How being a plantita (or plantito) can be good for your creativity
During the pandemic, we were among the countless plantitos and plantitas who experienced the many benefits of growing plants. It provided a form of therapy, boosting our mood and easing our anxieties. Even jeweler Louie Gutierrez of Silverworks, who was experiencing palpitations and anxiety due to the pandemic found solace in urban farming. (He eventually established the social enterprise, BGC Urban Farm.)
Many studies (including this and this) have already found that plants have positive effects on creativity as well. But it’s not just about seeing some nature in our indoor space during lockdown. Taking care of plants can also teach us lessons on our creative pursuits. Here are a few we were able to reap from the wise words of Roma and Maan when it comes to growing plants that also speak to creativity.
While there are many tools at your disposal to care for plants, you don’t always need them. In this video on tips for new plant parents, the sisters used old tissue paper tubes as pots for seedlings. They’re readily available and when you need to transfer your seedlings to a bigger pot, you don’t even have to remove them because the tubes are biodegradable. Being resourceful allows you to get things done with what you have.
The practice of creativity is a practice of resourcefulness. Making art or creating new products pushes you to think out of the box even when you don’t have enough resources to achieve it. I’ve had an art teacher who advised us not to go overboard with buying materials and paint. Start with primary colors or the palette you often use and you can mix everything from there, she advised. You also don’t need an MBA to start your business or an MFA to publish your book. It may seem like common knowledge but if you have a fear of failure, there’s a tendency to make excuses for not being able to achieve your goal. Being resourceful though reminds us that we already have what we need to at least take our first step.
We can all grow plants. We can all be creative?
Among the many tips Roma and Maan shared in this video, here’s something we all need to hear: all of us can have green thumbs. But growing plants, just like any other skills, should be studied. “The only reason the plant dies is because you don’t know how to take care of it and it’s not because you were not born to be a planter or plant mom.”
Creativity, in our opinion, is also not binary. It’s not either you have it or you don’t. Didn’t we all start off as imaginative, playful children? Many lose it somewhere along the way to adulthood. You stop drawing, writing, making music, designing clothes, building models, or expressing yourself in any creative manner. But creativity is also something you work at. As visual artist and illustrator, Jill Arteche, relates in her Meet the Maker interview, you need to make time for it.
It may seem to come more naturally for others. Maybe you think you’re not just creative enough. If there’s anything I’ve learned interviewing and working with many creatives in the past, is that the ones who seem to be “naturally creative,” actually put in a lot of hours honing their craft. Creativity, however you express it, takes practice and discipline.
We all have different needs and personalities.
When you start caring for plants, you learn that taking care of one isn’t the same as taking care of another. Some are gluttons for water and sunshine, others only need a tiny bit. “You need to know all their little quirks. Some of them you’ll learn over time from all your trials and errors. There are really plants that are going to be sacrificed,” says Maan.
If we can accept that it’s not a one-size-fits-all when it comes to caring for plants, let’s be just as accepting that we all have different working styles. What works for the maker you look up to may not necessarily work for you. Do you like to plan everything, down to the smallest details, before you jump into a new project or commission? Or are you more idea-oriented, more skilled at creating the big vision? Knowing yourself and how you work means you get to recognize your strengths and weaknesses—how you can thrive and how you can improve.
“You do you.” says Arteche whenever somebody asks about pursuing art. “When you’re starting out, you get to compare yourself with other artists out there, especially the ones you look up to. You think, if I copy her style people would notice me and I would be successful. But it should be the other way around, you do you, because if you stay true to who you are and you create original and honest work, I feel like people will see that.”
Look and listen.
To know what your plant needs—aside from watching YT tutorials or googling “how to stop killing plants”—Roma advises to observe your green babies. “Your plants are talking to you. If you see them turning yellow, they’re trying to say something… it has different ways of giving you signals, our plants have different ways of talking to us.” When it’s getting too much water, too little sunlight—you’ll get the message with how their leaves change color, curl up, etc.
What signals does your body give when you’re not taking care of it? How often do you listen to that inner voice that wants to express itself? Paying attention to our body and our inner voice makes for a more nurturing creative journey. This short essay on listening to the voice in your head, reminds us how “looking inwards is where all creativity begins.”
It’s okay to cut and trim parts no longer needed.
When it comes to caring for plants, pruning is often necessary. As Roma shows us in a day in her indoor garden, it promotes growth in the plant. Pruning also lets you remove dead or diseased parts that may make your plant more vulnerable to pests. While you only need your pruning shears and gloves to trim and cut when it comes to your garden, it can be a bit more difficult when it comes to your work.
In writing, experienced writers always advise to “kill your darlings.” Good writing involves substantial rewriting. This often means you have to trim and cut certain parts of your material (a storyline, a character, a clever sentence) that you’ve become attached to if they don’t serve the overall piece.
In any creative work, being able to step back, to see what you need to remove (or keep) makes the narrative clearer. In the case of Cut the Scrap, the wooden scrap business that makes upcycled wooden crafts, when they decided to let go of their own woodshop and instead focus on designing products and working hand-in-hand with organizations that worked with PWDs, they saw their business expand.
Don’t be afraid to experiment.
“That’s the fun part of taking care of a garden—experimenting and learning along the way,” says Roma, whose own experience as a plantita has seen her say goodbye to some of her plants and experience propagating fails. But failure is one of the most effective teachers there is. It teaches us what doesn’t work. It teaches us to be resilient and to try again. It’s part of the learning process in any journey, whether with plants or creative pursuits. Jordi Aguillon of Glorious Dias reminds us, “Do it your own way, make your own mistakes. The best way to learn anything is to make mistakes.”
Being afraid that your efforts can fail or it won’t work will always be present. Failure is just part of things worth pursuing. Accepting that can be liberating. You get to allow yourself to experiment and keep trying. Maan’s advice for those who want to get into gardening is something we can also hold on for the things we want to do. “It would be a waste of opportunity if you let your fear get the best of you.”