Lurk on stan Twitter for long enough and chances are that you’ve seen people throw around the phrase “go touch grass”. While it’s mainly used as an insult, getting in touch with nature does improve one’s mental health and happiness.
Compound that with the increasing popularity of the “Jungalow” trend and you’ll understand why we immediately fell in love with the indoor jungle curated by Aunty July, who goes by @myplantsaremymodels on Instagram.
A jungle nestled within a 5-room HDB flat
Housed in a 5-room HDB flat in Bukit Panjang, Aunty July’s indoor jungle first materialised in 2019. To date, she has collected approximately 200 plants in total – she tells us, with a laugh, that her husband has gently chided her for it. But looking at the genuine joy she radiates while she introduces her plants to us, it’s clear that her passion won’t fade that easily.
While chatting with her, Aunty July tells us that the plants help with her mental health and break up the monotony of everyday life as a stay-at-home mum. While going about her day, she likes to talk to her plants and even play music for them. According to the avid gardener, this helps her plants grow and bloom.
But it hasn’t always been smooth sailing. “You must kill a few plants to learn from your mistakes,” she says.
Just last year, there was an ant infestation that affected all of her plants while she and her family went on vacation. Eventually, she sought help from a local nursery to find out how to exterminate pests without killing her plants. The solution? Repotting all her plants with fresh soil and using a plant-safe powdered insecticide.
Ant infestation aside, Aunty July is actually an impressive indoor gardener – her oldest plant is more than 19 years old, which is older than her first daughter. She tells us that the trick to growing healthy plants is to have lots of grow lights. Purple lights are best used for herbs, while natural white lights suit regular house plants.
How she grew her indoor jungle
Rome wasn’t built in a day, and neither was Aunty July’s indoor jungle.
The bulk of the 200 plants under her care were slowly collected over the course of 4 years, and not all of them were bought. In fact, many of them were grown from cuttings from existing plants. Besides that, she also gets some of her plants through events held by Planters Market, where you can find a myriad of plant vendors all gathered in one place.
According to her estimates, she’s spent a few thousand on plants over the years, which sounds a little intimidating at first. But she’s quick to add that she sells plants and plant cuttings, which helps her recoup some of her expenses.
Another way of saving is to use energy-efficient LED grow lights that come equipped with timers, which helps limit the amount of electricity used per month.
Timeless interior design that looks new even after 23 years
Look past her indoor jungle and you’ll notice that Aunty July’s apartment sports a timeless look. Colour us surprised when she revealed that her home was renovated a whopping 22 years ago. Completed in 2001, the renovations were handled by a contractor who was friends with Aunty July’s husband, as well as the Singaporean carpentry company MuDian.
“I drew my inspiration from home decor magazines and what I saw in hotels,” says Aunty July. “I would describe the style as ‘modern classic and timeless’, and I chose this style for easy maintenance.”
As part of the renovation process, she tore out pages from home decor magazines to use as references for her contractor. Unfortunately, the collaboration wasn’t as smooth as she’d hoped, with the contractor pushing back against her wishes as he did not understand her creative vision.
“During renovations, I had to keep on telling the main contractor to change the materials,” she says. Eventually, she had to compromise.
When asked if she had any renovation regrets, Aunty July told us that she wished she’d done all the flooring in her house differently. She had another piece of advice for us – “Do your homework and save a lot before you get the keys to your house. Do not blindly follow trends, and remember to spend within your budget.”
On the bright side, the carpentry work by MuDian has held up beautifully over the years. The kitchen cabinets, cafe-style counter, and wooden sliding door leading to the bomb shelter looked pristine, as if they’d only been installed recently.
Sourcing secondhand furniture & modifying IKEA items
Unusually, Aunty July recommends not styling your new home until you’ve settled in for a few months.
“Renovation is more important than styling. Buy basic furniture first and live in your house for a few months to know how you use your space in your house. Only then do you style your house and buy non-essential furniture and decor items. The same goes for your kitchen appliances and tools – keep it simple first.”
But saving on furniture and keeping things simple doesn’t mean compromising on aesthetics. Over the years, Aunty July has amassed quite a collection of unique secondhand furniture and decor from shops such as Hock Siong. The coin-shaped sculpture, which sits proudly on her similarly thrifted Oriental-style TV chest, only cost her $50.
The Oriental theme wasn’t intentional; instead, she focuses on harmony, balance, and colour coordination when styling her house. The decor is further complemented by her own multimedia artworks.
If you look closely at her furniture, you’ll notice that many pieces are actually from IKEA, but modified to suit her needs. For example, the mini-greenhouse in her living room was made by taking the IKEA Milsbo glass cabinet, removing the shelves, and strategically adding grow lights.
Tips for aspiring indoor gardeners
“From my experience, begonias are the hardest to care for. Beginners can start with the money plant first,” advises Aunty July. Ironically, she started out with succulents instead. Her first-ever plant – the 19-year-old cactus – has a place of honour on her kitchen windowsill, where it lives its best life while soaking in the sunlight.
There’s actually no need to water your plants every day. Every few days, she moves the potted plants to the toilet, where she drenches the soil with water until it’s saturated. After the excess water has drained from the pots, she returns the plants to their original spots. This process is repeated when the soil becomes dry to the touch.
For the best plant-growing tips and tricks, Aunty July recommends joining plant communities on Facebook, following Instagram accounts dedicated to indoor gardening, and watching lots of YouTube tutorials. In fact, the latter is where she learnt all about grow lights and how different plants require different light spectrums.
Although she didn’t name specific pages to follow, we found a few promising ones. The Facebook group Home Gardening Singapore has 115.7K followers and commenters are generally enthusiastic about dishing praise and exchanging advice. The Plant Community and Plant Community Singapore have 22.4K and 9.1K members respectively.
Now, if you’ll excuse us, we’re going to touch some grass.
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