It is hard to resist a £1 book and this one is a gem: The Housewife’s Companion (or the next best thing to a man about the house) from 1967.
The history of house plants is also a social history and I love it when the two cross-over so perfectly like they do in this book. I doubt there’s any chance of publisher getting away with that tag line today (at least in the UK).
There is a whole chapter on house plants with plenty of help to ensure us women can flourish at home along with our green friends. They are commended for lifting sagging spirits, enlivening homes in all seasons, adding moisture to the air which ‘benefits our respiration – and our furnishings.’
Bridget Nelson-Sullivan has a novel way of guiding green fingers. She says that we should treat plants like people. I’m sure a lot of us do that anyway (whether we actually admit to talking to them or not…) but normally we’re reminded of their home territory, not ours.
Of primary importance when dealing with your potted pleasures is to stop thinking of them as merely plants or ‘things’ – and to look on them more as people, pretending they’re guests or friends in your home. For assuredly, plants know instinctively how their owners feel about them – and will blossom forth accordingly. Plants, like people, thrive and develop best when well loved and cared for. Like people, too, they require studying and understanding – and don’t think for a moment that plants don’t have their own particular idiosyncrasies! Again like humans, they need fresh air, plenty of daylight and a bit of humidity. They especially abhor drafts – but then, who doesn’t? They also need nourishment and a certain amount of liquid refreshment to keep them in good health. And it’s particularly on this last point that most of us come badly and sadly unstuck. In our efforts to lavish tender, loving care on our plants, we kill millions of them off every year with the kindness of over-watering. But (and they get more like us every minute) too much drink has the sad and sorry effect of rotting their guts – a disease that for them is quite incurable.
Bridget has a nice encouraging and humorous way with words, even if the general outlook is now very outdated. I suppose that’s part of the charm for me with this book and the advice it contains: feeling a connection to generations of women having similar challenges keeping their plants alive. We are not alone!