Jessie Raymond: Welcome to the jungle, er, bedroom

This past weekend, I did something courageous: I stood up to the schefflera in our bedroom.
If a schefflera were some kind of mythical, multiheaded beast, you’d probably be impressed (although you might wonder how it got into our bedroom). In truth, a schefflera, also known as an umbrella tree, is just a houseplant. Still, I showed great courage.
That thing had been intimidating me for years.
The schefflera is just one of many houseplants that live in our bedroom, the only room with both enough light and sufficient space for plants to thrive. The rest of our house may be a barren wasteland, but entering our bedroom is like being dropped by helicopter into Borneo.
Most of these plants have been around since I was in college. Over the years, they’ve continued to grow to the point that a few of them, the schefflera in particular, have come to make the bedroom nearly impenetrable.
It’s partly my fault. I have a hard time asserting myself when it comes to plants, both indoors and out. Instead of deciding where and how big they are going to grow, I let them make the rules.
In our bedroom we have, among many other offenders, a four-foot-wide Christmas cactus that doesn’t want us opening the closet door and a shrub-size jade plant that we have to climb over to get to the dresser. But it was the schefflera that had become the main problem; I once got lost in it on the way to the hamper and had to radio Mark for help.
The schefflera, loving the bank of south-facing windows in our room, grew two long main stems, one going five feet to the left, the other eight feet to the right, each supporting myriad smaller branches jutting out in all directions.
Whenever I used the treadmill, which was hidden behind the plant’s lush foliage, I couldn’t get over the sinister feeling that I wasn’t just walking, I was fleeing a hungry tiger through dense tropical undergrowth.
I can’t imagine it was good for my form — or my nerves — to be constantly looking over my shoulder and carrying a weapon while power walking. But it did help me maintain an impressive pace.
Mark’s method of dealing with the schefflera had been to say, while crawling through branches to get to the bathroom, “When are you going to get rid of this stupid thing?” (He’s not a plant lover.) My method was to ignore it and hope either it would stop growing or we’d move and leave it behind.
Since neither of those had happened, and we were at risk of going to bed one fateful night and never finding our way back to civilization, last weekend I decided I had to do something with the schefflera: get rid of it, get a bigger pot, or cut it back.
I couldn’t get rid of it. I’ve only given away one plant in my lifetime, and I just know that somewhere, in someone’s living room, there is a sprawling, baby-sprouting spider plant that is still wondering what it did to disappoint me.
A bigger pot was not an option. I’ve had this plant for almost 30 years, since it was small enough to sit on a table. Whenever I’d notice it becoming frustrated or sad, I’d transplant it into a bigger container. A few months ago, I repotted it, in situ, in the largest commercially available pot I could find. The plant took advantage of my goodwill by doubling in size in a week. I wouldn’t fall for that again.
Cutting it back was my only choice. Though I’d never pruned a houseplant, that’s exactly what I did — and with all the brutality of a hero slaying a mythical beast (though I apologized as I went, of course).
The schefflera is, for now, a manageable size. For the first time in months, we can find the bed without a GPS.
But, because I am a softie, I kept some cuttings. I now have five three-foot schefflera shoots that will be rooting in a vase in the kitchen for months while I decide what to do with them.
I don’t have the heart to throw them out, and I’d feel guilty giving them away. But I know I don’t want to plant them.
There’s no way I’m going to risk turning the bedroom back into a jungle. This week is the first time in ages I’ve felt safe power walking on the treadmill without a machete clenched between my teeth.

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