Matthew Gallaway: You have a very lovely and unusual green plant on your desk — can you tell me what kind it is?
Jessica Picone: It is a ZZ plant! Zamioculcas zamiifolia. [Also called ‘Zanzibar Gem.’]
Matthew: How long have you had it?
Jessica: Since July, I believe.
Matthew: It looks very healthy-does it get any natural light?
Jessica: No! This beauty has thrived in the complete absence of natural light. It lives in my cubicle.
Matthew: Excellent — and how often do you water it?
Jessica: A very little bit of water, just enough to moisten the soil, every other week.
Matthew: That sounds very sensible — I’ve found that overwatering is often a problem for indoor plant owners.
Jessica: I agree. I always begin with little water, within reason, and increase if the plant seems wilty and thirsty.
Matthew: I seem to remember you having a bit of a bug infestation a few months ago-is that cured? Or I should say, your plant?
Jessica: Ha, thanks for clearing that up! One day I was gazing at the ZZ and noticed that there was some movement going on. Many itty white bugs. I washed the leaves with soapy water every day for a few days, and the bugs disappeared.
Matthew: So it’s completely cured?
Matthew: Perfect. Speaking of gazing, I noticed that you keep a picture of a garden on your computer. Can you tell me about that?
Jessica: Ah yes. It is a little bit of inspiration. That garden is a dream. It is in Marin County, and has a view of the SF bay. There are stone paths, spots to read, and Japanese maples (one of my favorites). You can see the hills across the bay. The picture was taken in the Spring-I often wonder how it looks during the other seasons.
Matthew: Did you visit it in the spring as well?
Jessica: I have never visited! It is a private garden-I swiped the picture from a magazine and stuck in on my computer.
Matthew: Aha! So it’s purely inspiration!
Jessica: Yes, yes. It is a part of my little inspiration board.
Matthew: Tell me about the quotes?
Jessica: There are two right now. One is a reminder to be gracious, grateful, and generous with my spirit. I heard it somewhere and it stuck with me. The other is from Pema Chodron. She talks about the heart-and declares that an open heart has no limits. There is space.
Matthew: Would you say that your own philosophy about life is dictated in any way by your understanding of plants? I’m talking about more of a personal level than broadly ecological.
Jessica: Well-my plants have taught me be open to the unexpected. You just never know what they are going to do, and how they are going to react to things. One of my first herbs was a flowering lavender. It was in a small pot, and I moved it two times into vastly different light and temperature situations. The plant thrived! It grew and grew, I dried lots of lavender for tea and things. Then, I had to move again, and left it with a friend who is great with plants. And it died. She tried everything.
Matthew: Oh! That’s very sad…
Jessica: It was so sad. She even brought it to a few plant experts. I felt terrible, and she felt terrible. But she is the one who bought me the ZZ. And it is a real gift to have such a spunky plant in my windowless cubicle!
Matthew: Tell me this: how important is it for you that a potential relationship partner be good with plants?
Jessica: Hmm… it is important that my potential relationship partner appreciate plants, and accompany me on lots of walks through gardens while I exclaim things like, “Look at those amazing *insert name of plant*!”
Matthew: I like that! Let’s finish with the poinsettia, which I believe is a December addition to your space?
Jessica: Yes. The poinsettia was meant as a gift, but it never made it to its final destination….
Matthew: Meaning you were going to give it someone?
Jessica: Well, yes. But I just couldn’t part with it. That person got some tea and chocolate instead. I am going to try to keep the poinsettia alive all year. Wish me luck.
Matthew: Bonne chance! Do you have any experience with poinsettias? I think they are difficult?
Jessica: They are very difficult and delicate. When I was growing up, every year my grandmother would take me to buy a poinsettia. I would always choose the most scrawny one, because I was worried that it would not be bought for Christmas.
Matthew: A ‘Charlie Brown’ poinsettia!
Jessica: Exactly! Then, when I was in high school and college, I worked at a garden center that sold poinsettias. They were kept in a big greenhouse. My favorite job was to stay in the greenhouse and care for them. It was so warm and quiet and peaceful! People would come in on Christmas Eve and buy 20 and 30 at a time as gifts. I was always sad to see them go!
Matthew: They were your children, in a way? Or at least your charges?
Jessica: Haha! I guess you could say that. I do get very attached.
Matthew: Well, I think it’s a beautiful image.
Jessica: It was a really beautiful time! That was a great job.
Matthew: In conclusion, do you have any advice for cubicle dwellers who might be interested in having a plant?
Jessica: Yes. Go for it! Try a ZZ, or if you have a window a jade or something of the sort. Every cubicle/office should have a plant-they add so much good energy!
Jessica Picone is an assistant editor at ____. She loves plants and dreams of one day having her own garden. Matthew Gallaway is a writer who lives in Washington Heights. His first novel, ‘The Metropolis Case,’ will be published in 2010 by Crown.