I recently met John Verdery, who just wrote a book on indoor gardening (!), in San Francisco. We caught up with him to find out how he started and if he could share some helpful tips on keeping our plants alive during winter.
What is your background?
I grew up on the Upper West Side of Manhattan. I graduated from the Rhode Island School of Design and work as a illustrator/graphic designer. I still do graphic work, but my gardening hobby has now turned into a new job and business. I started with just an instagram to give tips and help people. Since I wrote my book, I’ve been selling it to stores and gotten my first clients, I also have a website where I recommend my favorite products.
How did you get into gardening?
Hard to say, it was a slow building interest. My mother’s family is from Hawaii, I spent most summers there which was cool for a city kid. My uncle had a very impressive garden and was even in a Miracle Gro commercial. Neither of us would recommend using their products though haha. There is a new wave of millennials interested in plants and I think my interest is probably similar to everyone else's. They make your home look nicer, they clean the air, they can feed you, and makes me feel more connected to nature. It started with me taking care of a succulent my girlfriend bought 4 years ago. After that the first plants I bought were a pepper, a mint plant, and some other decorative tropical plants. I was frustrated when plants would die, which made me want to learn more. It’s snowballed now to collecting rare plants, and getting into bonsai.
Any favorite plants?
These are my favorite plants from my collection:
What made you write the book?
It started with me just collecting and experimenting with information for myself. After talking to other frustrated plant parents, and starting the instagram, I found there was a need for the information. Most people don’t have the time, energy or interest to dig through stuff on forums, and gardening websites. You usually get generic advice from labels and shop owners, and there are caveats. Indoor gardening books are surprisingly hard to find, or very focused on interior design. The large majority of plant owners just want their plants to look good without too much work. I tried to write as short of a book as possible, in a reference style, with detailed information you’d never get from a label or conversation at a plant shop.
What are the most common mistakes for indoor gardeners?
Watering the right amount is the hardest thing to get right. It takes some experimentation, because of all the things that can affect how frequently you should do it. When in doubt you should always water less, and increase it as you find a schedule.
Secondly, most people don’t know what direction their windows face which really cuts down on what you can grow successfully without grow lights. Southern facing windows are the best for growing indoors, then west, east, and north in that order. Succulents are really popular, but most people don’t know they really only grow well in southern, and sometimes western facing windows. If they don’t get enough light they end up growing very tall and gangly.
What can people do to keep their plants looking good through winter?
- Slightly reduce the frequency of watering because the sun is less strong, so the plant isn’t growing as fast. However increasing humidity any way you can is helpful, as many homes get too dry. A humidifier is good, or you can mist the leaves daily. Don’t mist a cactus ever, and don’t mist a succulent often.
- Clean your windows! Dirty windows block the already reduced amount of sunlight. Window glass reflect 50% of sunlight to begin with. Secondly you should wipe down or dust leaves. Your plants need as much sunlight as they can get, and the dirt blocks the sun.
- Don’t re-pot anything in the winter. Plants will need stronger sun to recover from the stress of being handled so it’s best done during the spring/summer.
- Don’t feel bad if some of your plants don’t make it! Indoor gardening is more challenging than people think, especially during winter.
Where can people find you?
Cityplantz.com has a link to buy my book. The website also has products I recommend that can be bought on Amazon. The @cityplantz Instagram has daily tips, I’d also be happy to answer any questions if people want to direct message me.