'Other people go to the gym, but we take care of plants’

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From left: Assorted garden plants, Monstera Albo Halfmoon Variegated Plant (right) and the Echeveria Plant as pictured on July 4, 2023 at Nimmit Shah's residence in Westlands, Nairobi. PHOTO | BILLY OGADA | NMG

Nowadays, plants have become a conversation starter. Making friends with other plant lovers online is not an uncommon thing.

For Meera Shah and Nimmit Shah, who connected via Instagram, their uniting factor was their love for plants, particularly monsteras and philodendrons.

Monsteras and philodendrons are in the family of aroids and therefore have the same qualities. They are mostly indoor plants but can also flourish outdoors in pots or on the ground.

Variegated Monstera Plants as pictured on July 4, 2023 at Nimmit Shah's residence in Westlands, Nairobi. PHOTO | BILLY OGADA | NMG

Mr Nimmit has more than 30 Monsteras of different species. The most admirable are variegated monsteras.

“There are four types of variegated monsteras. We have the albo monstera that is white or cream. The aurea monstera is yellow, the mint monstera is green in colour and the sport monstera is light green,” she says.

Philodendrons also come in various types. You are lucky if you get the 'painted lady’, which is a rare type of philodendron. Other types of philodendrons include the mamei, the neon philodendrons and the micon philos.

“The good thing with monsteras is that you can make babies [offshoots] from them easily. Once you grow the mother plant, you can cut off a cutting from a stem and propagate,” says Ms Meera adding, “The area that is possible to propagate is where there is a node in the plant.

“When you cut, ensure that there is enough space and plant material. Ensure that it has aerial roots and put it in water till it develops well enough to put it in soil.”

Mr Nimmit grows his plants in a shed in his home and a greenhouse.

“You just need to monitor it as it can get root rot. One of the biggest challenges with monsteras and philodendrons is root rot. Regularly change the water to keep off algae,” he says.

Monstera Albo Halfmoon Variegated Plant as pictured on July 4, 2023 at Nimmit Shah's residence in Westlands, Nairobi. PHOTO | BILLY OGADA | NMG

When they grow too long, monsteras and philodendrons need moss poles for support, to prevent them from falling over.

“Aerial roots are usually climbers and stick to concrete. If you give them support while growing by adding the moss pole they grow better,” Ms Meera who grows plants on her apartment balcony tells BDLife.

The passion

Mr Nimmit has been growing monsteras for the past three years. “I’ve grown up around flowers for a long time. While other people go to the gym to relieve stress, I take care of my plants,” says the structural engineer.

The number of Kenyans growing plants as a hobby has grown over the years. I ask Ms Meera why she thinks more people embracing plants.

“Life has become so demanding with all the responsibilities that one has. Therefore, taking care of plants is therapeutic to help one cope. For instance, I repot my plants alone. Even feeling the soil in your hands is therapeutic,” says Ms Meera.

If you are a newbie plant parent, do not grow monsteras and philodendrons under direct sunlight. They require some sun, but not the full sun.

“Morning sun is alright. You can do some filtered light,” she says.

Placing your monsteras and philodendrons under direct sunlight may scorch the leaves.

“During the cold season, I put them inside but on the window pane to keep them warm and still allow them to get some light,” adds Ms Meera.

On watering, the only way to test if your monsteras and philodendrons have enough water is to put your finger in the pot.

Assorted garden plants as pictured on July 4, 2023, at Nimmit Shah's residence in Westlands, Nairobi. PHOTO | BILLY OGADA | NMG

“If the soil does not stick on your finger, it then means that the soil is dry and it needs some watering,” says Mr Nimmit.

Monsteras and philodendrons are watered around twice a week.

“When you water it, you should see the water running down through without sitting for long. Too much water will rot the roots. During the rainy season, it is not important to water it as often unless the soil is dry. Most house plants love humidity,” adds Ms Meera.

Soil requirements

Monsteras and philodendrons require well-drained, airy and loose soil. “The pot needs to have holes at the bottom to make sure that it is well-drained. If you need to feed your plants always make sure that the soil is damp before adding fertiliser,” says Ms Meera.

To keep off pests and get nutrients, Mr Nimmit has a compost pit comprising of neem leaves and kitchen waste.

“You could boil some water with egg shells and banana peelings and use it as fertiliser. Also, chop the leaves, it helps them grow better. Toward the end of the stem, the leaves become small and so you need to chop them off. When you prune you also get full variegation.”

Meera Shah poses for a photo on July 4, 2023 in her house in Nairobi. PHOTO | BILLY OGADA | NMG

The blooming season for monsteras and philodendrons is in the warmer season. By blooming it means getting bigger and more leaves.

Remember to wipe the dust off the leaves. “I wipe my plants at least once a month to take off the dust as it tends to interfere with photosynthesis,” Ms Meera tells BDLife.

Big-leafed plants tend to get spiderwebs and are very dusty.

How how much will monsteras and philodendrons cost you?

“I spend around Sh10,000 on my plants as I tend to acquire rare plants,” Mr Nimmit says. To cut costs, Meera repurposes the kitchen wastewater.

Which is a master art plant?

Mr Nimmit says that he would prefer variegated monsteras as they “bring positive vibrancy to a place”.

He advises that it is important to repot after buying a new plant because the plant may not thrive in the red soil that it was planted in. However, it is better to wait for the warmer season to repot.

Nimmit Shah poses for a photo on July 4, 2023 in his Green House at his residence in Westlands Nairobi. PHOTO | BILLY OGADA | NMG

The parting shot from the duo is that it’s important to first understand the plant you want to grow so that it does not die on you.

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