Life Video

Inside a B.C. loft that boasts a jaw-dropping rare plant collection

Charmaine, aka @unplantparenthood, grows ‘around 100’ houseplants in her 900 sq ft. place.

Charmaine, aka @unplantparenthood, grows ‘around 100’ houseplants in her 900 sq ft. place

Houseplanted is a bi-weekly series where folks with extraordinary houseplant collections invite us inside their homes for a tour of their verdant spaces and to share tips and inspiration for keeping nature alive inside. 

Charmaine, aka @unplantparenthood, is a California transplant living in New Westminster, B.C. with her many, many plants. In this episode of Houseplanted, we tour her jaw-dropping collection of rare anthuriums and philodendrons — many of which live in large reptile enclosures — and learn how to cultivate a plant collection without any drainage holes ("It's easier for the plants to visually communicate with me what they need," she says). She also helps us understand the importance of a chunky potting mixture. 

Check out the video, then scroll down to learn a bit more about Charmaine and her plants.

​​This interview has been edited for length and clarity.

Tell us about your home.

I live in a small, somewhat isolated community on a peninsula in Queensborough, New Westminster. It's a nice oasis away from the hustle and bustle of the city. I live in a 900 sq ft. loft-style building, and although things can feel pretty tight sometimes, we've made it our little sanctuary and I wouldn't have it any other way.
How many plants are in your collection and how long have you been at it?

I've been caring for plants since about 2012, but I wouldn't say I really started "collecting" until the end of 2018. I think at my peak I had around 500 plants, but as I've understood what I really love and how much I can really handle while still being able to have a life outside of plants, I've been able to taper down the collection by a lot. If I had to take a guess, I think I'm sitting somewhere around 100 plants right now.

Can you share your very first plant, your most recent addition, and your all-time favourite?

The very first plant I owned was a succulent. I owned an antique shop with my boyfriend at the time, and he taught me how to make little succulent arrangements in thrifted vessels using plants from his mom's garden, and it really opened my eyes to how much I actually loved having a bit of green in my space.

I've acquired quite a few new plants lately, all at the same time, but I would say a significant new addition would have to be my variegated Philodendron billietiae. I've had this plant on my wishlist for years, but it's always been out of my budget so it's not something I've been actively trying to purchase. A good friend of mine recently chopped her plant and sent a piece to me, and I could've combusted from excitement.

My all-time favourite has to be my Philodendron tortum. I'm sure my subscribers on YouTube are probably so sick of me being like "Tortum this! Tortum that!" But they are seriously so magical and incredibly unique. If I could only pick one plant to keep for all time, it would definitely be that one.

Explain your overall relationship to your plant collection.

I think to an outsider, the relationship I have with my plants might seem a bit "unhealthy" or "excessive", but I think the really cool part about this hobby is the challenge of keeping so many living things alive and healthy in an environment that is completely unnatural to them. I invest a minimum of 12 hours a week to plant care, and for me I have no problem with that at all. I'm grateful for the time I'm able to spend with them and really love on them. Can plants be considered friends? Because if so I have a lot of them.

Describe the emotional connection you have with your plants. How do they make you feel?

The state of my plants always sort of reflects how I'm feeling at the moment. When I'm good, they're good. When I'm not, they're not either. I used to feel a lot of guilt about neglecting plant care during times when I can barely take care of myself, but there's something really amazing about coming out of a really bad place, tending to my plants again and seeing us sort of glow back up together. It seems silly to say, but my plants take care of me just as much as I take care of them. It's a really beautiful relationship I hope to have with me for the rest of my life!

What advice would you give to someone looking to start their own houseplant collection?

Don't be influenced by social media! Kind of ironic coming from me, but I think it's so easy to get sucked into wanting the trendiest plants, rather than the plants you would normally love without outside influence. If you want to build a collection that you'll have a meaningful connection to, you should really take the time to figure out what you actually look for and love in a houseplant. Dark green foliage? Variegation? Trailing plants? Climbing plants? If you try to have it all too quickly, I find it becomes less enjoyable. 

What's the most important rule or practice you follow when caring for your plants?

Do what works for you! I truly believe that in this hobby, the "rules" can be bent or broken altogether. If you think about it, the indoor plant hobby is already unnatural as it is and we're essentially forcing them to grow under completely artificial conditions sometimes. Once you've been growing for enough time that you've done your research and you've experimented, failed, and succeeded, you eventually find a rhythm and process that works specifically for you.

Have you developed any unconventional methods or techniques for growing and nurturing your plants?

I grow a majority of my plants in vessels and pots without drainage holes. It's been a hot topic on my socials, and most of the backlash I get is for doing this and promoting it. But I've done it for years, my grandma has done it for years, and when something works it just works. Not to say it hasn't come with its fair share of trial and error, but it's still my preferred way to grow. To me, understanding your conditions and environment is far more important than a drainage hole.

Where do you see your plant collection heading in the future? Are there any specific goals or aspirations you have for it?

To be honest, I hope that in the future my collection is smaller, but with larger, more mature plants. In the last year, I've really come to understand how much I can actually handle in terms of plant care, and quantity has everything to do with it. If I could narrow down my collection to even half of what it is now, but have plants that are big and lush that I've nurtured over the years, that would be my ideal. It would also be great to have some heirloom plants I can pass down in the future.

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