Image of a hobbit jade plant with black text on a green background. Text reads Listening to Nature, Combatting Productivity Culture.

Listening to Nature, Combatting Productivity Culture

Author’s note: There’s a new voice on the blog! I’m Ashton Rose, a student at Macalester College and friend of Rachel’s. I’ll be contributing my own content from time to time, as there are a lot of topics that both Rachel and I enjoy discussing. Freelance writing has been my field since 2019, and I am currently providing writing services. I specialize in SEO-driven blog posts about writing, gardening, and mental health. I also do creative work, which often explores the complexities of human connection and identity, and tends to lean toward magical realism and character-driven stories. If you’d like to learn more, you can check out my website, Instagram, or Facebook page.

So, now that we’ve gotten introductions out of the way… let’s talk about plants! (Rachel invited me to do this post because they’ve been able to kill infamously invasive bamboo.) 

As spring crept its way around the corner, fighting through the end of winter’s embrace, I decided it was time to do some indoor gardening. Many of my plants needed bigger pots and some needed separating. I knew I wouldn’t be able to keep all of them.

A bamboo plant in a windowsill, with a stick that says boo.
My bamboo, thriving in the bathroom’s humidity

At the same time, I’ve been reading Gathering Moss by Robin Wall Kimmerer, as well as getting to know the Wildwood Tarot deck. I’m learning to engage with the natural world more slowly, and I view my gardening as an act of resistance to the pressure of productivity. 

Intentional Gardening: A Practice of Nurture 

Like many LGBTQ plant enthusiasts, I had my days of adopting any plant I could get my green little hands on. From Home Depot to trash day, I was always on the lookout for new additions to my family. Every window and sunny surface covered in vines, leaves, and stems. 

Don’t get me wrong, I loved it. But it often meant I learned about a plant after adopting it. For a while, I tried to get my plants to adapt to my space. Now, I want to find plants that fit my space without having to force them in. 

I know the native regions and habitats of most, if not all, of my plants. Many of them have names. Each interaction with them is how I like to spend time in nature: slow, deliberate, and caring. 

Listening to Nature Sharing its Needs 

Begonia plant against a white wall on a wooden floor.
Spotted Begonia, which grows like a weed

There’s a reason I like to learn the native habitats of my plants: it’s a starter to figuring out their care. The closer I can get their environment to one their ancestors were used to, the happier they will be. 

But I do not live in South Africa, or the rainforests of South America. So there will be some amount of negotiation. How do I know what each of them needs in a place so far from their home? 

I listen. I pay attention to the positioning of their leaves, to the color they put out. They get regular check-ups of their root systems. I notice the direction, intensity, and speed of their growth. 

These are, of course, only the physical signs. In listening to nature, I like to attune my spirit to the world around me. To be receptive to the subtle cues of communication across species. To sit in meditation with my plants is to have a pensive conversation with an old friend. 

Each of these plants is telling a story, and it’s that story I want to learn. I’m a creature of tales, from LGBTQ stories to sprawling sci-fi epics. I tell my own stories to the plants, and, if I’m lucky, they tell me theirs. 

Plants and Slowness: My Tool Belt for Productivity Culture 

All of my friends have heard me ramble about nature and mental health, especially LGBTQ mental health. I’ve long believed that nurturing another living thing is one of the best ways to show care to yourself. And whether it’s a cultural phase or a deeper connection, it seems like a lot of LGBTQ folks are drawn to plants. 

Now I know that plants serve so many more roles. Kimmerer writes of paying attention to an organism’s place in the ecosystem to understand how it might help humans. This has been the basis behind many systems of herbalism and natural medicine. One thing I’ve come to learn from my plants is that most of them favor slow, careful growth as a strategy for long-term survival. They’re practicing sustainability in their own way. 

Productivity culture tells us that we only have value when we’re producing; that we can’t rest until we’ve checked off our entire to-do list. It leads to burnout and heaps of other challenges. As a self-supporting autistic person who hasn’t graduated college yet, I feel its pressure around me every day. 

But my plants don’t feel this pressure. My hobbit jade only grows a few inches a year. My ginger sometimes waits months to send out new rhizomes. When I prune my pencil cactus, it takes time to heal before sprouting new branches. 

A hobbit jade plant in a windowsill with a blurred background.
Hobbit Jade, growing slowly but surely.
A pencil cactus in a windowsill with a blurred background. A ceramic cat hangs from the pot.
Pencil cactus, pruned and re-shaped over time.

This is how I find a respite from productivity culture. It’s comforting to know that our evolution wired us to play the long game, and we share that with the surrounding world. Every time I spend hours gardening, carefully unpotting, inspecting, and repotting each plant, I do it slowly. In those moments, I’m not meeting a productivity goal. I’m doing something to enrich myself and the natural world I’m a part of. 

Of course, this isn’t the only way to push back against notions of productivity. There are so many strategies that are unique to each of us. But I find it to be one of the easiest, because you can always listen to nature. If you don’t have houseplants, go outside and sit with a tree, some flowers, a patch of moss, even the grass. Take a moment to be slow, finding quiet comfort in the steady growth around you.

Have thoughts you want to add on to this post? Questions to be answered? We’d love to hear from you! Leave a comment below or on Rachel’s Instagram/Facebook page.

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