The Chinese New Year is not just the time to feast on tikoy rice cakes to sweeten our fortunes; it is also the time to muster the forces of feng shui to ring in the good and banish the bad. Here’s one way to do it: go green to get the gold with lucky plants and learn the best places to have them.
We quizzed two “Plant Dads” who are a step up and far more obsessive than the common garden-variety “Plant Tito.” First is Uno Albaniel of Greenhubph who is holed up south of Manila tending to his leafy wards.
Next is landscape architect Joshua Cunanan who shares what he calls “easy tips and fun facts on home-friendly plants which could not only boost your luck, but also up the doses of health, wealth and positive vibes.” Both will get you ready to brush up on your botany and you will be speaking scientific genus names like a pro at your local horticulture shop soon.
The green wall
One of the Seven Wonders of the World in ancient times was the Hanging Gardens of Babylon. And don’t think it’s a concept too ambitious for your own backyard or your condominium’s pocket garden.
“A vertical solution for small or narrow areas,” says Cunanan, “is the green wall. I call it living art. It’s creative and functional — I find the prospect of having both rewarding.”
Of course, he adds, there’s a little more science to it than meets the eye. You need to study the sun’s orientation to your garden so that you can choose the right plants. In other words, pay attention to where and what time the sun (or shade) hits your planned green wall.
For good measure this new year, he has created circle-shaped green walls made of flat bar frames with squares of 2 x 2 inches, although square walls are also soothingly symmetrical. He has selected a mix of sword ferns (Nephrolepsis exaltata), gold philodendrons (Philodendron erubescens), Philodendron Burle Marx (with heart-shaped and narrow leaves) and the green-and-white Syngonium.
Philodendrons, according to Josh, are mysterious plants since they can thrive in full sunlight but also adapt to “deep shade.” “They give off a relaxing feng shui energy and are best placed in the southeast or east areas of the house that govern wealth and physical health, respectively,” he says.
You can also literally hang plants, particularly the Boston fern which Cunanan calls an “amazing air purifier, thus creating positivity in any room.” He says these are equally at home on a wrap-around porch or in the living room.
Lucky leaf shapes
Round leaves that mimic the shape of coins are thought to be the luckiest for plants. Oh, wait, why not go out and just buy the gorgeous Coin plant (Pilea peperomioides) itself? This exotic plant originated from the foot of the Himalayas and can live without watering for about two weeks, says Cunanan. (Sounds perfect for the occasional gardener.)
Round leaves that mimic the shape of coins are thought to be the luckiest for plants.
There is also the Copper Coin plant (Hydrocotyle vulgaris), also believed to attract luck, as well as the more familiar Jade plant (Crassula ovata). Since it symbolizes growth and renewal, this baby is usually a traditional housewarming gift for new offices or businesses. (Pro tip from Joshua: Although commonly called the “Money tree,” the Crassula ovata shouldn’t be confused with the true “Money plant” (Pachira aquatica.)
Rise like the bamboo
Cunanan also recommends the “Lucky” Bamboo (Dracaena sanderiana). The bamboo is a powerful symbol in Asian culture and is therefore a lightning rod for good fortune. Arrange bamboo stalks in tall vases, attracting the right fortune by having the right number of stalks, Cunanan says. His prescription: three for happiness, longevity and wealth; five for wealth; six for good luck; seven for health; eight for growth; 10 for completion; and 21 to bring blessings of enduring health and wealth. (Pro tip from Joshua: Stay away from four as it carries a bad reputation.)
Voila! The top 5 lucky plants for 2021
Uno of Greenhubph reels off this list of his picks of the Top Five Must-Have Lucky Plants for 2021.
Peace Lily (Spathiphyllum “Mauna Loa”). Uno swears that this not only wipes out any negative energy in the room but also removes toxic chemicals in the air. (He says the NASA Clean Air Study lists it as one of the approved indoor plants to clean up the carbon dioxide in an orbiting space station. So if it’s good enough for an astronaut and Elon Musk, it’s good enough for him.) To up the ante, Uno also suggests getting the variegated lily “for a more striking foliage” that will make fellow plant collectors turn green with envy.
Rubber Tree (Ficus elastica). Because its leaves are money-shaped, it symbolizes “an abundance of wealth,” says Uno.
Pachira Aquatica (aka the authentic Money Tree). Uno calls this “everyone’s favorite lucky plant — and is found in almost every household in the Philippines.” For extra punch, you can also tie red ribbons and/or hang red envelopes on the plant to attract the cash flow. Uno adds that there are also money trees that have a striking speckled white and green leaves, the better to mimic greenbacks.
Silvery Ann Pothos (Scindapsus pictus hybrid). Uno subscribes not just to feng shui lore but also to the church of Pantone. He says that “Ultimate Gray” is the color of the year for 2021. He therefore recommends this trailing plant from Holland. What’s not to like? Uno waxes poetic: “It just stuns with its metallic silvery-gray variegation and can be easily maintained indoors — not to mention, it adds a positive feel to the area.” He quotes Pantone executive director Leatrice Eiseman: “Ultimate Gray is emblematic of solid and dependable elements which are everlasting and provide a firm foundation.”
Any plant with yellow foliage. When in doubt, says Uno, plant the gold. “Yellow is easily the expression of the sun’s vital energy which, as we all know, brings life to all life forms on earth. In feng shui, this color, when added to your home, is strongly associated with happiness and warmth. Go for these common ornamental plants with yellow foliage such as the Philodendron Lemon Lime, the Golden Legume Tree (Cassia fistula) and the Golden Duranta.”
Finally, Uno says, there’s this Pro Tip: If you’re planning on collecting rare plants this year, keep an eye on these yellow variegated plants: Monstera Aurea and Thai Constellation, Philodendron Florida Beauty (variegata), Philodendron Billietiae (variegata) and the Tupidanthus calyptratus tree (variegata).
For the black thumb
Of course, if all else fails and the garden gods do not heed your prayers, Joshua says, opt for the mischievously named Devil’s Ivy or Golden Pothos (Epipremnum aureum), which he claims “makes dead space come alive.” (Pro Tip: It’s sometimes mistakenly labeled as a Philodendron in plant stores.)
He says you can arrange this vine on top of kitchen cupboards or corners that are not usually used and are just plain neglected. These are “very low maintenance and bring positive energy.” He grins while noting, “These are called the Devil’s Ivy because they are almost impossible to kill and stay green even when kept in the dark.”
Now, if that isn’t a formula to make for a better, greener 2021, I don’t know what is.