Music to My Elephant Ears

Every Sunday, Jos Pimentel-Cardoso, a 22-year-old student at Bard Microcollege in Brooklyn, checks on her dozens of houseplants and play...


Every Sunday, Jos Pimentel-Cardoso, a 22-year-old student at Bard Microcollege in Brooklyn, checks on her dozens of houseplants and plays music for them. She often plays Mort Garson’s 1976 album “Mother Earth’s Plantasia.”

And she has plenty of company. The self-released album — featuring 10 wordless tracks created on a Moog synthesizer to play for your plants — saw a sharp resurgence in 2019 when it was rereleased by Sacred Bones Records, peaking on the Billboard charts for the first time in more than 40 years after its debut, and getting boosted even further by write-ups in Pitchfork, NPR and The Guardian.

When Mr. Garson created his album of “warm earth music for plants and the people that love them,” it wasn’t nearly as popular as it is today. Mr. Garson, an experimental and expansive musician, even sold his Moog in the late ‘70s, moving into composing musicals and operettas before his death in 2008.

But now “Plantasia” can autoplay following countless other ambient electronic music streams. This allows it to reach new, younger audiences, since streaming services like Spotify and YouTube use recommendation algorithms based on users’ prior viewing or listening habits — and can integrate songs from “Plantasia” into playlists like “Music for Plants,” which has more than 66,000 likes.

Since the pandemic began, people have been stuck at home more than ever, and plant sales have soared.

Though the idea that music might help plants grow has been heavily criticized, proponents of the practice don’t seem to mind. “It felt nice to be doing something for my plants, kind of as an extension of self-care,” said Ms. Pimentel-Cardoso.

“‘Plantasia’ is one of those albums — a number of which have been reissued in the past couple of years — that became popular via YouTube algorithms,” said Richard Aufrichtig, a 31-year-old musician who purchased his original vinyl record of “Plantasia” several years ago for $250.

“Now people are selling it for like, $700,” he said. “This is entering the echelon of Nick Drake, or a rare Beatles pressing.”

And even for the plantless, the album is an easy listen.

“There’s also this kind of nostalgia you feel when you listen to it, where it seems to take you back to this simpler time — the dawn of synthesis,” said Nate Sloan, an assistant professor at the University of South Carolina’s Thornton School of Music and co-host of the podcast Switched on Pop.

The comfort of “Plantasia” goes beyond its soothing synths. “It reminds me of the way some people name their plants or treat them in a humanly way,” said Ayo Ifaturoti, 25, a showrunner in Los Angeles.

Ms. Ifaturoti also became more interested in plants during the pandemic. Recently she started her own “plantstagram” to document new growth, post tips and share plant musings. As she inspects her plants each week for issues, she said it’s a reminder to check herself, in many ways, and pay closer attention to what she needs to thrive.

Sometimes it even feels symbolic, she said. After watching her pothos cuttings sit dormant for several months, she removed them to check what was wrong, only to find their root systems had fully developed.

“I thought it was just so profound and relevant to the times we’re in,” Ms. Ifaturoti said. “It made me realize that so much growth happens underneath the soil. So much growth is fragile, and maybe not visible to the eye, but definitely happening.”

Hilton Carter, 41, a plant and interior stylist in Baltimore, also said his plants have grounded him — no pun intended — throughout the last year.

“There are those true, real benefits of having plants that go beyond just aesthetics,” Mr. Carter said. “Plant care is self-care. You find yourself attached to this living thing and the care for nurturing something.”

Mr. Carter, who has more than 200 plants in his home, said that his collection has helped him feel connected with the outdoors throughout quarantine. As he tends to his plants, he likes to “keep the vibes light,” playing upbeat and soothing music out loud, while keeping “the more negative, bad-word music” to his AirPods.

“It’s the small things that matter,” Mr. Carter said. “It’s the attention to detail; it’s the patience; it’s the tenderness; it’s having an eye on the small nuances and changes that are happening.”

Adrienne Adar, 39, an artist in Los Angeles, was listening to her plants far before quarantine began. In 2019, one of her interactive exhibitions was “Sonic Succulents: Plant Sounds and Vibrations” at the Brooklyn Botanic Garden, where people could pluck cactuses and listen to how they sounded.

As Ms. Adar began quarantining last spring, she paid more attention. “It was like every few days I would notice some growth or I would notice that the plants needed water,” she said. Like the composer before her, she was beginning to understand “time through plant growth.”

And though many of Ms. Pimentel-Cardoso’s more than 60 plants died during the early months of the pandemic, she’s now ready for the season of renewal and reprise, and is propagating and tending to them again.

“I’ve never been one to actually sit down and meditate or do yoga,” Ms. Pimentel-Cardoso said. “But I can care for things, and I can do things that have some sort of gratification for me.”

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