In a world moving at breakneck speed, growing indoor plants is teaching me patience | Mel Campbell | Life and style

Two Shepard avocado seeds balance on toothpicks in wineglasses of water on my kitchen windowsill. They have been there since April, when I was seized by some primal urge (home ownership, perhaps?) and decided I wanted to grow my own.

I got so excited when I saw a taproot growing from the bottom of one seed. It was happening! I lost myself in fantasies of huge, glossy houseplants. But then … nothing.

I’m not a patient person. As a child, I once cried on Christmas night because it wouldn’t be Christmas again for another whole year. I rage against the grinding travesty of the NBN. I sigh heavily when it turns out I’ve chosen the slow-moving supermarket lane. At bus stops, the minutes drag by like aeons.

My avocado was no magic bean; rationally I knew it could take months to sprout. Yet I still managed to feel disappointed that the taproot hadn’t immediately presaged a cavalcade of growth. Had the seedling failed? The other seed hadn’t sprouted at all.

Still, that primal urge hadn’t quite gone away. In mid-May, as the taproot blackened and the wineglass water grew cloudy, I took two branch cuttings from the apple tree in my backyard, snipping them just below a growth node, at a 45-degree angle. I stripped the bark from the bottom inch of the cutting, and spat on the raw wood. I’d read human saliva is a natural rooting hormone, and I liked the witchiness of giving something of myself to the cutting. But I dipped the moistened cuttings in commercial rooting hormone, just to be sure.

I planted the cuttings in a damp blend of vermiculite and potting mix, topped with an insulating layer of moss – also harvested from my back yard. I enclosed them in bells made from cut-down plastic bottles. You’re meant to keep the cuttings out of direct sunlight, so I put them in my bathroom. I misted them occasionally with a spray bottle.

Then I waited.

Impatience can be an adaptive response to chaotic, anxious environments; my body feels the urgency of a world moving at eschatological speed, and wants to act. A fist grips my chest from the inside, sending my hands and teeth into an answering clench. My limbs fizz with restraint: a leashed dog, a reined horse, a car revving in neutral. I look at my cuttings and pips, those stubbornly inert sticks and stones, thinking: come on! Come on!

Winter isn’t the best time to grow plants. But I don’t have a choice: the boomer who owns my home is renovating, and in two months I’ll have to leave my beautiful garden with its apple tree. The thought chills me with despair.

Everything I’ve read suggests apple cuttings don’t take well. But nor does the insecurity of inner-city renting. Houseplants don’t just clean the air; they offer a sense of domestic stability and continuity.

Winter, in the west, is often depicted as metonymically hopeless. The sweltering spectre of global heating may stalk the contemporary imaginary, but back in the cold war people feared slow famine in a nuclear winter.

But winter is also a patient time. A metamorphic time, when nature quietly gathers within itself. Christina Rossetti dramatises the wondrous birth of Christ “in the bleak midwinter”, when “Earth stood hard as iron, water like a stone”. Only something miraculous can overcome such relentlessness: “Snow had fallen, snow on snow, snow on snow.”

In Wurundjeri country where I live, it’s the season of waring, the wombat. The slow-moving marsupials emerge to bask in the crisp sunlight that peels away the morning frosts. In the misty hills, the Wurundjeri feasted in winter on tender hearts of kombadik, tree ferns.

I bought a sad, mostly dead fern from the Bunnings discount trolley because it had a few furled fronds I hoped might grow. What I love about ferns is their resilience. But for weeks, this one remained stubbornly unchanged.

Then, it began. The smallest frond had unfurled, and a new frond was heaving the potting mix, a tiny green fist. It was giving me Rossetti’s gift: its heart. I lifted the bell from an apple twig and joy bloomed in me like the swelling bud I saw. I rejoiced to see white roots uncurling, finger-like, from the avocado’s taproot, and a stem bursting like newborn Athena from the seed’s crown.

My plants remind me that my impatience is really a feeling of disempowerment – my inability to control the pace, and place, of my own life. My joy in them reminds me that good things can happen with time, and care. So I tend my leafless apple twigs, and imagine their roots unfurling slowly, slowly in the dark soil. Like the fern fronds and avocado roots. Like hope.

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