I think it’s fair to say that when it comes to our home, my wife and I agree on many things. We decide together on how the rooms should be decorated , choose items of furniture together, even agree on wall colours and soft furnishings. When it comes to our home we are almost in harmony. Almost. You see, there is a fly in the ointment (in reality there are two flies of which the other will be covered at a later date): houseplants.
In my opinion there is a perfect number of houseplants per room and that is zero. Houseplants clutter rooms, attract dust, moult leaves if you walk within six inches of them. They are completely unnecessary. When I mentioned to a friend that I hated houseplants, she replied in a horrified voice “But they provide oxygen and purify the air.” Being a reasonable person I decided to check whether this was true.
Any school child will be able to tell you that houseplants convert CO2 to oxygen, but the amounts produced per plant are negligible compared to how much oxygen we inhale per breath. A scientist once spent 48 hours in an airtight room using only plants to produce his oxygen needs, but in order not to suffocate in his 12 metre square room, he needed between 150 and 200 plants. That is not a floral display, that is a jungle.
I will concede that houseplants are effective in purifying the air in a room, but what hasn’t been taken into the equation is the horrible damp smell coming from the earth in each pot. On top of this is the smell from the mould that quite happily forms a crust on the earth’s surface. Many families use air fresheners (or scented candles for you new agers out there*) to overcome this musty smell , cleverly negating the plant’s purifying effect on the atmosphere.
My wife, on the other hand, loves houseplants. Our house is festooned with them. We have big, floor standing plants, small plants sitting on shelves; a hanging plant in the kitchen, and a number of pots sprouting orchid leaves. Many of these plants we have had for years, and you can tell. In the spring of their youth they may, once, have been attractive, but after ten years of service many are looking a quite sad. Wandering each room, you will find so many different levels of plant decay, that you could be fooled into thing that our house was the horticultural equivalent of the FBI’s body farm. The state of our houseplants is one of the reasons we don’t have a pet, and was my main worry before we had a family. Thank goodness children cry when they are hungry.**
But behind it all there is one reason, and one reason only, why we have so many pot plants in our house: mother’s day. Every year, just before the middle Sunday of Lent (yes, I know it’s May elsewhere), I find myself traipsing around our village with the boys, looking for a gift for my wife. As usual, I have left things to the last minute. The gift shops are closed and I know from experience not to buy anything to do with the kitchen, so we end up in the one place I am guaranteed to find something my wife likes: the florists.
I don’t know anything about cut flowers except that roses are a cliché on valentines day, lilies are mother nature’s air freshener, and if you buy a bunch for your wife on anything other than a special occasion, the first look you will receive is one of suspicion.*** So instead we head to our only other option and find ourselves staring at pot plants. And here lies the irony; a significant number of the pot plants in our house were bought by me.
So last Mothering Sunday, our two beaming boys handed over the plant and my wife, who was delighted. She gave them both a kiss to say thank you and the put the plant in pride of place on the window sill. Then, a couple of weeks later, all the flowers drop off. At that point, it is moved alongside all the others, to become yet another set of orchid leaves.
*There are many people who refuse to use air fresheners because they release nasty “chemicals” into the atmosphere, but these same people are more than happy to burn scented candles.
** This is a joke. We love our children very much and we enjoy regular meals together each day, whether they want to or not.
***This is also a joke, at least in our household. At least I think it is; my memory is not as good as it once was.
Others in this series: