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Plant Whisperers: Soil Mates

Updated: Sep 14, 2020

Plant Whisperers is our blog section where, each month, we interview Pilea lovers and plant enthusiasts all over the world!

Plant Whisperers: Soil Mates

This month we met Khadija from @_soilmates_. She's an architect who lives in Lisbon, Portugal, together with her husband and her lovely dog Oscar. She is so passionate about plants that she founded an Etsy shop where she creates and sells cute plant-themed gadgets!

Hello Khadija!

How did you become a plant lover?

I started getting nerdy about plants a few years ago, during my Ph.D. I’m an architect, and my research was about the benefits of growing food in indoor hydroponic farms and rooftop greenhouses in cities. I used to say that I was turning into an “agritect”.

The funny thing is that I only started experimenting with hydroponics and collecting plants after finishing my Ph.D., at a phase when I wasn’t actually spending much time at home. My career led me to travel back and forth across the Ocean constantlymy home was in Lisbon, and my job in Boston. I used to feel anxious each time I had to leave, and as soon as I would get to spend a few weeks home, I would adopt and take care of more and more plants.

Growing my indoor jungle started to give me a feeling of reassurance. It felt like I was building my safe haven, with roots (literally!) to which I would eventually come back. And here I am today, in my Portuguese urban jungle!

What's the best thing about living with plants?

I think plants (and pets!) are the best companions you can wish for when you work from home as I do!

They make my home office cozy and bring me happiness and serenity every day. The joy of watching them thrive and grow is just priceless!

Plant parenting definitely changed my life, mostly because it’s been a constant learning process. It taught me to slow down, to be patient, mindful… and it taught me it’s OK to fail.

Also, bringing plants into my life made me discover the incredibly supportive online plant community. It’s pretty amazing to share experiences, tips, and cuttings, with plant lovers around the globe. If I had known about all these wonderful people out there, I would have dived into this hobby way earlier!

How do you take care of all of your plants?

I can be quite a scatterbrain, so I definitely need memory tricks to make sure I don’t mess up!

For example, I use some popular hashtags to organize my care and watering schedule. Mondays are for Monsteras and Begonias, Tuesdays for Peperomias, Wednesdays for Hoyas, Thursdays for Anthuriums and trailing plants, etc. This way it becomes way more manageable, and I get to have some plant care time every day.

My number one tip is “better thirsty than sorry”! Don’t water once a week just because the lady from your nursery said so. Take the time to carefully look at each one of your plants, read about its needs, understand its signs, assess the environment… and ALWAYS stick your finger deep into the soil before grabbing the watering can!

What's your experience with Pilea Peperomioides?

Pilea Peperomioides were impossible to find in Portugal a few years ago. I brought my first Pilea three years ago from a trip to Hungary. I was wandering downtown Budapest, and I randomly walked into the cutest plant store ever. They had freshly delivered tiny Pilea babies, and I grabbed one right away! I flew her home in my hand luggage, I called her Hannah, and I’ve been watching her grow since then.

Meantime, Pilea got more and more popular. Today, you can find it everywhere in Lisbon! So I got 2 more, of different sizes. I love them because they’re easy-going and such fast growers! I often move them around, and they have been literally thriving in every single corner of my house (as long as they’re given a reasonable amount of light, of course). They’re just endlessly growing pups that I have been propagating and giving away to friends. All my friends want a Pilea plant!

I also find it funny that they are given so many different names in different countries. I particularly like the “UFO plant”.

Last year I made an illustration of a Pilea saying “I believe in UFOs”, I printed it out on canvas tote bags and sold them on my Etsy shop. Needless to say, they were a total success!

Overall, I can say I’m a proud Pilea mama. I just wish I’ll see one of my babies blooming someday! That would definitely be the icing on the cake.

My care advice: if you’re a huge fan of old terracotta pots like I am, plant your Pilea in one of those! In addition to looking gorgeous, your plant will be happier, and you’ll get to live a worry less life because the pot will absorb all excess moisture from the soil, keeping the roots healthy and rot-free. Also, don’t forget to rotate it frequently to allow it to grow evenly on all sides!

How do you manage to live with a pet and plants in the same space?

Oscar was a 2-month-old pup when we adopted him. At the time, my indoor jungle was already in the making, so he grew up surrounded by plants. I’ve always carefully placed toxic plants out of reach for him.

There was this one time (he was around 6 months old) when I left a Monstera Deliciosa on the floor... and he chewed on a couple of leaves while we were away. But I guess he learned the lesson because he has never ever touched any plant since then.

My tip is simply to give some extra attention to your pets. Play with them as much as you can. This way you, get them tired (and happy!), and all they want to do when you’re away is a nap! It works pretty well with Oscar. I get him too tired to want to stick his nose into my pots.

Do you ever talk or sing to your plants?

I’m an awful singer! Luckily, my husband is a musician and singer. He has a home recording studio, and our house is full of musical instruments, so my plants are constantly entertained. They haven’t complained so far. I think they’re fans!

Do you have any plants on your wish list right now?

I love everything tropical, and I’m currently obsessed with Banana trees. My #1 wish right now is moving to a bigger house with more space and huge windows, so that I can get a banana plant (and probably a couple of gigantic Aroids!).

Thank you for sharing your story, Khadija!

Remember to check out her Instagram profile, @_soilmates_.

Let's keep spreading the love and the fun!

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