Indoor plants can be addictive. I should know: I have 51

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Earlier this year, everything went wrong in my head. I had the kind of bad, ill-timed breakup that sends the building blocks of your adult life – already, to be fair, stacked precariously – slamming to the ground in one big, dramatic mess, forcing you to put them together at again for another Jenga identity trick.

I have tried many reconstruction experiments. I exercised. I bought a blender for smoothies and ate fermented things. I stretch regularly. I did all the things that the podcasts said would improve my mood or my gut health. Then I booked a trip to Canada and experienced an episode of what manifested as inexplicable hypothermia in fairly inclement weather. As I shivered and vomited out of a car after returning from an objectively idyllic weekend at a lakeside cabin in Ontario, I admitted that there were limits to wanting to be okay. Then I dipped a toe into the last millennial wellness category I had left: buying houseplants instead of going to therapy.

[See also: When will we be able to hope again?]

I came back from Canada and decided that a good thing for me would be to buy two or three plants for my office. This impulse was new to me – I had never kept plants at home before. I spent my twenties moving between roommates, packing and unpacking the same boxes of books, vintage prints, Staffordshire spaniels, miniature rugs and charity candelabra. Before moving into my current apartment, I moved seven times in two years. Acquiring anything that couldn’t be piled into the back of a cab seemed like unnecessary stress.

It hadn’t escaped my notice that almost everyone my age, it seems, has spent the last few years taking an interest in houseplants. There are a myriad of explanations for why my generation has become obsessed with plants: how millennials can’t afford to buy homes, so buy houseplants instead; pets are the new kids and houseplants are the new pets; young people in cities reconnect with nature in the absence of gardens and green spaces. But it wasn’t my personal take on nature, and I didn’t like how trendy it was: the ubiquitous monster-themed accessories; Instagram posts by “plantfluencers” that declare the fiddle leaf fig tree to be “dead” and staghorn ferns to be present. I didn’t want to identify myself as a “plant parent”.

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But a few hours after buying the first plants for my office, I went to a garden center and bought five more. How had I not noticed how empty my apartment was without them? I tweeted photos of them in the spotlight. “Houseplants are addictive,” my editor replied, which I took as a joke.

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Four months later, I own, at the time of writing, 51 houseplants. Ferns are spilling over my bathroom counter. Ivies and pothos trail from window sills or climb moss poles. There are succulents in the sunny windows, plants hanging from every available hook and nail, tradescantia climbing up my kitchen wall. I have rubber plants of different hues; nervous plants with fluorescent veins, almost extraterrestrial; Incredibly gorgeous pictorial calatheas. And a monstera, of course. Far too late to be fashionable, I became a plant woman.

I just didn’t expect them to bring me this level of joy. For starters, as someone who enjoys knowing the facts about things, learning Latin as well as the common names of every conceivable category of houseplants, and researching their specific needs, opened up a whole new vista of opportunity. But I did not know that I was going to feel this tenderness towards them. The emotional bond I have forged with my plants is almost embarrassing.

I spend maybe three hours of my week watering them, pruning them, propagating them, and otherwise caring for them. I whisper soft encouragement in a singsong voice to them as I do this. I feel a real excitement when each grows a new leaf or stem. None of them died. (Still.) I take care of them and watch them thrive. I want them to be okay.

I have to start reading the news less, though. It’s not just that I check Twitter more times a day than is possible – I started streaming the news to hear people announcing the content of the tweets I read. 20 minutes earlier. I’ve lost count of the number of resignations, cabinet reshuffles, leadership elections and market falls I’ve followed live over the past few months. And why? Why do I feel the need to be the first to hear about everything? I suspect the answer lies somewhere between the illusion of control this compulsive surveillance gives me and the desire to feel that my point of view matters in some way. But partly, I think it’s Fomo for a party I’d like to half forget completely.

Tracey Thorn is on sabbatical

[See also: After two years of strange isolation, I no longer know myself]

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