Life Video·Houseplanted

Inside a Winnipeg home brimming with lush tropical plants

How Bekka Tia, aka @herplantstories, cares for her 127 houseplants in the Canadian Prairies.

How Bekka Tia, aka @herplantstories, cares for her 127 houseplants in the Canadian Prairies

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. 

Growing up in the Philippines, Bekka Tia, aka @herplantstories, was used to seeing tropical plants all around. But it wasn't until much later that she really started cultivating a houseplant collection of her own. Now a dental hygienist by day and a plant influencer by night, she's filled her Winnipeg home with an impressive collection of philodendrons and other lush finds. "To come home to all of this greenery and all of this life is quite refreshing," she says.

In this episode of Houseplanted, we learn how Bekka cares for her humidity-loving plants in the middle of the Prairies and explore the many cabinets, corners and shelves that she's stocked with plants.   

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

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

Tell us about your home.

I currently live in sunny Winnipeg and last summer my husband, cat and I moved into a wonderful house with beautiful south facing windows and unobstructed views, so we get a lot of natural light and sun coming in throughout the year. I love watching the sky so having a large view of it is really nice, especially here in the prairies. I find the clouds and sunsets here are extra beautiful. 

How many plants are in your collection and how long have you been at it?

Oh boy, I haven't counted in a long time but I did just for this question! I usually try to keep my number under 100, including duplicates, propagations and baby plants — anything more than that tends to get overwhelming. I went on a bit of an anthurium kick recently, so my number is up to 127 right now... oops! 

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

[At first,] I dabbled in succulents and mostly collected grocery store plants, like peace lilies and cyclamen. Eventually I graduated to a large majesty palm, a money tree and a calathea! Once I realized I was able to keep a calathea alive, it all kinda snowballed from there and then I eventually discovered "rare" plants. My very first "rare" plant was a Philodendron Florida ghost cutting.

My most recent addition is one that's been on my wishlist for a while and was definitely splurge, so I made sure to save up for it: a variegated Alocasia Dragon Scale.

My all-time favourite plant that my collection would be incomplete without is a classic Monstera Albo! 

Explain your overall relationship to your plant collection.

I like to think it's a very mutual relationship. I care for my plants and try my best to get them to grow well, despite the odds of growing indoors in a Canadian climate, and they bring me calmness and keep me accountable. I feel like plants are always teaching me something, too — not just when I'm researching botany and horticulture, but in a way, I think plants teach me about life in general; how to go with the flow, how to roll with the punches, how to accept imperfections as they are, and how to accept the natural order of things (to a certain extent). In that sense, they help me stay centred, even in my regular life outside of plants.

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

For the most part, they make me feel happy, grounded and accomplished. I can be proud that I was able to keep something beautiful alive, and even helped it thrive! Grounded because when I'm caring for my plants, I get into the zone and am just focused on the task at hand. 

I work a full-time job five days a week, so sometimes caring for my plants can get a bit overwhelming and I have to relearn how to balance myself. Sometimes that means letting some plants find new homes.

Plants also make me feel less alone. During the pandemic, it allowed me to connect to a community I otherwise would have never discovered, and helped me reconnect with my roots (pardon the pun!) by remembering parts of my childhood.

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

Don't compare yourself to others. Your journey is your own! Feel free to learn at your own pace, and don't be afraid to take it slow. If a plant dies, it's not the end of the world — it happens to even the most experienced grower. Instead of memorizing specific rules and tricks, try to get a deeper understanding of basic plant anatomy and processes. It'll help you when you run into a problem and need to troubleshoot something on your own. But most importantly, just enjoy the ride!

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

Plant care doesn't have to be complicated and you don't have to have the fanciest setup for it to be enjoyable. Research your plant's needs before you bring it into your home, so you can be as prepared as possible to care for it and won't have to deal with the heartache of a dead plant later on. Also, a chunky soil mix is key! Good drainage and aeration around the roots are so important. 

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

I like to topdress my soil mix with sphagnum moss as a quick indicator of whether or not I need to water that plant. If the moss is still moist to the touch, it usually means the soil underneath is moist as well, so the plant does not need to be watered. When the moss is crunchy and dry, that's a good time to water. This is a super helpful trick that lets me avoid sticking my fingers into the soil, and it's also useful if you're going away for a bit and need to rely on someone to water your plants. My husband was able to keep my plants alive for me for two weeks this way! 

I also like to grow most of my plants in ambient humidity, which hovers at around 45 per cent in the summers and can get as low as 15-20 per cent in the wintertime, and I don't use any humidifiers at all. For my really thirsty plants, I use a pseudo-passive hydromethod: I add a layer of leca to the base of the pot, which acts as the reservoir layer to help wick up moisture, followed by a thin sphagnum moss layer, followed by a chunky soilless mix, and then topdress with more sphagnum moss. This method worked really well for my alocasias! 

This one is extra weird but... I use a clean metal earwax picker to help push out stuck philodendron leaves. Using this tool allows me to have control and precision when wiggling the stuck leaf out, and it always results in zero damage to the leaf! It's a way more effective trick than using a wet paper towel or simply spraying with water, in my opinion.

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

Honestly, I see my collection getting smaller. The longer I am in this hobby the more I realize what my wants and limitations are. There will always be newer, fancier plants out there, and it's not realistic to be able to get them all, but some of these plants are incredibly expensive once you fall into the rabbit hole. It's super easy to experience FOMO in the plant collecting hobby. In the past I used to want to collect everything, but now I just want to curate my collection so that I only have my favorites left. 

The overall dream that I have for my collection would be healthy, happy plants paired well with beautiful pottery that accentuates their features. Ideally these plants will seamlessly blend into my home, making it feel like they have always been a part of it. I don't want plants to overtake my home and make it a jungle — I just want a good, healthy balance. I do dream of having an attached sunroom or greenhouse someday, though! My ultimate dream is one day, I wake up, make my coffee while still in my pajamas, then I head over to the sunroom to sit in a rocking chair with a cozy blanket and be surrounded by lush greenery. Niko, my cat, will be with me of course, ready to warm my lap. My husband will be making breakfast for me because I don't like cooking. Ah, that's the dream! 

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