By Alex Johnson
When I was growing up, my grandparents lived in a very 70s-esque house just a few minutes down the road, on the cul-de-sac of Moonglo street. Both my parents worked full time, so my sister and I spent a lot of time there looking at my grandma’s old art history books, painting with her, playing outside in her moss-covered yard, and mindlessly watching re-runs of Star Trek: The Next Generation. The few hours we spent there almost every day—between the end of the school and my mom coming to pick us up after work—always felt peaceful. It was perpetually quiet, save for the occasional chime of their pendulum clock. Sunlight filtered in the windows, flickering through the leaves of the mature oaks surrounding the house and illuminating swirling columns of the dusty air. In the late afternoon, the house glowed from the inside out.
My favorite room was the formal living room, at the front of the home. When the sun came streaming in through the bay window, it felt almost ethereal. Standing in the corner was a massive Boston fern, atop an oak plant stand my great grandpa had made for my grandma. Its fronds spilled out of the pot, hanging down into the air, delicate like lace. There was something about it that felt almost fairy-tale like. An otherworldly guardian, transported directly from some mystical forest to protect us. It wasn’t really a showy plant, it didn’t grow quickly or flower, and it wasn’t particularly unique. But nonetheless, it was a quiet and enduring companion to my grandmother as she watched over her home.
In 2014, my grandparents moved from their Moonglo street house to a smaller and more manageable condo. They had to do away with a lot of their furniture and the various knickknacks they had accumulated over the years. Unfortunately, the Boston fern was too big and too messy for them to bring along. The oak plant stand that her dad had made for her was retired to the attic. My grandma acted like it didn’t bother her, but we knew she was upset.
The years went by, and as my grandparents grew more comfortable in their new home, my grandma’s small collection of houseplants started to grow again. For Mother’s Day a few years ago, my sister and I decided to get my her a grow-your-own asparagus fern that came with all the necessary supplies. At first, we were skeptical of whether it would take off, but after a few short weeks there was a little baby fern growing happily in her front window. Soon, it was too big for its little pot and needed to be transplanted. And in a few months, the fronds were so long and heavy that they started to arch over the sides of the pot and cascade down onto the table. One day when my sister and I went to visit, my grandma asked if I could go get the old plant stand out of her attic.
Now, the asparagus fern is massive, with incredibly delicate, feather-light fronds that drape almost to the floor. It sits atop the oak plant stand right inside her front door, filling the space with lush greenery. And just like the Boston fern before it, there’s something almost magical about it—you can feel how alive it is as soon as you enter the space, and it’s almost like a friend, sitting quietly, watching over us as my sister and I play Yahtzee or make lunch with our grandparents.
When I started doing research with Sara Kuebbing (one of the co-founders of plant love stories) my sophomore year of college, I knew I wanted to wait until I graduated to submit a love story of my own. Even with years to prepare, I found it difficult to decide on one plant that meant enough to me to warrant the occasion. But in many ways, I think my grandma and her two ferns taught me valuable lessons that have been on my mind as I finish up my undergrad education. It wasn’t until recently that I started to feel like an adult, and I know I’m now entering a new and different phase of my life. My time as a student has been magical, and I’ve met amazing people and had incredible opportunities to learn about the world and about myself. On one hand, school has been incredibly challenging and I’m ready to be done, but on the other, the future is uncertain and a little terrifying. In the face of this uncertainty, I’ve tried to remember that letting go of the old (however difficult) makes space for new and different—but equally beautiful—opportunities.
Alex is 21 years old and a recent graduate from the University of Pittsburgh, originally from Akron, Ohio. He is looking forward to starting a career in conservation science!