I had always thought of gardening as an activity only meant for people who have a real flair for plants and time to spare. When my husband gifted me with a pothos plant last spring, I was annoyed. To me, plants represented something temporary and replaceable. A fortnight later, a paralyzed uncle who could have received more affection passed away. His death changed my perspective. 

My eyes fell on the pothos plant whose leaves were drooping sadly. I was overcome with a sudden determination to help it live and grow. My pothos was now my new green roommate and I wanted to know more about it. I browsed the Internet for tips and joined social networking groups of gardening enthusiasts. Weeks later when a tiny leaf appeared, my joy knew no bounds. The realization of having helped a plant live filled me with a sense of control in a world that seemed to be falling apart. I was ready to have more green roommates. 

Pets share our space. Ensure your choice of plants is safe for pets. | Supplied

I was not alone. Gardening had equally positive effects on Sabreena Thabasum and Jennifer Halliday, who were depressed after losing high-paying jobs. 

Thabasum started gardening last year. “Colourful flowers make me happy,” she says, showing off her pretty blooms. “I love propagating new plants by using stem cuttings to ensure new plants are genetically identical to the parent plant. Gardening filled me with purpose and helped me focus better on upgrading job-related skills that helped me get employed again.” Thabasum also grows vegetables. “I am more likely to eat them if I grow them,” she laughs. “More importantly, I eat them fresh and have more control over fertilizers used.”  

Halliday has always had a garden. “It is certainly an engaging activity that distracts you from worry as well as a great way of showing children how food is grown,” remarks Halliday. “Newbies to gardening must start small. Do not get discouraged. Ensure tips given are relevant to Canadian temperatures. Keep in mind certain indoor plants like geraniums emit [a] strong fragrance.” 

Plants differ in their watering, fertilizing, and light needs. Both overwatering and underwatering  can have disastrous effects. Although some plants like tomatoes need lots of light, they still need protection against harsh summer sunrays.  

“Homegrown tomatoes taste so much better,” says Ali Hammington, who started gardening at Alberta Avenue Community Garden last year. “One lesson learnt is to only grow vegetables that you like to eat.” This year, she looks forward to growing more onions, peas, and experimenting with Swiss chard.

“Be cognizant of the full-grown size of shrubs and trees,” Halliday points out. “Tall growing plants must not be planted near building foundations or utility lines. It is difficult to grow plants under evergreens like a Spruce tree. Evergreens have shallow root systems, so it’s hard to dig when planting new plants. Besides, rain or sunshine hardly reach plants under the tree. Everyone adores tulips, but remember, rabbits love them too!”

It’s a good idea to buy plants from experienced gardeners in order to be assured the plant is well rooted and healthy. Remember, indoor plants also need extra care as seasons change. In winter, even a short walk from the store to your car can damage a plant. And if you have children or pets, be sure to choose plants that aren’t toxic to them.

A year after receiving my first plant friend, I discovered that I have a green thumb after all and I now have five green roommates.