Plant Shelfie with Pauline (@Leaf.A.Lil)

Today we are having a chat with the lovely Pauline, a fellow plant enthusiast with an absolutely enviable collection of Alocasias and Philodendrons. She has the largest Alocasia Frydeks and Sarians leaves I’ve ever seen!!

A busy lawyer, Pauline first turned to gardening as a source of solace and respite during the COVID pandemic. Determined to help her plants grow better, her hands-on approach led her to experiment with different soil mixes and substrates.

Today, she is an avid gardener and sells her own unique blend of soil mixes, curated for different types of plants.

We talk to Pauline about her plant care journey, care routines, and advice for beginner gardeners.

How did you get into gardening?

My plant journey started about two years ago, thanks to a group of friends at work. It all started with me admiring a Philodendron Micans that my friend was growing in the office. It was so bushy with lush velvet leaves! It almost looked unreal.

Of course, she kindly gave me a few cuttings. That was my introduction to plants. At that time, I didn’t know what to do with them!

When the COVID pandemic hit and we were more or less house-bound, I started to get more interested in gardening. I did a bit of research and dabbled in different soil mixes.

I liked experimenting and started to see better results. As my confidence grew, I added more plants to my collection.

Unfortunately, it was really expensive to buy plants during COVID, so it became a bit of an expensive hobby at the time. For example, a one leaf- Philodendron Splendid could cost as much as $90! But thankfully, prices have settled down since.

What is your plant care philosophy?

For me, plant care is a learning experience. It’s about getting into the nitty-gritty of what works and what doesn’t. That’s why I decided to make my own soil mixes. Creating your own soil is similar to baking, another hobby of mine.

I just enjoy experimenting and figuring things out for myself.

I spend 2-3 hours a week tending to my plants. I don’t stress about it. I used to when I started, but now I’ve learned to be more relaxed, and not fret about imperfections.

I started learning about plant care from various Facebook groups, and through trial and error. Within the forums, you can pick up good tips, but tips are just the starting point. There are so many elements that impact how you should take care of your specific plant in the specific environment it is in.

What works for you may not work for someone else. For example, in other countries, seasons can also make a big difference to the care you need to give a plant. So ultimately, it is a matter of trial and error.

Alocasia Frydek, Alocasia Sarian, Philodendron Gloriosum, Philodendron Brandtianum, Monstera Borsigiana Albo, Alocasia Baginda Dragon Scale… what else can you spot?

What do you enjoy most about gardening?

I get a lot of enjoyment from seeing my plants develop new leaves. New growth is a sure sign that it’s doing well! If it’s a variegated plant, I’m also really curious about what kind of pattern will emerge.

I enjoy having coffee in the morning and looking at my plants. It’s a welcome respite from the busyness of life. 🙂

How did you start selling your own soil mixes?

When I started getting into gardening, I certainly didn’t plan on making a business out of it. It happened organically. After noticing that my plants were doing well, friends asked me what soil mix I used.

Before long, I was giving away small packets of ready-made soil in IKEA bags. My friends started seeing the results for themselves and persuaded me to sell my soil mixes.

I took a while to be persuaded, and even then, was still a little skeptical. In the end, I did a small launch on Instagram and received over 100 orders within 24 hours. The next day, I spent 15 minutes registering my business.

So it all kind of happened overnight! I didn’t even have proper branding or packaging until later on.

Although it can be time-consuming, I get a lot of satisfaction from creating something that is of value to others. I’m happy when customers keep coming back – it shows me that I’m doing something right. Some people also send me photos of their plants growing well.

Demand spreads through word-of-mouth and through my Instagram account. At the moment, we only ship within Singapore but do not discount the possibility of making the product available elsewhere in other neighboring countries.

A couple of her variegated plants and the Alocasia Baginda Dragon Scale.

What’s your plant care routine like?

Pest control

I treat all my plants with neem oil. I don’t buy pre-mixed neem oil solutions. I prefer to buy concentrated neem oil and dilute it on my own. [NB: Pauline recommends diluting 1 tablespoon of concentrated neem oil with 1/3 tablespoon of castile soap in 1 liter of lukewarm water].

I apply diluted neem oil to the leaves and pour it directly into the soil like a soil drench. Some people are skeptical about this – they ask me whether it makes the soil oily!

Well, it does a little, but it doesn’t harm the plant. In fact, I’ve found that applying it directly to the soil is the best way to keep pests at bay.

Occasionally, I alternate between using neem oil, dinotefuran and abamectin, another broad-based chemical insecticide, to prevent pests from developing resistance.

Pest control is best done preventatively. Once you get an infestation, you will need a few treatments to clear it out completely. Even so, this is not a guarantee as you will never know if the pests may lay eggs in the soil or within plant tissue. Hence, it is best to have a routine pest control regime in place.

When I bring a new plant home, I make sure to do a couple of things. First, I change out the soil. Then, I quarantine it for a week or two, and apply neem oil, dinotefuran or abamectin. Only after that do I introduce my new plant to the others!

I also ensure plants are not too closely grouped together, so that they get good ventilation.

Watering

I don’t follow a fixed watering schedule; instead, I observe my plants. Plants will tell you when they need watering. Leaves will appear slightly droopy.

I also make a habit out of lifting up the pot to feel its weight. This helps me gauge whether it is time to water. It takes a bit of practice, but it’s easy once you get the hang of it.

It’s so important to listen to your plants (figuratively), observe them, and they tell you what they need. This applies to other aspects of plant care too. For example, leggy growth and long petioles is a cry for more light.

A variegated Alocasia Frydek sits on her side table in the living room.

Tell us about your plant collection!

I gravitate towards Alocasias because I find them easy to care for. Even though other people think they are challenging plants, I don’t!

My favorite plant is the Alocasia Frydek. I love their velvety texture, and how striking their lime green veins look against darker leaf blades. They are so eye-catching. I love it when there is a group of leaves clustered together.

My record is 13 leaves on one plant, with each individual leaf spanning up to 60cm long (24 inches)!

As I live in an apartment, most of my plant collection is indoors, save for a couple of potted plants along the entryway. My indoor plants get light from a North-East window, but I also supplement this with a grow light.

Getting enough light is especially important for the variegated plants in my collection. There’s a misconception that variegated plants need less light, but I’ve definitely found that the reverse is true!

Besides Alocasias, I also have a couple of Philodendrons, like the Philodendron Gloriosum, and the Philodendron Brandtianum, that I prop up against a moss pole.

Where do you get your plants from?

I haven’t bought any new plants in a while, but when I do, I like to buy sickly-looking plants from nurseries. I think that buying perfect-looking plants comes with a lot of pressure. You’ll feel bad if they don’t continue to look amazing after you bring them home!

Also, because the plant already looks good, there’s nothing much to gain, learning-wise.

Instead, I choose to look for struggling plants and see if I can nurse them back to health.

It’s more satisfying for me that way. Also, it helps me develop content on my Instagram page. I find that people like watching sickly plants bounce back to life. There’s something appealing about progress; it’s not just about being perfect.

Pauline grew this collection within 2 years, mostly from small starter plants or stumps! We were amazed at how large and lush her plants are.

What’s on your plant wish list?

If I had an unlimited budget, I’d buy the Philodendron Ilsemanii, the variegated Philodendron Billietiae, and the Monstera Mint. Several of each please! Not just one. 🙂

Any advice for beginner gardeners or those struggling to keep their plants alive?

My advice is to not give up! As long as you keep going, you’ll learn something. If you need to, take a cutting from your plant and start over. Even if your plant is suffering from root rot, you can often salvage it.

There’s rarely an instance where life won’t find a way. Plants are kind of like humans in that way.💙

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NB: You can buy Pauline’s soil mixes here, and follow Pauline on Instagram here.

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— Editor’s end note: It was so much fun chatting with you Pauline. Thanks for showing me your stunning plant collection!

Links to plants mentioned in this article: Alocasia Frydek, Alocasia Sarian, Philodendron Gloriosum, Philodendron Brandtianum, Alocasia Baginda.

Link to products mentioned: concentrated neem oil, dinotefuran, abamectin.

Deborah

Deborah is a plant enthusiast and founder of Gardening Collective.