Plant People 01 / Olena Shmahalo


It always fascinates us what plants mean to their owners and how plant enthusiasts live with plants. We recently travelled to New York City and caught up with Olena Shmahalo of @theoperatingsystem. She shares her plant life with us for our very first 'Plant People' profile.

What made you get into plants?

I've always loved plants in general. Especially ivy walls, overgrown buildings, post-apocalyptic landscapes and ruins where nature takes over, as well as blends of nature and technology in sci-fi and fantasy (e.g. the bioship in Hyperion or the Juraian tree ships in the anime Tenchi Muyo). I would often incorporate botanical imagery or natural materials into my artwork and have long wanted to live in an "indoor jungle".

But it wasn't until the past couple of years that I really started my own collection. About a year and a half ago, some big changes occurred in my life and prompted me to go ahead with making our home into a garden — New York city moving logistics be damned!

Make no mistake; I wasn't always good at plant care. In my first year of college I bought one of those little grafted cacti from Home Depot... It fell off the window sill twice and died. So, there's hope for everybody.

What do plants mean to you?

Plants as a concept? They're fascinating: odd mix of resilience and fragility. They can grow through cracks in cement, force their way into walls and buildings, survive centuries of harsh life in the wild... You can even ship a plant across continents as just a stick with no leaves; once given a medium and some basic care it'll wake up and grow like nothing happened. But then, you'll water it a day too soon and it just goes "Nah, I quit this life" like the world's biggest diva. Seriously?

I also love the whole post-apocalyptic overgrowth thing as a visual and idea because it reminds me of nature's benevolent apathy and infinitude. Nature, plants and all, will be doing just fine in one form or another, even if we screw up the conditions for ourselves.

How has your life benefited from gardening?

Plants heal in many ways — not only as sources of nutrition, ingredients in medicines, or as living air purifiers, but psychologically as well. 

Having houseplants is great if you suffer from SAD (or other depressive/anxiety disorders, although I'm not suggesting they're a substitute for proper treatment). It's comforting to come home to a literal green house full of beautiful living things that are always doing something interesting. And, because I'm "forced" to care for them at least once a week, they get me to slow down, get up and walk around, admire, smell, touch. 

It's helpful to break your loop and peel yourself away from all of the important pants-wearing earth stuff sometimes. Plants certainly help with that.

Huh... It sounds religious doesn't it? Are we all part of a cult?

Jason Chongue