What early plant memories or encounters have shaped your relationship to nature?
Having had a city upbringing, my plant memories are of my mom's lush spider plant collection with their long dangly offshoots in these amazing 70s macrame hangers – obviously where my love for apartment gardening comes from. My childhood summers were spent in Puerto Rico at my grandma's house; in her sweet little backyard she had a jobo tree, a tropical fruit with a spiny pit and deep ambrosial flavor. I really dream of having a home in nature with a bunch of fruit trees or a full-on orchard, to me that's the ultimate luxury, the sweet life, the goal.
Your Manhattan apartment is full of plants – a towering fiddle leaf fig, spindly avocados, cascading citronella. Can you describe some of them, their quirks, and how they came to be in your home?
Most of my plants are either rescues, gifts, or clippings from friends' gardens throughout the world. Everyone remarks on the fiddle leaf because it nearly reaches the double height ceiling. The key to fiddles is they like a little neglect. The urge is to give them lots of water and sun, their native habitat is in rainforests below the larger trees, shady but bright, humid air, soil moist but not too wet. I love how oddly citronellas grow, but they also have a real purpose in the home: prune them and put the beautiful scented leaves in a linen drawer or in cupboards that tend to have pesky grain bugs. I love plants that have uses other than exhaling oxygen into an environment. For example, I'll pull a leaf off my avocado tree and place it under dumplings so they don't stick to the steamer basket. I also have two rescued calamansi citrus trees that produce a nice amount of fruit and an aloe that I use for skin irritations or to make a native medicine water recipe for when I'm feeling depleted.