How to not kill a plant

Following the untimely demise of our solitary basil plant (RIP Pesto), it dawned on me I was now the only millennial on the planet who didn’t own a houseplant — a fact made all the more unconscionable given my deep-rooted tree-hugging tendencies. And so, in a fit of patriotic fervour (💪🇿🇦) — and also because I’ve heard succulents are fairly idiot-proof — I quickly ordered an aloe and a spekboom (Portulacaria afra, aka the dwarf jade plant).

As much as I love their mild-mannered company, they’ve caused me untold worry since their deployment to my desk: Am I over- or under-watering them? Are they getting too little sunlight? Do I need to repot them? Eek!

I’ve decided that they need to be able to survive six months before I acquire any additions to my new botanic family. To ensure they last that long, any tips on how to not murder houseplants (succulents, or otherwise) would be most welcome! And, if (fingers crossed) I pass my self-imposed six month test, I’d love to know which specimen I ought to adopt next.

From the redwoods, a very merry merry

Happy holiday to your and yours. May the last few days of 2020 be the best ones yet.

A few things that have been giving me some festive cheer lately:

  • Storm swells pummelling our local beach; the flash of a migrating grey whale; a harbour seal popping its head above the waves; the barking of invisible sea lions

  • Our kitten snoozing on my lap while I’m meditating (namaste 🐾)

  • The Gallery by John Horne Burns: this novel, set in 1944 Naples and North Africa, is bleak, funny, sardonic but ultimately hopeful — an exquisitely textured portrait of wartime upheaval that’s remarkably apposite for 2020

  • While I was very sad to learn of John le Carré’s recent passing, Simon Schama’s FT essay about the legendary espionage novelist’s life and work was a beautiful, moving and suitably magisterial tribute

  • Prinze George’s 2015 single “Upswing” on repeat (though I’ll be playing out 2020 with their latest, “Taller”)

  • Ancient episodes of Bake Off aka The Great British Baking Show while prepping dinner. A prime example of “ambient TV” as coined by the ever-perceptive cultural commentator Kyle Chayka

  • Anya Taylor-Joy’s mesmerising performance and sumptuous costumes in The Queen’s Gambit

  • Gillian Anderson as a wincingly lifelike Maggie Thatcher in the lushly melancholic season 4 of The Crown

  • Industry (HBO/BBC): While at times OTT and implausible, this series about finance graduate trainees in London captures youthful ambition and the dynamics of a highly pressurised, high-stakes workplace with hugely entertaining, addictive acuity

  • Brain food per the BBC:

    1. The velvety-voiced Mark Carney, former governor of the Bank of England, exploring “how we get what we value”, and how to tackle the crises of credit, COVID and climate. Slightly life changing

    2. A discussion about how to read, and the meaning(s) of books, inspired by the works and ideas of Woolf and Derrida

  • Gorging on dim sum in a parking lot after a morning full of errands in our closest “big city”, Sonoma county’s Santa Rosa

  • Fresno chilli oil slathered on pizza; chilli crisp ladled over just about everything else

  • Making (and eating!) stovetop mushroom lasagne and the baked lamb ragu rigatoni in the Barefoot Contessa’s extremely zeitgeisty, refreshingly unfussy new recipe book, Modern Comfort Food. I transformed our stash of almost-rotting apples into pretty darn good apple pie too. Thank goodness I’ve got a new fisherman’s sweater to conceal my winter blubber

What have been your Christmastime consolations, coping mechanisms, joys?

See you in 2021

The sun will shine brighter next year. Promise.

You’ve made it to the end of my monthly dispatch — thanks for reading! I started it because, although I left all social media a while ago, I’d still like to keep in touch. Replies are always welcome (especially if they contain WW2 novel recs, your favourite comfort food recipe or a synth pop playlist).