Cultivating An Urban Jungle With Darryl Cheng
Darryl Cheng is the green-thumbed whizz we all wish to be. Through his blog, the House Plant Journal, Darryl inspires thousands of avid followers with his clever and easy-to-understand plant guidance. Based in Toronto, his house is the definition of an urban jungle. By day, he is a business analyst and focuses on understanding client requirements, which he says is quite similar to understanding plants. We caught up with him to find out more about the happy plants he keeps, and he even spills a few well-guarded secrets.
Crush: How did you get to being such a wealth of knowledge about house plants? Was it a process of trial and error or have you always been particularly green-thumbed?
Darryl: I learned the basics of outdoor gardening with my mother. When we moved to a bigger house, she asked me to research and care for a few house plants. ‘A few’ turned into a jungle! There was some trial and error in terms of which plants could survive for the long run and which plants were merely months-long foliage displays. I’ve come to accept the kind of plant parent I am so now I simply acquire plants that I know I can care for.
Crush: What inspired you to start the blog?
Darryl: Before the blog, I used Tumblr to visually document my house plant hobby. I like their tagging system, which allows me to refer back to any particular topic or plant. I can see the growth progression of my monstera deliciosa or pull up all posts related to propagation. The current blog is more about helping new plant parents get the basics right.
Crush: How many plants suffered before you figured out what you were doing?
Darryl: This question sort of assumes that all houseplants are meant to live and look perfect forever but this is simply not the case. I think there should be the concept of annual and perennial house plants. Annuals – some house plants remain “visually appealing” for only a few months, but then naturally grow leggy and lose foliage to the point where it is no longer aesthetically pleasing. Perennials – house plants that look better as they mature and are easy to maintain for years.
Crush: Can you share some tips and tricks to healthy house plants? Example how much water is enough/too much. Sunlight? Fertilizer?
Darryl: It’s funny you ask for “tips and tricks” because I’m always trying to get people to stop thinking of house plant care as a collection of tips and tricks but rather, a body of knowledge. Let me say this:
To keep your plant happy for a week: give it daily light AND dark
To keep your plant happy for a month: maintain proper soil moisture and remove dead material
To keep your plant happy for several months: aerate the soil
To keep your plant happy for a year: fertilize and prune (if applicable)
To keep your plant happy for several years: repot it
Crush: What is the single most important thing that you wish more people knew about looking after house plants?
Darryl: When horticulturalists say “low light”, they mean at least 50 foot-candles. They do NOT mean in some windowless corner of your house. There are plenty of apps that can measure light – there’s no more excuse for starving plants!
Crush: What is your process for potting a new plant? What type of pot do you use? Soil? Stones?
Darryl: I use a plastic nursery pot lined with landscape fabric (easy to cut) so that soil doesn’t get washed out from the drainage holes. For soil, I use whatever potting soil is sold in stores and put additives in different combinations depending on the plant: vermiculite – retains water, improves aeration; perlite – drains water, improves aeration; coarse sand – drains water. I rarely pot directly in a container and never if it has no drainage holes. It’s not that the plant will surely die but it just makes moisture control trickier – on the one hand, you should water thoroughly and evenly but on the other, the soil should not remain soggy. The advice of using a layer of stones does work but also increases the risk of stagnant water breeding mold/bacteria.
Crush: What is the trickiest part of maintaining healthy houseplants?
Darryl: Buying the right ones.
Crush: Why is it important to have greenery in your office or home space?
Darryl: When people see a thriving plant in a space, they feel that this space must be life-giving, a healthy environment capable of supporting a living thing. I think any space that I frequent must have this character.
Crush: Do you grow succulents? Tips and tricks for growing those?
Darryl: They are a category on their own. I don’t really have the sunny conditions they require to stay looking “cute” so I don’t keep too many (some would consider snake plants as succulent).
Crush: If you are going away for holiday what is the best way to manage your indoor plant life?
Darryl: I just water them thoroughly before I go and leave them huddled together, slightly away from their light source. With lower light, they’ll use the water slower and when huddled together, there will be less evaporation. If I’m gone any longer than a week, I’ll leave the most water-sensitive plants with a trusted friend – I’ve made many plant friends who are willing to help!
Crush: What is currently your favourite plant you have at home and why?
Darryl: Peperomia prostrata – I love the tiny details on its leaves and the rat-tail flowers that give the plant a “crazy” look.
Favourite vegetable? Sweet potato
Are you a cat or dog person? Cat
Last big purchase you made? A sound system for my church
Favourite place to visit? Hong Kong
Your favourite way to unwind after a stressful day? A nap
Delicious produce is grown in healthy, living soil. #Harvesttotable series brought to you by Reliance Compost.