Ah February… not yet spring, yet totally over winter.
A great time to think of your friend who lives in downtown Seattle (or Baltimore, Detroit, LA…) and nurtures their (mostly) green thumb year round out of a 450 square foot apartment.
Living things and gifts both bring us joy, and as I do not recommend buying anyone a pet (unless a) they’ve asked for it and know it’s coming–preferably have picked it out themselves–and/or b) you are a parent gifting to your child and recognize you remain responsible for the critter you brought home even if your kid doesn’t live up to the challenge). . . I recommend plants, succulents, and tools for keeping those (much) lower maintenance living things happy and healthy.
Hey, you might even find some options below that could bring a little extra life to your own household… wherever you live!
Succulents and/or Air Plants
For the n00b or forgetful friend, a succulent or air plant is a lovely gift for someone who either has never had a potted plant or who has killed too many of them.
Not to be pedantic, but while often confused, succulents and air plants are not the same thing. There are lots of technical reasons, as there usually are, but to simplify: air plants get their nutrients from the air (!) and succulents are planted in the ground. This affects things like where you keep them and how you water them.
I have found succulents to be a skosh easier to care for than air plants, mostly due to issues like watering, which can vary for air plants depending on type. Succulents are also capable of growing larger, which can provide a greater impact on a room. But neither plant is terribly complicated.
If you decide on an air plant, rather than a traditional pot, there are some whimsical holding containers to be found. Whether your friend is quirky, classy, or artsy, there are many styles available.
Don’t forget the mister, which waters air plants in a delicate manner befitting their ethereal state.
Low Maintenance and/or Low Light Houseplants
As a next level option, consider a chill, good old fashioned houseplant.
Many plants help clean the air, while others act as humidifiers. Additionally, these green living things have been found to improve our concentration and mental health, which can hardly be measured in these difficult times.
Grow Light Bar
This is also a great gift for cooking aficionados for their indoor herb garden! But whether it’s rosemary or rhododendrons, a grow light bar can help turn a dimly lit hole of an apartment into an inviting, even sensual, sanctuary.
(I’m not saying it’s magical, mind you, but it can be a big step in the right direction.)
If your friend has shelves that would work well for plants (and if they haven’t already allocated those shelves to their overflowing collection of books on Greco-Roman architecture), these undershelf light bars could be just the ticket.
If there’s no obvious place to attach the light bar, a beautiful stand alone piece like this growhouse could be just what’s needed. Brass contrasts with the illuminated plants beautifully, and will be a standout piece of decor even before any plants are added.
Made famous by one of its co-founders, the New Girl herself, Zooey Deschanel, Lettuce Grow allows a budding organic gardener to serve their very own greens next potluck night even from a small urban apartment.
You can choose a size from 12-36 plant slots that will all fit in a 1’10” diameter space. The farmstand works great on a small patio space, but it can be used inside as well. Make sure to snag their grow lights as well if the tower will be placed indoors to ensure the veggies have all the light they need to be delicious! (And if you’re worried that your friend won’t be able to grow something they’ll enjoy eating, never fear. They offer over 200 varieties of edible goodness from cucumbers to tomatoes to strawberries. Being healthy has never tasted this good.)
It’s a great tool for kids to see how plants develop, and how cool would it be to pick the salad for your dinner or the greens for your soup from your own farm tower.
Now note: if your friend is trapped on a fifth floor walkup, the fact that this baby will fit into their apartment won’t make up for the cleaning process that it needs to go through every four months…outside. Lower maintenance than a full size garden? Yes! No maintenance…er, no.
Other companies have versions of this concept as well (of course)! Gardyn was named one of the best inventions of 2020 by Time. It’s design is less “futuristic” than Lettuce Grow, and will fit more naturally into more design schemes. While they don’t offer as many varieties of plants to grow, their app can help the gardening newbie get their feet wet with confidence.
Plant Pot Upgrade
Let’s be real. The pots your partner brought their new plant roommates home in are not suitable to be long term residences. And while some small plastic upgrades from Lowes or Home Depot might do for a while, a nice ceramic pot can make a big difference in the feel of a room.
The sturdiness of this gift will help ensure plants aren’t being knocked to the ground (just try and bump a ceramic pot full of potting soil off a countertop–wait, no, don’t, but you can imagine) or clashing with the decor of an otherwise cohesive room design.
Ceramic pots can be expensive, but before you throw your hands up in despair, consider:
The point is not how much you spend, and there’s no need to break the bank. As with so many things in life, look for the intersection of form and function (and affordability!).
If your friend’s house looks like a jungle, it’s possible their Dollar Tree watering can from college has seen better days. Consider a Copper & Brass Indoor Watering Can or the Magnolia Matte Black Watering Can as an upgrade. If the apartment it is headed to is super small, you might choose Bloomscape’s Small Watering Can, and suggest it can double as a vase when not in use.
If you’ve got the bucks and like your friend this much, you might even go with the Haws Watering Can. I bought my mom one for her birthday several years ago and she still tells me how much she enjoys looking at it… as she walks past with her old plastic one because she’s afraid of damaging the Haws. Not for everyone, but perfect for the person who will use and appreciate it. Haws has a lot of styles, but for those of us in the US, they can be a bit harder to find–most shops that ship here only stock one or two styles or colorways. Terrain has black and green options, if copper is a little flashy.
If your friend has only one, stalwart, stubborn old plant that just won’t quit, a watering stake might be the perfect gift. Think of it like a wet bar for your plant. Or maybe a subtle hint that you won’t be commuting to Long Island twice a week to water one plant while your friend backpacks across Asia for six months.
We can all use a little pick-me-up in February. If you’ve been hearing tales of drooping leaves and weeping vines lately–or noticed it last time you were there drinking wine and discussing Yellowjackets, take a look at the incredible leaps in plant nutrition that have been made over the last decade.
Grove carries some great Modern Sprout products to support the health of either blooming or non-blooming indoor plants. If you want one product to do both, Jack’s Houseplant Special Fertilizer will do just the trick.
Nothing beats the satisfaction of doing work you care about with the perfect tool for the job. And while there are lots of studies that contact with the soil is good for us, sometimes we want a little extra leverage in our lives.
If your friend has a more rustic vibe, Garrett Wade has been selling quality hand tools since 1975.
And for the modernist, Burgon & Ball (who, like Haws, only ship to the UK) have a couple of gardening tools in the MoMA Design Store. A bit unexpected for a company that’s been around since the 1700s.
Speaking of Garrett Wade, I keep their nail brush perched on my bathroom counter for a quick clean up post plant duty.
The soft bristles quickly sud up and reach under finger (or toe) nails much like a toothbrush would do for your teeth.
And for the person who likes to have a tool for everything, you might consider the table brush for sweeping up extraneous potting soil from the kitchen table or counter.
A bud vase makes an elegant gift for the friend who is partial to flowering plants, especially if they like to spread the color around their apartment.
While the standard vase is great for bouquets from the florist, it’s unlikely that the rose plant their ex-boyfriend gave them for Valentine’s Day three years ago will produce enough buds to fill that size container. But a single bud can brighten a workstation or bedside table even in a room too dark to maintain much plant life.
A handmade option, like this one from paperandclaystudio on Etsy is a worthy way to honor their plant’s sacrifice. Some other options: this glass one from Target, or this cheerful yellow one from Anthropologie.
Ideally, have an idea both what flowering plant your friend might use this for and where in their apartment could use the colorful pick-me-up.
If it’s really true that your friend, neighbor, parent, or child lacks any plant care abilities at this time in their life, you might consider non-living, but still beautiful options to liven up their space.
Fake plants get a bad rap, and they’re not a full substitute for the real thing, but there are better and better options each year. Some you don’t even realize are fake unless you’re touching them. If they’re good enough for Bobby Berk…
Fake flowers, on the other hand, (to my mind) shouldn’t try and pretend to be real. You’ll find plenty of voices on this, though, so form your own opinion by all means. I do love the crafted options out there, though, with materials ranging from felt to wood and a beautiful vase full of these or these would not go amiss.
People’s capacity to care for plants comes and goes over their life. Don’t assume just because their college dorm room was awash in dead plants that they can’t be trusted with one at 35 or even 25.
[This post includes products from… Anthropologie, Apple App Store, Barebones Living, Bed Bath & Beyond, Bloomscape, Burgon & Ball, Etsy, Food52, Haws, Garrett Wade, Grove, Helen Milan, HomeGoods, Home Depot, Lowes, Magnolia, Marshalls, MoMA, Nearly Natural, Planta, Ross, The Sill, Target, Terrain, T.J.Maxx, West Elm, Williams-Sonoma.]