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An interview with Tovah Martin of The Unexpected Houseplant

by Timber Press on August 14, 2012

in Design, Gardening

“The need to nurture is so universal and basic.” Tovah Martin on the benefits of houseplants. Photo: ©Susan Johann

Tovah Martin emerged from 25 years working at Logee’s Greenhouses with a serious houseplant addiction. But before you offer to be her 12-step program sponsor, you might want to read her new book, The Unexpected Houseplant. Luckily for us, Tovah is still hooked.

And anyway, she remains unapologetic. In fact, she wants to convert you. The Unexpected Houseplant is her way of demonstrating “how plants can change your psyche when you welcome them into your life. It’s radical. It’s the difference between holding nature at arm’s length and embracing it into the heart of your home.”

How did you get started gardening?  Did you garden as a child?

Always. I barely started walking before I was back on all fours crawling around the garden. My Brownie project was saving marigold seeds and sowing them year after year. My first houseplant was an ivy shared by the florist down the street (probably given as a feeble attempt to get me out from underfoot). But even before that, I remember dragging hyacinths home from the grocery store until my family was begging for mercy.

We at Timber Press appreciate your use of the term “indoor gardening.” Why is it that growing houseplants isn’t considered gardening and are there ways we can change that?

Treat houseplants like permanent members of the family, and you’re on the way to success. Adopt plants that you value, give them the good life (give them the same time and attention that you lavish on your other pets—just an idea), and they’re going to respond. Yes, I’ve gardened since I was a kid, but that only means plants are my version of “comfort food.” I can’t imagine life without them, and neither should you.

Besides being inspirational and full of useful information, The Unexpected Houseplant is also a personal journey of sorts. Can you share some reasons why houseplants are beneficial on an emotional (or even spiritual) level?

The need to nurture is so universal and basic. Who doesn’t feel good when they tend a living thing and it responds gloriously? And then there’s the overwhelming beauty of nature by your side. The book is really about getting up close and personal with plants on a level that is deeper than you’re apt to achieve outside. And then you reap the rewards. Can you think of a vision that’s more calming than a vine twining around close to your comfy chair? Sowing seeds, repotting plants, clipping herbs that you’ve grown yourself footsteps from the stove—it doesn’t get any better than that. We all go through lonely times; we all have angst. That’s where houseplants come to the rescue.

This is a beautiful book and the photos by Kindra Clineff are gorgeous. What would you say to a reader who thinks, “My plants and my house will never look like that!”

But it’s so simple. You’re almost there already. What I describe (and what Kindra has photographed so deftly) in the book is just 2 steps away from where you are now. Just go to your local garden center (or try the supermarket) and pick out a plant that speaks to you. Honestly, most of the plants in the book are readily available everywhere—they’re just given a new bag. Think out of the box to pair your new acquisition with a container, hit the yard sales for some peeling furniture and Bingo!


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