Common symptoms of Plant Fever include an uncontrollable urge to plant and an intense passion to art. Side effects include soaked paint wells, empty markers, and excessively pigment-drenched paper. Numbers of those afflicted continue to grow. In the calculatedly humid hospice of the Allen Gardens in downtown Toronto, I interviewed several of the afflicted from the BMC alumni community: Beatrice (Lau) Armstrong (1T1), Joyce Hui (1T1), Julie Man (1T1), and Minyan Wang (1T2). How did they contract Plant Fever? How do they cope on a day to day basis? What quality of life can one expect if stricken by this severe condition?
Here’s what they had to say.
Minyan Wang (Top)
Cover for Plant Fever Vol I, 2016
The cover art from Plant Fever's first ever zine.
How did the group form? What was your first gig together?
“We each individually already kinda had plant fever,” Minyan said, gently folding back the thick foliage as she led us through the lush garden paths.
Autumn hike, 2017
Watercolour and Col-erase
Two people taking a hike.
“The group first formed in 2015 after an impromptu Canadian Tire run where Julie and Minyan spontaneously bought over ten types of seeds. Bea grew a bunch of gigantic basils. You can read about this in the first Plant Fever Zine! We dubbed this love and excitement for plants, ‘Plant Fever.’ We have a chat group dedicated to talking about plants, and we added more BMCers, including Jerry Won, Joyce Hui, and Melissa Cory, and non-BMCs as it grew. We then made an Instagram, @plantfever, and a website, plantfever.club. The first event we ran was a terrarium-making workshop.”
Rain drummed against the glass dome of the gardens.
Beatrice (Lau) Armstrong
Fiddle leaf figure study, 2016
Fiddle leaf figs are indisputably beautiful, but can be deceptive and fickle. Their leaves are large, lustrous and, leathery, but can brown and fall at the slightest sign of environmental change.
What have you guys done so far in terms of events, cons, etc?
“We share our plant journeys on our Instagram account regularly,” Minyan explained to me. Beds of white and purple flowers lined our path.
“We’ve also become unofficial plant consultants and plant advocates, helping our friends and coworkers with their plant-challenges and encouraging people to buy plants. We are serious enablers.
"We make zines together, sharing our plant stories in the form of comics. Our first Plant Fever Zine came out in 2017, and the zine has been touring with the comic collective, Love Love Hill, at various cons. We'll see what conventions we decide to bring them to next. Volume 2 of the Plant Fever Zine will be debuting at the Toronto Comic Arts Festival 2018!”
A tree was overgrown with vines.
“We also go on outings together – from botanical garden visits to flower and cactus shows.”
Graphite and Photoshop
A page from HIDEOUT, a comic about delinquents and their animal friends.
Did the planting of plants start first? Or did the painting of plants start first?
“For me the planting of plants definitely started first,” Minyan explained. “My relatives have always been into plants, so I remember planting plants since I was very little. The painting of plants started more recently through making comics about my plant adventures and various painting group events such as the Plein Air painting event hosted by BMCAA.”
“I have always enjoyed drawing organic/nature things over inorganic things,” Julie chimed in. The soft bubbling sound of water came from the stream underneath the bridge we were passing. “The plant fever REALLY started for me when I grew my own plants from seed. I think Minyan has an origin story about it in Plant Fever Vol 1, but there was a day where we bought way too many varieties of seeds and then potted all the different varieties. We ended up with a lot of plants. The next year we had a seed planting party. If you have trouble culling/cutting your edible plants, that is also a sign of the fever. The fever increased when I bought a grow light, and when you start worrying about your plants when you go on away-from-home vacations.”
Turtles swam in the pond nearby.
Beatrice (Lau) Armstrong
The choice of plants and how high they are placed are heavily influenced by Beatrice’s curious Leon. Inevitably, her plant stories will always somehow feature him, especially if it involves anything edible and pet-safe.
“For me, it all started when I managed to grow a dozen basil plants from seed and keep them alive for an entire summer,” Bea continued as we crossed a small wooden bridge. “The next year, I reached a point of no return when I purchased a raised planter ($$$) to supplement my groceries with homegrown herbs and vegetables. I’ve also enjoyed the challenge of ‘rescuing’ neglected IKEA plants from the brink of death. To date I’ve not drawn too many plants, but love photographing foliage and watching how the light interacts with different patterns, textures, and types of leaves.”
We had come to a room with violently violet flowers. My phone’s camera could not capture its vibrancy.
As for Joyce, she explained, “It all started with a novelty basil planter I received a few years ago. Growing a plant from a seed is so exciting and strangely addictive! After a stressful spring filled with too many seedlings and pests, I’ve scaled back and have been focusing more on drawings plants instead.”
There were no insects to be seen.
Untitled (Tillandsia), 2017
Watercolour and ink
“I love that air plants have so much personality!” - Joyce Hui
Do you guys have plant nicknames?
“We don’t really have plant nicknames for each other, but we have unofficial plant ‘specialties,’” Minyan enthused. “For example, Joyce is our air plant expert, Bea is our succulent expert, Julie is our houseplant generalist, and I’m our pepper plant expert.”
As for nicknaming plants, Bea said, “I haven’t nicknamed any of my plants, but sometimes I call them by their latin names.”
“It’s a bit dangerous to name your plants,” Joyce added. “It’s more devastating when they die...”
What’s your plant-losophy in life?
“We don’t really have an official group philosophy,” said Minyan. We were surrounded by succulents. “We're pretty open about who can take part, as long as you like plants and can handle the intensity of our plant conversations.
Spanish Moss, 2017
“Generally we all love the process of taking care of our plants and seeing them grow! We tend to prefer buying baby plants instead of fully grown plants because it’s the journey of growth that’s most satisfying.”
Some of the succulents in the room were very large.
“We encourage each other to continue to learn about different plants, growing methods, and trying out new things in general. There’s no ‘best way’ for gardening. Experimenting to find the most suitable method for each person and each space is an exciting experience as well.”
The succulents were in a room that was not humid.
“Of course, we also try to ‘spread the fever’ by getting others into growing plants.”
Diego Accorsi, Joyce Hui, Julie Man, Beatrice (Lau) Armstrong
An impromptu watercolour session by Plant Fever and friends.
What is your individual and/or collective dream plant that you don't yet have?
“I’d like to have a pepper field with many many exotic peppers that would stay alive and produce peppers all year every year forever and ever,” said Minyan.
Pepper Plant, 2017
A digital painting of Minyan's favorite plant/food and the album art for Plant Fever’s mini music album over at plantfever.club.
“I kind of want a gigantic elephant ear plant, but I have no idea how they'd survive indoors! I also like nasturtiums, which are easy to get/grow, but I haven't planted my own yet,” said Julie.
“I have many, but my ultimate dream plant is the Moosehorn fern, Platycerium superbum,” said Bea. “I’ve tried growing one from spores, but you really need to have a well-controlled environment so you don’t just end up with a tray of mushrooms.”
“I would love to have a bonsai collection one day, but don’t think I’m quite ready for that level of commitment,” said Joyce.
Untitled (Bonsai), 2017
Capturing the essence of the beautiful bonsai at the spring Toronto Bonsai Society show.
Have any of you considered botanical illustration as a profession?
“I haven’t,” said Minyan. “I love plants but I feel like I actually know very little about them from a scientific point of view. For me it’ll likely always be a personal hobby on the side.”
“Not me,” Julie confessed. “I am actually pretty bad at plant anatomy since I never took any botany courses in university! I think I like to incorporate plants/nature into broader scenes.”
“I may have day-dreamed about it at one point during BMC,” Bea lamented. “I wouldn’t really qualify it as ‘considered.’”
“I have,” Joyce offered. “I find the intricate and delicate structures of plants so very challenging to draw though–more than medical illustration somehow. I think I’d prefer to keep it a hobby for now.”
Cover for Plant Fever Vol 2, 2017
The cover art for the group’s upcoming Plant Fever Zine 2 debuting at TCAF 2018!
What is in store for the future of Plant Fever?
“In the short term, we're going to make Plant Fever Vol 2!” exclaimed Minyan.
There was a definite palpable feeling of excitement in the air.
“My section will include an interview with my MOM who also has her own brand of plant fever, so stay tuned,” Julie interjected.
Or was it something else I was feeling?
“In the long term, we’re kind of just chilling and let things unfold naturally,” Minyan continued. “We joke about opening a plant and ceramics store when we retire. It would be cool to expand our online presence, to expand the types of comics we produce, like creating a ‘getting started’ comic for those who want to get into plants, and to meet more plant lovers.”
The feeling was one of contagion creeping over me like vines–thorns tipped with feverish adrenaline.
From left to right: Minyan Wang (1T2), Beatrice (Lau) Armstrong (1T1), Joyce Hui (1T1), Julie Man (1T1). Photo by Geoffrey Cheung.
Geoffrey Cheung, MScBMC 1T0
BMCAA Newsletter Editor