Why the young ones really love houseplants

I’ve spent years sitting in on long boardroom meetings of horticultural trade bodies as they desperately try to crack the conundrum of how to encourage the next generation into gardening. So the sudden flowering of interest in houseplants among current 20- and 30-somethings – with sales said to be up as much as 500% in recent years, and the hashtag #plantsofinstagram racking up millions of posts – is exciting to me.

What’s really fascinating, however, is that this is not the result of a glossy industry campaign, but a movement built from the ground up. So what’s driving this new phenomenon and, in understanding it, can we help not only secure the future of the horticultural industry I love, but gardeners of any age?

This is not the result of a glossy industry campaign, but a movement built from the ground up
If you believe the gardening media, the single greatest drivers of the boom is the lack of garden ownership among young people, which is forcing them to turn to the great indoors; and the allure of platforms such as Instagram for showing off fashionable jungly interiors. As the millennial owner of getting on for 500 houseplants, I can’t help but feel this is a terrible oversimplification and, in viewing the boom through the lens of conventional gardening, we overlook some of the deeper motivations.

For starters, the average age of homeownership has been rising for years. I’m knocking on 40 and ever since I was at university most of my friends had resigned themselves to the idea they would probably never own their own home. While not having a garden confines one’s horticultural ambitions to the living room, it doesn’t explain why these ambitions exist in the first place or why they have suddenly taken off.

Likewise, it’s clear from young people’s posts that there is more to this newfound fascination than chasing the latest interior fashion. Looking at the leading hashtags – #plantsmakepeoplehappy, #plantdaddy, and #plantparenthood – reveals that the motivation is largely the emotional reward from nurturing plants, rather than just showing them off.

In an increasingly virtual world, growing plants provides a rare chance to see something real. The more uncertain, even frightening, the world around us can seem, the more nurturing indoor gardens can fulfil the innate human need for control and provide a feeling of security.

Look at the leading lights in the movement and you find something else surprising, too. The top three accounts are all run by people of colour, from immigrant or working-class backgrounds and none with the indoor equivalent of a sprawling garden or a stately home.

What is so important about recognising these motivations is that it opens up gardening to all ages, showing that, for many, it’s about the joy of the process, not the big “reveal” of the end product. Gardening is, for many, more about therapy, nature and experimentation than the pursuit of status. In fact, ironically, it’s this that has prevented so many from experiencing its wonder. Thank goodness things are changing!