My Isolation Plants-formation

By Kate Wilson-Woolley

I’ve never been a plant person. I’ve been known not to notice that all the plants in my mum’s garden are flowering, or that all the indoor plants are dying, or dead. Once someone asked me to wipe down the leaves of their indoor plant and I was a little worried they had lost their mind (obviously I was wrong, I now know a plant has gotta breathe!). I’ve never understood why people talked about their gardens, or spent their precious weekends working in the garden. I was somewhat impressed… but mainly bemused. Until now, that is.

It all started at the beginning of iso. I’m a homebody, I love being home and doing housey things, and I finally didn’t have to pretend otherwise. I started recording timelapsed videos of doing mundane household chores and posting them on Instagram for my own entertainment. It didn’t take long before timelapses of hanging out the washing and doing the dishes got a bit boring. I’m a sucker for a good old-fashioned transformation, and so I started eyeing the old vegetable garden bed that was now full of mint that had gone to seed many moons ago. My whole dream was to weed it, but a few clever people convinced me to wait until I knew what I was planting before ripping the life out of it and ruining the topsoil.


I got up the courage to visit the nursery. Why courage, you ask? Well, I might be arrested for non-essential travel, catch the plague and become a murdering vector for COVID-19, or worse- look like an idiot because I knew nothing about plants. Unsurprising I survived the adventure, but little did I know the real terror lay ahead.  

I got home with my spinach, parsley, rhubarb, thyme, broccoli and kale seedlings, and I suddenly realised the only thing standing between them and certain death was me. I sound like I’m hamming it up, but I really did plant my new babies with shaking hands and panicky apologies. Despite the nerves, it was so much fun. As restrictions are easing and I look back on iso, planting this garden was such a highlight.


The next day I ran outside to check on my babies, expecting carnage and death. But there they were, just chilling and very much alive. I will admit that one parsley plant did meet an early end when it got drenched in very salty water from a well-meaning but clearly bananas member of the household. Even I know salination is no plant’s best friend. I’m sorry I wasn’t quick enough to protect you, you poor parsley.

Now, all of sudden, I desperately needed indoor plants.There was this beautiful plant growing outside, and I wanted to “propagate” it like all my cool friends do and bring it inside. But what was it?  I went to the only person who might be able to help me- Charlotte Simpson-Young. I remembered that years ago she had posted on social media about an app that identified plants (PlantNet). What sorcery! I took a photo of the plant and bingo, there it was! Arum italicum: a toxic invasive weed that people work for 30 years to try and kill. Google was very quick to list all the poisons and methods I could use try and destroy it. Oh well. Dream dashed. Moving on.

Arum italicum identified by PlantNet (Kate Wilson-Woolley)

Arum italicum identified by PlantNet (Kate Wilson-Woolley)

Speaking of weeds, I was shown a very fast-growing tree out the front that keeps popping up amongst the crab apples that needs to be taken out. Noted. A few days after I’d planted my vegetables and there was nothing left to do there, I got the gardening itch and decided to tackle the weeds around the citrus trees, and then lay down mulch. Lo and behold, there was this weedy tree again! I went and checked that it was indeed the same tree as out the front, and then I got to sawing it down and ripping it out. I was pretty proud of myself, with only the tiniest murmur of doubt about my plant identification skills.

Obviously, it was not a weed that I had destroyed, but a lovely innocent Lemon Verbena. Upon hearing this at 11pm the following night I ran outside and rescued the stump, planted it in a pot of very old potting mix and attempted to drown it back to life.

A very generous friend dropped off 3 bags of wonderfully dried horse manure, and I spent Sunday afternoon weeding and then sprinkling that shit everywhere. Who knows, maybe all the yellowing spinach seedlings ever wanted was a nourishing meal of decaying grass, processed through a horse’s gut and left to rot in the sun for a few years. Fingers crossed.

It’s been 6 weeks since I planted the vegetables, and it’s a mixed bag. Brad the Broccoli is leading the charge, shooting skywards and growing her first floret. She’s fierce and magnificent. Her poor little friend got eaten by something early on, and while I cleaned them up as best I could, they haven’t grown much since. The kale was also enjoyed by some cute little green caterpillars, but didn’t seem to mind too much, and has just kept on growing. One variety of spinach is green and lush, while the other is still holding on but barely growing and starting to yellow. It’s a mad world, but as a friend wisely pointed out- gardening is a lot about growing what grows. The yellowing variety shall be blacklisted from this particular garden bed, and I shall try not to take it too personally.

The indoor plant saga also has a happy ending. Indoor plant markets, due to COVID-19, have gone online. For people like me who do not thrive in environments where a) they know nothing and b) they must make fast decisions, an online plant sale is a dream. With plenty of time to sort them by price, choose the pretty ones, google their care needs and go back-and-forth on my decisions 10 times, I settled on 6 lovely indoor plants. I am happy to report that all 6 are happy and healthy still, sitting in front of a window with the elusive ‘indirect light’ the internet insists they need.

In such a challenging time for the whole world, I feel so grateful I could get my hands dirty and focus on what is growing and thriving. COVID-19 means many things for me, but one of those things will always be when I got to know plants and we became friends. I hope there are moments during isolation that you remember with a warm heart too.

Happy plant-loving everyone!


Kate Wilson-Woolley

When Kate isn’t looking after her new plant babies she’s looking after human babies and their parents across Sydney (with decidedly more skill and experience). You can find her at The Flying Doula Service on Facebook and Instagram and 

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