September 15th, 2011

My cacti are all screwed up.

I hate plants.

How is it possible to constantly kill every living thing that comes into this house? Finally got a fiddle leaf fig tree – immediately dead. My terrariums? Mostly dead. My sansevieria? Dead. You see – everything living is dead.

Well, except for these two.

They’re OK.

But seriously, screw you cacti. Please stop suddenly drooping and turning brown and being all temperamental.

What’s wrong with you? Depressed? Thirsty? Bored? You got fungus? I neglected you like the instructions said to. We live in the damn desert – this is your home! YOU COME FROM HERE. You should be loving this.

I give up on cacti and plants and greenery in general (even though I’ve always dreamt that the house would be filled up with sculptural plants). They just keep committing suicide…or I’m murdering them. It’s a 50/50 chance.


In my plant fantasy, I imagine my cacti reaching the sort of grand heights and mythic health that Maurizio Zucchi’s have. This is ‘effing plant pornography. These pictures are mocking me and my stupid plant failure. Also, that entire interior? You know, pretty much PERFECTION on every single level. Dammit.

(you’ve probably seen these images from Ideat Magazine-June 2011 via iiiinspired).

Mocking me.


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  1. Janne on 09/15/2011:

    I’m all of a sudden QUEEN of plants. Just to rub it in.
    Maybe it’s the humidity in your house? I actually water my cacti and other plants once a week…almost. They seem to like it. So for my cacti the rule of neglect, doesn’t fit.

    I loooove those photos from Zucchi’s house….so sexy!!

  2. Brismod on 09/15/2011:

    Oh no. Look at your droopy plants. Indoor plants are always hit and miss. I just chucked out a bromeliad which literally just turned to dust. I think it outgrew its pot and choked to death. xx

  3. FURIOUS on 09/15/2011:

    ‘Effing plant porn. Checkin’ in on you from Oahu, HI…and laughing.

  4. nicole on 09/15/2011:

    I totally feel your pain. I have the blackest of black thumbs. I kill everything people tell me I “can’t kill.” It’s like I’m testing the limits of what can’t be killed. “You think I can’t kill that?! OH YES I CAN.”

  5. Joana Correia on 09/15/2011:

    LOL, I know what you mean. I used to kill all of my plants too. a real planticide. But things have changed and now I’m quite a green fingers person. Cacti are doing great, though I don’t neglect them, a bit of water once in a while is good. And I also manage to grow herbs for cooking (check here: But, if you ask me, I think this must be divine intervention, because I’m the same person as before. Maybe the God of Plants heard their prayers for salvation :p

  6. Lena on 09/15/2011:

    Your cacti need more light and less water, respectively. No one is born knowing how to grow plants successfully. Just keep trying and one day, you will have a sexy succulent paradise like this one. True story.

  7. THE BRICK HOUSE on 09/15/2011:

    I don’t water them – like once a month at most.

    One is on the porch and gets great light, the other is next to a giant picture window. LOADS of light.

  8. John on 09/15/2011:

    Those are some sick pictures… Plant porn for sure, those cacti are really phallic looking indeed; they make me feel inadequate. I need some houseplants, just not as intimidating as those. I love plants and they look cool. I just kind of forget. I work on stuff in my house and and tend to plants in the yard. I just gotta get some for inside.

  9. The Vintage Cabin on 09/15/2011:

    That house is amazing. As for your cactus issues, I had one that lived for over 10 years when I was in my teens and 20s and it was over 5 feet tall. I should also mention that I live in Canada…not to rub salt in your wounds. I do remember that I had to replant the thing every few months in a larger pot with some new soil. They seem to grow fast and if they’re stuck in a pot that is too small with the same soil, they will eat up the nutrients pretty fast and then die because there’s no more room or food left. Geez, listen to me, who the hell do I think I am? The Canadian Cactus Whisperer? You could also try doing a freedom dance around them while burning some incense or use a Ouija board to speak to them to see what is wrong.

  10. Florian on 09/15/2011:

    Seriously? You envy THAT collection of prickly monstrosities? I’d really love that room, if it weren’t for all those stupid potted plants. And the pots aren’t nice, either.

    You have a garden! Plants belong outside. Plant your cacti there. Pots on gravel look smashing! If they can’t appreciate your exquisite interiours and your desert landscaping – screw them. Let them wither away in passive aggressive stupidity and get yourself some sculptures instead.

    I hate my potted plants, but the hubbie insits on them. I got him down to three which I am trying to kill with malicious scorn and bad vibes – aren’t plants supposed to be sensitive to those? I say to them: You want water? Go and get yourself some! Yet somehow they manage. Bother!

    Maybe planting them in Seramis was a mistake, I don’t know. That awful yucca tree has survived for ten years and just grows and grows. It drops tons of dry leaves, but it just won’t die. How do you do it?

  11. Christine on 09/15/2011:

    I agree with other posters – just keep trying. You’ve gotta kill a lot of plants to learn, but one day, those things will stay alive. Nobody is born with a green thumb, that’s bullshit.

    Also, don’t be afraid to trim and chop mercilessly I have two plants I have given serious haircuts to – one was a succulent – and they are both now thriving. Try moving to a once a week schedule, but just give your plants a tiny trickle. That’s what I do with the succulents, and they seem to like it.

  12. Leslie on 09/15/2011:

    I also marvel at the fact that I can maintain two cats and a boyfriend but I kill plants with serious efficiency. I killed three air plants last year. Oh, it feels good to get that off my chest.

  13. Kate on 09/15/2011:

    i was the queen of cacti killing and so-so at all other plants until moving to LA. Now I am the cactus master and kill pretty much all other plants. I don’t know what the ef I’m doing wrong or right, but damnit I’m a little too lazy to figure it out.

  14. Suzy8track on 09/15/2011:

    I feel your pain…I’ve had similar bad luck with cacti and cannot tell you how many I’ve killed from either too much attention or not enough….still trying to find that perfect balance of care for them. Interestingly enough, my other (non-cacti) plants are thriving.

  15. Bandita on 09/15/2011:

    i’m glad you posted this, i don’t feel so bad now. then again, i’ve tried terrariums in a shady house in the midwest. not the best combo. oi!

  16. modern thrifter on 09/15/2011:

    I suck at keeping plants alive, too. I’ve been thinking of getting a tillandsia. I kind of love that they look a little creepy, and a plant that only needs air seems like something I might be able to handle.

  17. Keely on 09/15/2011:

    I gave up on keeping plants, which is sad because they’re so pretty and fresh looking. But I couldn’t deal with them dying all the time.

  18. Laura Ewing on 09/15/2011:

    Deeper plant pots! It worked for my cati and my succulents…I got a big tall glass vase after being inspired by one of your posts. I filled it just more than half way with soil, planted the spiky freaks and then covered the top with small stones.

    But I think I’ve killed my palm and my chili plant…Drowned the poor suckers.

  19. Jules on 09/15/2011:

    Lena is right. That first one looks like it needed some rotation–it’s all but crawling towards the sunlight. Just turn your pots 180° every week or so. The second looks like fungus or that it got too cold. Is it buy an a/c vent?

    I agree with the person who said your pots are too small–and you might have too much soil in there or planted the cacti too deep.

    Also, I hear those plant meter things are expensive but worth it. They measure moisture, soil alkalinity, light, etc.

  20. Laura on 09/15/2011:

    I noticed that almost every plant in the porno is in terra cotta and both your sad specimens are in painted pots. I think those cacti need to breath, and sandy soil.

  21. Tamoto on 09/15/2011:

    Also the plant porners prob have professional plant porn people fluffing those plants. Also even some plants in their house don’t look so hot,some of them have supports because cacti like full sun,no house can provide that. I’m pretty good with plants, but cacti are hard for me too.they wanna be outside. Try your standard houseplants for starters, sword plant, spider plant are easy and they like being will always be a struggle with any cacti that wants to get big and grow a lot unless they are outside,unless your ready to kinda baby turning them,repotting ect

  22. L on 09/15/2011:

    Ever thought that maybe your other living things are secretly killing those plants for you? (“Bwahahaha, she gives that green crap all the attention that should be reserved for pups. Let’s pee in the pots, carefully now, and get rid of the competition”)

    True story: friend of mine killed a silk plant. She didn’t know it wasn’t real, and kept watering it until it mildewed. You’ll get the hang of cacti eventually, promise.

  23. Tamoto on 09/15/2011:

    Oh and if you decide to put your indoor cacti outside start off on your porch or something protected from noon and afternoon sun or they will get burned pretty bad. But stick em outside,progress to full sun, plant em in bigger pots or the ground and by next year they will be looking svelt,especially the tall light green spiky one those get realty tall and nice

  24. Ite on 09/15/2011:

    Morgan, are you sure of the interior attribution ? I think it’s the home of wire designer Antonino Sciortino. It has been featured in several publications. You can see his wire designs in his living room (the wire table, the wire cube on the wall, the wire plant/cactus stands, the platform etc.) I know it’s not your error, only your source seems to mistake the photographer (?)/ stylist (?) for the owner. BTW, some of Antonino Sciortino’s designs are for sale: the limited edition is a high profile store, but the commercialised ones for Serax are affordable. Serax is a Belgian company that has a large catalogue of home products, and acts as a supplier for many stores in Europe (such as the Conran Shop). Just a quick Google search will turn up many examples if you are interested. Don’t know about suppliers in the States though.

  25. Ite on 09/15/2011:
  26. Ite on 09/15/2011:

    Btw that first ceramic pot is gorgeous to the extreme . I suspect the cacti is just bending over to get a better view of that lovely pattern.

  27. jennifer on 09/15/2011:

    skylights! if you don’t live in a greenhouse, forget it. sorry!

  28. Joanne on 09/15/2011:

    Just curious – is that normal potting soil you are using (it look dark and spongy – like it is wet)? It may be way too wet for the cactus, even though you aren’t watering. I see it drooping b/c of too much water- which doesn’t make sense if you haven’t been watering it – or the soil may not be right. I think these guys like sand to nestle into. I am terrible at plants as well – but I realize I used to way over water things. Over-watering will absolutely kill a plant b/c of lack of oxygen. Underwatering, on the other hand, can usually be fixed. Best of luck and love love your blog.

  29. Christine on 09/15/2011:

    I put together a terrarium or sorts earlier this year and 4 out of 6 of them dropped dead. The other two just keep on trucking and I feel obligated to congratulate them every once in a while. You know, keep morale up.

  30. meanrachel on 09/15/2011:

    repot both of the cacti (especially the first one) in bigger pots. use charcoal or small pebbles at the base of the pot and special cactus soil for the planting. rotate regularly.
    as for the fiddle leaf, it is more finnicky. I inherited one from a friend who moved to DC. It likes sunlight but NOT a ton of water. I water it maybe every 3 weeks. …I know but listen!! I heave the big pot outside and run a hose on it for a few minutes. I let the water just soak on through. It seems very happy and is constantly growing.

  31. Sara on 09/15/2011:

    Try succulents, they are the first things we have not killed. leave them out, leave them in, forget to water them for a month, have it rain on them too much…they are still alive and replicating

  32. carmencatalina on 09/15/2011:

    I feel your pain.

    I have to say, I’ve just given up. No more plants. I buy some flowers, stick them in a vase, change the water a few times, toss them when they die.

    Pottery looks really good without anything in it, and all you have to do is dust it.

    Just sayin’.

  33. Tania on 09/15/2011:

    I have a knack with cactuses. Watering them around once a month is good but make sure they are in pots that drain well. That is one reason why a pebbly sandy soil is good. The soil was drain out and dry out completely between waterings. That first cactus looks water logged which makes me think the soil never dries out.
    Or perhaps it was diseased when you bought it.

    Also, another trick I’ve heard is to sit the pot in a couple of inches if water and the plant will absorb as much as it needs!

    Try mother in law plants too. They’re really hardy and would suit you’re place I reckon!

  34. Tania on 09/15/2011:

    Haha. Those sexy plant pots don’t look as though they have holes in them! Do they???

  35. Kat on 09/15/2011:

    And I was going to get a couple small cacti for a mcm small planter. I didn’t realize they could be difficult. I have no words of wisdom for you.

    I do OK with house plants (did I just jinx myself?). Sometimes a new one will die. It just gets replaced with another one. Eventually I find ones that I don’t seem to be able to kill. Survival of the fittest and all that. I pretty much just purchase a new plant every time I go to Ikea (every couple months). They are healthy when I get them, no diseases or bugs and are pretty inexpensive. I’m making a trip on Sunday and hope they have some peace lily’s in stock. My spiky yucca type thing has been slowly dying.

  36. elizabeth on 09/15/2011:

    had a black thumb until my grandma gave me a few pothos cutting. now i have a million pothos. almost impossible to kill. cut a piece that has a few nodes on the stem (small brown bumps – these will grow roots). leave the cutting in a jar/bottle/container full of water. that’s it – no dirt. some sun or indirect light. they droop if the jar is empty. they can stay forever in water or can be planted later in dirt after roots form.

  37. Jaimie on 09/15/2011:

    My husband mocks my attempts at indoor gardening. I say, indoor air is way more polluted than outdoor air and plants help filter it. So far, my pothos seem to be the hardiest, or at least hardest to kill, as long as I keep the cat away from them. She’s killed more than a few… I’ve had a couple for more than a year now and I’m very proud of myself. I cannot keep a succulent alive to save my life. Everyone swears they are easy but I will not water them for two months and the darn things still rot.

  38. tracy on 09/15/2011:

    Plant fluffer!!!!! hahahaha

  39. Joanna on 09/15/2011:

    I hear your pain on the fiddler’s fig plants. I bought a tub that contained 3 of them, about 5 ft tall each. And then two up and died. But I’ve been keep the last one alive, and it’s the opposite of a cactus. The thing is a sponge – I give it 2 L of water each Monday. So, don’t give up on the fiddler’s figs, they’re pretty rad. Just water the heck out of it!

  40. Lindsey on 09/15/2011:

    I’ve started buying fake plants and then I just put them in places where people can’t look at them too closely. It’s the illusion of living plant-ness!

    All they need is a dusting every so often. Much better for my frustration level. 🙂

  41. Erin on 09/15/2011:

    I also have plenty of cacti and succulents. I water once every 7 to 10 days.

    Water trick: don’t use water straight from the tap. It needs to off gas for a day or two so it won’t burn the plants. I keep a couple of gallon jugs under the sink that are always filled. As soon as I water, I refill them and stick them back under the sink. By the time I need to water again, the water has had plenty of time to off gas.

    Usually, I forget to water until I’m running out the door. Having the water on hand in jugs makes it easier to take care of the plants real quick and get on my way.

  42. krysalia on 09/16/2011:

    by your pictures, I can tell two things.

    one : your cacti need way more light. other commenters are right, the opuntia (the flat round ones) only do this when they are desperate to find some more light and UV. light is not enough, they need the UV in the light. so if you have a nice wide window… with double or triple glass, they will die elongated like that. not enough light nutrients :/.

    two : I see that your pots are very stylish, and I love them… but I bet that they are asphyxiating the cacti because they have no drainage hole at the bottom. I’ve tried myself to put cacti in such styling pots and they all died, too. cacti really need the water to go threw the soil, the water really need to NEVER EVER stay near the roots. If your pots have no hole at the bottom as I suspect, you water them once, even a little, and there’s water soaking at the bottom. oh, just a little, but it has no way to escape. cacti drink the nutrients in the water and some of the water, but there’s some left. then a week or two weeks or a month later it is still there because it can’t evaporate and cacti do not drink it and there’s no hole. And then, you water the cacti once again… molding madness ! it starts with the roots => the cacti turns yellow. it goes on and the cacti is dead, turning to brown.

    if you want to keep those pots (and you should, they are gorgeous !), you need to put the cacti in some regular pots with a hole, and then put them in the fancy pots, with a lot of pebbles or something to make some space at the bottom. the water will run through the regular pot, and you’ll be able to throw it away after watering. no molding, alive plants :D, cacti madness :D. (I hope that makes sense, sorry for my bad english, that’s not my native language).

  43. Lesa on 09/16/2011:

    Wow…those giant cacti are truly awesome…would be like living on some other planet, mid century other planet of course. Drool.

  44. Alex on 09/16/2011:

    I would hate to stumble around that house drunk lol that could be a nightmare. Hey were ordering furniture again on Oct. 7th, let me know if you want anything – Have a great weekend

  45. modernhaus on 09/16/2011:

    I bet those people had trouble with their friends always asking them to babysit, and then this is how they decided to deal with it…

  46. modernhaus on 09/16/2011:

    I bet their friends were always asking them to babysit, and then this is what they came up with as a solution…

  47. Julia@a-living-space on 09/16/2011:

    I feel your pain.
    Right now I have some succulents in little terrariums and I was thinking they would be stronger than the herbs I tried to grow before them… but they’re starting to look a little unhappy. It just feels bad to kill a cactus since everyone keeps saying you can’t kill a cactus. I disagree. You totally can. And it’s way too easy.

  48. CLdesigns on 09/16/2011:

    that’s crazy town. its like the crazy cat lady only with plants. seriously, its creepy. but i’m dying for the rest of the room.

  49. jill on 09/16/2011:

    feel. your. pain.

    i guess i should rethink my plan of moving to LA just so i can grow succulents.

  50. Elisa @ What the Vita on 09/16/2011:

    I kill cacti, too. It’s what all the cool guys are doing these days.

  51. Keith on 09/18/2011:

    Hi there –

    Thank you for finally calling attention to all the plant death that I suspect has been happening in nicely designed living spaces across the country!

    I agree with the previous comments on what will make your plants happier, and have some other suggestions:

    1. Drainage drainage drainage. Always use pots with holes in the bottom. For cacti or succulents, use unglazed pottery so the planting medium can breathe out the sides of the pots as well. Go find a very porous soil additive — my favorite is clay Hydroton, which you can find at any local hydroponic store. Using those points, I keep a 100+ succulent collection alive in chilly MPLS.

    2. Air circulation. Plants love fresh air which helps transpiration and the movement of water through their system, as long as it’s not to the extreme of drying them out. Think of it like the cardio workout equivalent for plants.

    3. Respect their growth habit. Many times I see plants which will eventually reach monstrous proportions crammed into teeny-weeny glass terrarium things. Aloes and Euphorbias often suffer this tragic fate. Your 9/3 post has a Euphorb in a small glass terrarium — realize this is the same species that looks to be topping 5+ feet (to the left) in the photo of Zucchi’s house. Ask the person at the garden center how big the plant will get, and give it room to grow, even if it means it won’t work for the cool micro-planting you had in mind. Tell the horticulturalist what you want to do and they can help you find a plant that will love your table top.

    4. Water does not follow a prescribed schedule. For most plants, there needs to be a wet/dry cycle and this fluctuates. Instead of watering every so many days, just stick your hand in the planting medium and see if it feels wet. If so, don’t water. Let it get dry to the touch. For houseplants (not just succulents) you are much more likely to kill them with too much water rather than too little. I let my soil get to ‘crispy’ status before watering.

    Other than that, it’s a selection thing. Like the previous comment said, if you give it time you will find plants that agree with your lifestyle and thrive. For direct advice out in CA, try calling the people at,, or — all have some solid plant advice and better design chops than most garden centers.

    Good luck growing…!

  52. Meta Musings on 09/18/2011:

    haha, i am the same way, can’t keep anything green alive in my house…except basil for maybe a few days 😉

  53. brandeye on 09/20/2011:

    i feel your pain, i also kill pretty much every plant that enters my home. and both my grandma and mom have green thumbs, so what’s wrong with me?

  54. julia wheeler on 09/22/2011:

    do your pots have drainage holes in them? if not, you need to have your boo drill a tiny hole in the bottom (i know it’s scary doing that to your rad vintage pots but you gotta.) the pot might be holding in too much moisture at the bottom… even if you aren’t watering them that often. also, i almost killed my fiddle leaf figs but the girl at the nursery helped me save them… they need really good indirect sunlight (like 6 hours a day) and they like to be watered EVERY DAY. pain in the ass.

  55. cvjn on 10/03/2011:

    Don’t know if you will read this so long after the post, but i don’t have a brown thumb and my fiddle leaf fig died a big, ugly, leaf dropping death. Fortunately, I bought it at Home Depot, so when after 80 days or so it was completely bald. I TOOK IT BACK.

  56. Cerafima on 10/10/2012:

    What’s is the name of that plant by the sliding door? It kinda looks like Aloe Vera.

  57. greentreeroom on 05/19/2013:

    I am professional plant fluffer. Love my job.

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