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Credit: Courtesy of Janel Martinez

My Plant Nook Reminds Me Nature—And My Ancestors—Are Always Near

published Aug 4, 2020
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Twenty stories of objects and areas in people’s homes that nourish their souls more than their social feeds. Read them all here throughout August.

My abuelita was the first person I knew to own a plant nook—though it was more like an indoor plant oasis that filled every inch of her South Bronx bedroom. Once you peeked beyond the curtains that divided it from the living room, your eyes met her gigantic jade plant, which stood in a class of its own alongside her other houseplants. While they’d never replace her proximity to lush green views and ability to pick coconuts or mangoes off her own trees on the Caribbean coast of Honduras, I’d imagine it served as a reminder that nature is always near.  

That reminder has brought immense comfort to me in my own home over the last five months. With the pandemic causing shutdowns across the globe and forcing many to redefine normalcy, coupled with the current racial climate in the U.S., I find myself seeking out activities, conversations, and spaces that ground me. After casually stumbling upon the Union Square Greenmarket last November, I began building the small, peaceful plant nook that has become an essential daily refuge and reminder that I’m deserving of self-care and, in spite of rough days, have the ability to thrive and grow from my current obstacles.

My nook includes an aloe vera plant and two lucky bamboo plants—one I purchased myself and the other gifted to me a week later by my local florist—as well as an assortment of roses, depending on the week. It’s the first thing I see when I wake up and the last thing I look at when I close my eyes at night or the early hours of the morning. I’ve also placed the powder-scented candle a friend gifted me there, and a white-framed Nayyirah Waheed poem, that reads “flower work is not easy. remaining soft in fire takes time.” Most plant parents would agree that tending to your seedlings requires unconditional love, but it’s the latter part of the poem that hits home.

Credit: Courtesy of Janel Martinez

Waheed’s words take on a variety of meanings for me—remain centered (despite all the uncertainty), find comfort in vulnerability (I deserve that); and patience is a daily practice (there’s no cheat code because, trust, I’d be the first to have it). Honestly, I’m still working at allowing myself to be soft when it seems the world prefers me to be resilient and strong at all times. Plant work is helping me chip away at that belief, and allowing me to rekindle my ancestral connection to nature. 

Coming from a long line of ancestral herbalists and women deeply connected to the land, I watched both my grandmother and mother recite the medicinal powers of certain plants and herbs. If I had a stomachache, they instructed me to boil anise, particularly anise seed, to settle the discomfort. When I complained of a scratchy throat, it was time to bring ginger root to a boil, so the tea could relieve the pain. Though it was clear my mother wanted me to share her enthusiasm for plants, I wasn’t interested. It wasn’t until very recently that I’ve felt an unexplainable pull toward plants. Oftentimes, it takes a shift to return to yourself and, ultimately, your roots. 

My plant nook is more than a decor decision. While my bamboo and aloe vera plants add a beautiful touch to my room, they’ve gifted me with more than an Instagrammable aesthetic. They’ve allowed me to develop a powerful connection with myself, my elders and ancestors.