Review of The New Plant Parent
(photo credit Darryl Cheng)
In this post I review The New Plant Parent, by Darryl Cheng. If I had to sum up this review in a single sentence it's this: If you want to understand the fundamental building blocks of plant care, read this book. That may be enough for some of you to go buy it, which I recommend that you do. But if you want some more info on what those building blocks are, read on.
A couple of months ago I had the pleasure of interviewing Darryl Cheng after having read his book. After the interview I decided I would reread The New Plant Parent with the intention of writing this review.
The New Plant Parent is roughly 200 pages long and filled with photos and detailed notes and guidance. The book is broken up into two main components. Part one is called "Caring for Plants" and focuses on a number of subtopics to help new plant parents understand plant care holistically. In part two the "House Plant Journal", Darryl takes the reader through 19 plant care experiences he's had with different plants. In these 19 journal entries, Darryl weaves in the different building blocks from part one while also adding plant-specific nuances and notes. Something particularly useful about the journal entries is that for many of the plants, Darryl has documented their growth from the day he acquired them, over a period of years.
Part One: Caring for Plants
Darryl begins his book with several chapters that could be described as practical philosophy. It appears his goal is to knock his readers over the head in a few different ways in order to erase our preconceived notions about plants and plant care. If you enjoy plant care and are eager to learn how to improve your own skills then I think you will find these chapters to be useful in resetting your approach. I know they have been useful for me.
The next few chapters focus on the core building blocks of plant care: light, soil, water, pruning, propagation and repotting, and then pests. There is a lot of information in each chapter that will be useful to any new plant parents without a degree in botany. Perhaps most importantly, Darryl breaks down how these different building blocks rely upon and interact with each other. If you, like me are someone who has often launched an app or googled solutions to specific plant care problems, understanding the relationships of these building blocks will prove invaluable.
For the purposes of this review, I'll just share a couple of anecdotes from the book about light. Light, for Darryl, seems to be a particular point of interest and an area that he seeks to really break down for the reader. With his background in engineering, Darryl, takes umbrage with the vague directions we so often receive around light and plant care. During our initial interview I think he actually winced when he said the words "Bright, Indirect Light". In his book he takes special care to explain in technical and quantifiable terms what it means to determine if a plant is in a position to receive the light it needs - not just to survive, but to thrive.
The reader is encouraged to take the perspective of the plant and determine how much sky the plant can "see" from its location in the home and how many hours of direct sunlight it receives each day. Then the reader is encouraged to use an actual light meter (no your eyes are not adequate) and compare the readings of the meter throughout the day with your perception of how much light the plant is receiving. There are some useful tables and charts in the book that can help the reader understand if they are placing their plants in appropriate locations based on the light meter readings.
The water, soil and pruning, propagation and repotting sections include similarly useful information in both word and visual formats. For me, the soil section, which breaks down the different types and compositions of soil was particularly useful. I have always struggled with understanding soil types and ratios, as well as the type of relationship different soil compositions have with water. In reading these chapters I feel equipped to make better decisions when purchasing new plants and repotting based on their needs and the soil types I will need to have on hand.
Part Two: House Plant Journal
It's worth noting here before jumping fully into part two that in addition to the book, Darryl is also the creator of the Instagram account @houseplantjournal. In fact because he is the creator of @houseplantjournal and had so much success with it, he was approached by an agent to write this book. So, section two in particular reflects how Darryl got his start in the plant care world. He's a guy who simply enjoys documenting and understanding the growth and development of his plants.
For the 19 different plants he documents in part two, Darryl includes specific strategies to help the reader succeed. These strategies are often categorized as "survival" - what you need to do simply to keep this thing alive, and "growth" - what you need to do to help it thrive. Also included are useful pieces of information like typical lifespan, and best practices around propagation and repotting.
Darryl also includes "observation" sections for some of the plants. At first these seemed less interesting to me than the specific strategies, but then I realized that these observations (with photography included) span years of care, regeneration and growth. Getting access to years of observation of the same plant is incredibly useful to a new plant parent. We don't know what we don't know. Getting to see the evolution of a plant over the years across a couple of pages helped me understand how the plant could potentially change and what kinds of cycles to look out for, some of which which may look bad, but are simply part of the growth process.
As someone still very much in the early stages of my own plant care education, I've found this book to be quite informative and useful. From learning more about the fundamental building blocks of plant care to learning specific nuances of particular plants, this is a book I find myself pulling off the shelf frequently to reference when I need a reminder.
You can purchase the New Plant Parent on Darryl's site - www.houseplantjournal.com