Ep10: Houseplant Confidential with Jane Perrone
On this episode, we’re taking an intimate look at the the most domesticated plants of all: houseplants. These ecological oddities are truly dependent on their human owners to provide them with adequate light, water, and care. For that reason, we can’t help but project our feelings upon them.
My guest, Jane Perrone, is a London-based journalist and the host-producer of the indoor gardening podcast On The Ledge. Her show is partly about plant collecting, propagation, and care, and partly about the people behind the plants: the botanists, the growers, and the stars of “houseplant Instagram,” who all have a role in determining which species are hot, and which ones are not.
We’ll discuss Jane’s background, some myths and misconceptions of container gardening, and the human tendency to anthropomorphize our houseplants.
Do you name your plants? Play music for them? Do you love your plants to death? As Jane points out, overwatering is the leading cause of mortality for houseplants. Many seasoned gardeners still insist on adding “crocks” (broken pottery or rocks) to the bottom of pots, although science shows that this practice doesn’t help drainage, and can be detrimental to plant health. Then there’s the rather avant-garde notion of fertilizing your plants with bodily fluids. (Though there is a good argument to be made for the “menstrual option,” Jane has read up on the subject and says “it’s probably not a good idea.”)
At the top of the show, I’ll dive into the revealing history of the Aspidistra elatior, a houseplant once so iconic it was the subject of a popular song, the codename for an Allied “black propaganda” operation in WWII, and the central metaphor in a George Orwell novel. Today, the Aspidistra is barely considered a houseplant at all. Can this casualty of fashion ever come back in style?
To learn more about On The Ledge, visit janeperrone.com or find the show on Apple podcasts. Find Jane on Instagram @j.l.perrone and on Twitter @janeperrone. Check out Darryl Cheng’s Instagram @houseplantjournal and his blog at houseplantjournal.com.
Books discussed in this episode are Keep The Aspidistra Flying by George Orwell, The Houseplant Expert by Dr. D. G. Hessayon and Potted History: The Story of Plants in the Home by Catherine Horwood.
Music in this episode is “The Biggest Aspidistra in the World” by Gracie Fields, “Rite of Passage” by Kevin MacLeod, licensed under CC by 3.00, and “Kid Kodi” by Blue Dot Sessions, licensed under CC BY-NC by 4.0.
Excerpts from “Radio Aspidistra” come from a BBC radio docudrama based on real events. I don’t have info about when this radio drama itself was produced. Accessed via Internet Archive, Palfrey-Kemp Collection.
Check out the blog for an outtake from my interview with Jane about growing houseplants from seed!
Episode 10 Transcript