There is a common misconception that you either have a green thumb or you don’t; that you can either keep houseplants alive or you watch them die in your care. There is no in-between.
But that’s just not true.
The truth is that having the ability to keep plants alive is actually the product of acquiring some skills and knowledge about how to successfully care for plants.
And here’s the even bigger “secret”: Even with this knowledge and skill set, you can and will lose plants…. and that’s okay!
What matters isn’t necessarily that you failed to keep a plant alive; what matters is how you view that failure and what you take away from the experience.
Option #1 is to view a failure with plants as a confirmation that you can’t keep a plant alive.
Option #2 is to view a failure with plants as an opportunity to learn more about what went right and what went wrong so you can try again and be more successful.
The difference between these options is explored thoroughly in the book, Mindset, by Carol Dweck. This book is not about houseplants, but rather about how the mindset we have when approaching a challenge will affect our ability to be successful.
She revisits these ideas in an article she wrote for Harvard Business Review, entitled “What Having a ‘Growth Mindset’ Actually Means”:
“Individuals who believe their talents can be developed (through hard work, good strategies, and input from others) have a growth mindset. They tend to achieve more than those with a more fixed mindset (those who believe their talents are innate gifts).Carol Dweck, What Having a “Growth Mindset” Actually Means, Harvard Business Review, Source
This is because they worry less about looking smart and they put more energy into learning.”
The truth of the matter is that every master gardener earned their title on the backs of many failures, but they never let those failures define their status as a gardener.
One of my favorite examples of this is from an orchid grower in a video from Summer Rayne Oakes.
The grower tells Summer that you can’t be considered an orchid grower until you’ve lost at least 100 plants. They then go on to say that they are an expert orchid grower because they’ve lost 1000 plants.
“It is a trial and error. You have to kill plants in order to understand plants and it’s the only way to know whether you are doing it right or wrong.”Orchid Care – Plant One On Me – Ep 071, Homestead Brooklyn, Source
Watch the clip below to hear it firsthand!
One example from my own journey with plants is the lovely, frustrating String of Pearls.
I have lost several String of Pearls over the last few years. I could have chosen not to try again after the first failure or two and put it on my list of plants I can’t keep alive.
And I would do that if I had stopped enjoying the challenge of trying again, but I just love the look of this plant and wasn’t ready to give up!
I’ve heard some houseplant people give the advice to try growing a plant 3 times before quitting.
I’ve probably tried more than 3 times with String of Pearls, but I’m glad I didn’t give up because I am now able to keep String of Pearls alive and mostly happy. 🙂
My plant still doesn’t look like a picture-perfect plant, but it’s alive and growing!
I’ll insert pictures of the plant below. It was barely trailing at all when I got it and now look at it. I’m a proud plant parent.
The top is ugly, but that’s okay… it’s mostly the trailing strands that you notice anyway!
Here’s the top of the plant 🙂
If you wonder what those things are on the windowsill, those are playdough creations my 3-year-old daughter made and set there to dry.
I never would have been able to enjoy some success if I had decided after my first failure with String of Pearls that I just couldn’t keep one alive.
Having said that, there are plants that I don’t typically do well with long-term: Prayer Plants, many ferns, and others that I’m probably forgetting.
It isn’t that I can’t take care of them, it is that I’m lazy and stop giving them the super frequent attention they need to survive and thrive. And that’s okay. Recognizing what isn’t working for my current lifestyle is not failure, it’s acceptance.
So, I still love these plants, but I primarily love them from afar and stick to plants that can go a little longer between watering.
In other words, experiencing failure is crucial to finding success!
There is no such thing as a person who is born with the innate gift of keeping every plant in their possession perfect and thriving.
There are only people who learned skills along the way and didn’t quit trying because it didn’t work out well the first few or even a hundred times!
Here’s what you can do to use your failure for future success:
- Recognize your current failure as part of the journey to finding success
- Observe what happened or is currently happening with your plant
- Make some guesses about why its happening, if possible
- Consult with other plant lovers (online, in person, or at your favorite greenhouse) about what they think might be happening
- Do some research to try to learn about the issue you are seeing in your plant
- Try again!
Next week I’ll share with you a few of the plants I’m currently struggling with and attempting to figure out. Because it doesn’t matter how many plants I’m successfully caring for, there is pretty much always at least one plant (usually more) that is struggling for one reason or another. And that’s totally okay (even though it is frustrating sometimes! 🙂 ).