yard of my own, I eagerly took on the world of gardening indoors.

This quickly proved to be a rude awakening. I killed plant after plant and my once-green thumb hastily turned to black. I realized that growing plants indoors requires a whole new set of skills, patience and commitment.

According to Kenny Proops, a fourth-year medical student who lives in Charleston, growing plants indoors is all about manipulating the soil mixture, light supplement and watering habits to imitate the natural habitat of the plant. Proops has a rich understanding of the plants and their origins, which helps him understand what it takes to keep them thriving.

Much of learning to garden, indoors or out, is achieved by trial and error. Proops, nearly an expert with orchids now, has had his share of trials in learning to nurture the plant. He recalls over-watering many an orchid and later hearing the tip "If you think it's time to water it, wait two days."

In that regard, it's so helpful to share tips, advice, failures and discoveries with the people around you. I started with next to no knowledge on growing plants indoors, and here are some things that I picked up along the way that I wish I'd known from the start.

One of the easiest plants to grow indoors is succulents. You'd have to try really hard to kill a succulent plant. They require almost no attention and will survive in most light settings. That being said, I've killed too many succulents to count. I'm drawn to succulents for their unusual and decorative forms, and they are sold almost everywhere. I learned, though, that they are so low maintenance and need to be watered only about once a week, maybe a even less.

Proops emphasizes, "Succulents need a soil that produces a reliable drainage system, found in rocky or sandy mixtures." You'll know it's time to water your succulent plant when the soil is very dry to the touch. Succulents are small in size and are a lot of fun to decorate with, as you can group and arrange them anywhere needed.

For larger, more lush plants, invest in several regular houseplants, which also happen to be the best for improving the air quality in your home. Like succulents, regular houseplants are sold almost everywhere, but they do require a little more attention.

I've had the most success with ficus and pothos plants. Pothos, especially, is very forgiving to over-watering and sometimes even neglect. This is a plant that really gives what it gets. Still, if your home lets in very little natural light, pothos plants are capable of growing in the dark. I water my pothos and golden pothos plants two to three times a week.

Another common houseplant is the standard orchid. It is nearly impossible for me to complete a trip to the grocery store without doing at least one double take on the exotic orchid blossoms in the garden section. In talking with Proops, I learned that orchids while appear to be high maintenance, they are actually easy to maintain once you've set up the basics. For orchid (and other gardening) needs, Proops heads to Green's Feed and Seed, in Charleston, where he can find specialized mixtures that allow the plant to grow in soils similar to tropical environments, the orchid's natural habitat.

Charleston has several garden centers that are capable of providing much more than a greenhouse shopping spree. With this whole experience, I've learned how beneficial it is to get to know the experts by making friends with the employees at the garden centers around town.

A finishing touch, and one of my favorite aspects of indoor gardening, is getting to pick out the pots and planters. For interesting pots, I've had the best success shopping at Young's Floral Shop, HomeGoods, Home Depot and online at Anthropolgie.com. During a trip to Target, Proops and his wife, Michelle, were recently inspired by an interesting glass terrarium that they'll soon place by a window and fill with four different succulents.

Sitting in my living room in front of a giant window is a stunning gardenia tree that I recently purchased. I've done a lot of research for its nurturing for two reasons.

First, I don't think I can do without the scent now that I've smelled a gardenia blossom in my apartment. Secondly, when I purchased this plant, my parents gave me so many tips and advice that I wondered if they already knew I'm in over my head.

"Call Nana," Mom said. "She's spent her whole life around gardenias and she'll know what to do." I'm happy to say that the plant is still thriving. We'll see, though, in a couple weeks if I can report the same.

My best advice for new indoor gardeners is to invest in plants that you find interesting. It may take a few trial-and-error episodes, but if you're willing to stick it out, I'm sure you'll soon master it. In no time, your knowledge will expand, the air quality will freshen, and your home will be decorated with homegrown aesthetics.

Sarah Francke is a business-development professional living life to the fullest in Charleston. Follow her lifestyle ideas on Twitter at @WVstyleteam and read more of her twentysomething adventures on her blog, www.sarahfrancke.com.


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