Get Your Hands Dirty: Meet Vanessa Nghiem, the Woman Who Lives With Over 150 Plants in Her Sunny Toronto Space

CREDIT: BAHNAESA
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If owning a dozen houseplants is one too many, then you’d be surprised with Instagram’s budding plantfluencer Vanessa Nghiem, aka @bahnaesa, with her 150 plus (and counting) houseplants! In our new Get Your Hands Dirty series, Vanessa shares her indoor garden paradise and how she found comfort, joy, and self-care through her plants.

In case you are wondering how many plants would it take to produce enough oxygen for one person to breathe, then the answer is 700 houseplants. That’s only the bare minimum, let’s say, for a heroic astronaut trapped on a broken ship in outer space to breathe and survive for about three days before carbon dioxide takes that person out. However, back on Earth, specifically in Vanessa Nghiem’s home in Toronto, also known as Bahnaesa on Instagram, believes you only need one to bring in the benefits of nature indoors. She has 150 plus (and counting) houseplants in her home, but like most plant journeys of reconnecting with Mother Earth and self-discovery, her plant collection started with one: a pot of Monstera.

In 2016, Vanessa bought her first Monstera. After a couple of years, more than 150 houseplants call her place home, and you can clearly see why. The light in Vanessa Nghiem’s home is striking and provides a perfect location for her growing indoor jungle. Inspired by her mom (the original green goddess in her life), Vanessa grew up with plants around their home. You’d be surprised because some of her mom’s plants are over 30 years old! And, though some might call her a “plant simp” (including herself) or someone with a green thumb, Vanessa simply considers herself a strong believer and lover of plants purely because plants can make you a better person and teach you the importance of self-care.

Ahead, Vanessa Nghiem shares more about her plant journey, her plant collection, plant tips for beginners, embracing the great indoors in a healthy way, and caring for plants as self-care.

Vanessa-Nghiem
CREDIT: BAHNAESA
Vanessa-Nghiem
CREDIT: BAHNAESA

OMYSA: We have read your House Plant Tour back in 2019. How did your plant journey start? What or who influenced you to start a plant collection?

VANESSA NGHIEM: Growing up, my mom always had plants around the house—some of the plants we have are over 30 years old! I bought a few succulents during my university years, but it was only after I purchased my Monstera in 2016 that my collection really took off. Creating an Instagram account for my plants didn’t help either, as it exposed me to all these plants I never knew existed but suddenly wanted!

In the beginning, I appreciated the aesthetics of the plants, but these days, it’s a combination of appreciating the aesthetics of the plant and learning more about their “story.” Information about where they come from geographically and how they look in their natural environment, their optimal care conditions, how they were created if they are hybrids, etc., have really added a new level of interest and appreciation.

Vanessa-Nghiem
CREDIT: BAHNAESA

O: It looks like you have a LOT of plants that every inch of your place has greenery. How many plants do you have right now? How do you care for all of them? Do you have a plant care routine?

VN: I’ve lost count, but I’d say there are around 150 plants here! It sometimes gets overwhelming caring for them all, especially when there’s a dreaded pest outbreak. Unfortunately, I love them all and don’t think I could get rid of any!

I don’t have a set plant care routine since their needs can change depending on factors, such as light, temperature, and size of the pot. Everyone gets super thirsty in the summer! I walk around at least once a week (sometimes daily) to quickly check in on everyone and see how they’re doing—does the soil look dry? Do the leaves look/feel limp? Does the pot feel light? How much longer can I go without watering them? (Hey, life gets busy sometimes!) In the summer, I fertilize weakly on a weekly basis, and this supports their growth and allows them to get big.

Pests are no fun, and I’ve dealt with scale, mealybugs, thrips, aphids—even weevils indoors. Weevils were a surprise, and for the longest time, I wasn’t sure who was cutting up my leaves. With most pests, I isolate the affected plants and spray them down with a mixture of castile soap and water. For heavy pest problems, I use a systemic insecticide, or just leave the plant outside for nature to take its course.

Vanessa-Nghiem
CREDIT: BAHNAESA
Vanessa-Nghiem
CREDIT: BAHNAESA

O: Your photos are such a vibe. You made it look really cozy to stay indoors. With the ongoing pandemic, what are your tips for embracing the great indoors in a healthy way?

VN: Interest in houseplants has definitely skyrocketed over the pandemic, and with good reason! Not only do they add freshness to a space, but there’s also something very rewarding about caring for something and seeing it flourish. Gardening might not yield instant results but reminds us that good things take time.

In the busyness of life, I think we often forget to slow down and appreciate how fortunate we are to have what we have, including a safe indoor space. Being at home more often means more opportunities to rest, reflect, and maybe even cultivate a new space or discover a new hobby! Like many, I’ve embraced the great indoors over the pandemic and picked up new hobbies, such as outdoor gardening and baking.

If you’re struggling to figure out what to do indoors, you’re overthinking it! Now’s the perfect time to do all those things you put off due to life getting in the way—reading that book on your shelf that’s been left unread for 10 years, trying Claire Saffitz’s brown butter chocolate chip cookie recipe you saved, sprucing up your space with some new finds or rearranging furniture, learning a new language, taking an online course on Indigenous history—the options and inspiration are endless!

In the busyness of life, I think we often forget to slow down and appreciate how fortunate we are to have what we have, including a safe indoor space. Being at home more often means more opportunities to rest, reflect, and maybe even cultivate a new space or discover a new hobby!

Vanessa-Nghiem
CREDIT: BAHNAESA

O: How do you share the joy your plants give you? Do your plants play a role in your self-care routine?

VN: Like most plant parents, I know the joy of getting a wishlist plant! Even better if it was from a trade! I enjoy trading plants with others, and it’s a great way to share plant joy, form relationships in the community, and make a plant more meaningful.

While caring for plants can be stressful sometimes (especially when spider mites suddenly appear out of nowhere), it allows me to slow down and focus on one task at a time. At other times, they allow me to clear my mind and think about processes or solutions to ongoing life-related problems. After a good plant care session, I know my life is probably going to be okay!

It allows me to slow down and focus on one task at a time. At other times, they allow me to clear my mind and think about processes or solutions to ongoing life-related problems. After a good plant care session, I know my life is probably going to be okay!

UP NEXT: Get Your Hands Dirty: Mod and Mint on Her Houseplant Journey, Teaching Her Son to Care About the Environment & Her Favorite Ways to Display Plants

Check out our Plant Care blog to learn more about different houseplants and tips on how to keep your plants alive and healthy.

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