Containers and Space

Containers and Space

Some of you may have seen or noticed that I am slowly accumulating a little jungle in my UUCC office space. I have fourteen live plants, all of which are crowded under a single grow light on my shelf, with the exception of my pothos plant which happily hangs from a bracket on the wall (and I will gladly show them off to you if you ever want to take a look).  

A picture of one of the plants in my yoga studio in a beige pot, its leaves extend out from the pot and are vibrant with a vivid bright blue sky and puffy clouds behind them.

Being a “plant mom” has caused me to think about growth and transformation in a more mundane way. When I go to yoga every Monday at a local yoga center, my usual spot is close to the wall with a perfect view of some potted plants they have sitting inside the windows. I am not sure what kind of plants they have, but I find myself every sun salutation eyeing them, wishing I could take a clipping from one in particular that is cheerfully spilling from its pot. Each Monday, my plant-mom eyes assess it and all of the plants for any signs of stress. Of course, these plants are doing just fine and clearly have been doing fine and are well taken care of for years because some of them are plants I normally see in much smaller containers but have grown so much they are in much bigger pots than I have seen before. Which causes me to pause and think about containers and space.

Over 3 years ago I wrote an In Between Sundays titled Paper Plates and Lavender. In it I wrote about seeds I’d thrown in a pot early spring that, months later, surprised me with little lavender seedlings after I’d given up on them. The next year I transplanted the lavender into a neat little spot in our “Square-foot Garden.” Well, life got ahold of us and the next year we did not plant anything new, only nursed the volunteer plants that grew. This gave my lavender (and my sage) unlimited space to EXPLODE with fiery passion. Now, both plants take up the majority of the large, raised planter bed. Years ago, the lavender was happy (content, even) in the pot but when set free in the garden, it thrived as it was given the permission and space to grow.  

The plant in the yoga studio, though, is likely a much more domesticated plant and would not benefit from being planted outside with unlimited space. Instead, it finds its own way of reaching outside of its confines while its roots remain snuggled and grounded in its pot. Some plants need to spread their roots in order to grow and take up space, while other plants, like the pothos hanging in my room and the unknown plant in my yoga studio, the roots need a cozy (not too small, not too big) place to settle into while the stems and leaves cascade haphazardly all over. Without that pot, they would not be healthy and thus could not spread out to take up space outside of their container.  

Meanwhile, there are other plants that would die if they were not snug in a pot and would never dream of growing outside of the boundary of their containers. These plants do not mind, and even enjoy, staying small. I will also mention the mushrooms: all we see of them is the little blip above ground but the unseen below ground mycelium is so vast and so complicated, scientists have still yet to understand every facet of its existence on our beautiful Earth. But they would all tell you how essential mushrooms and their mycelium are to the health and well-being of the rest of the plants on our Earth, despite how little space they seem to take up compared to the mighty trees towering over them. 

These plants’ (and fungi) size and different ways of growing do not make any one of them better than the other. Yes, you are more likely to notice my giant lavender plant before my pothos plant and certainly may not even notice my little succulent happily snuggled in its pot. You will even feel the space the larger plants take up the moment you walk near them, while having no idea the vast space mushrooms are taking up underneath your feet right now. And certainly, we would look at someone funny if they told us a towering tree had more intrinsic value than the mushrooms below. In fact, we know that one could not exist without the other.  

We UUs chant that every being is Holy and Whole, and we know that the tiny, easy-going succulent is still worthy of the same amount of love and affection as the dramatic pothos. In fact, one may have to pay closer attention to a plant like a succulent for their early signs of stress because the plants are so used to not taking up space, they do not know how to shout for help until it’s too late.  

Of course, this we know and this we value in our outside world. But do we value this in humans? Or do we judge other people only by the things we do and do not see? The space they do not take up? How much do you know about your fellow human’s best habitat for growth? Maybe some of us do not take up much space but no matter what, all of us are worthy of our love and respect. It is time we, primarily WASP (White Anglo-Saxon Protest) culture, begin dismantling our perspectives around what “value” and “worth” in humans looks like and start honoring and respecting people for existing rather than for what you can see them doing or “accomplishing” on the outside.  


  1. Robin R (she/her)

    This is a lovely essay.
    I am reflecting on how dominant cultures can constrain those who don’t fit or do not want to fit that norm and how important aspects of people can be hidden or intentionally not seen, or discounted and dismissed.
    It really fits the intergenerational conflict in our family. My mother thinks I should have pruned and trained the children to match her ideals, rather than let them grow according to their own inclinations. Even now that they are adults, it seems she wants me to prune and constrain the eldest because he has broken out of his pot and is finally finding his own way.

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