The gar­den in­side

House­plants fill both the home and the heart

The Prince George Citizen - - AT HOME - La­vanya RA­MANATHAN The Wash­ing­ton Post

On Sun­day morn­ings, Hil­ton Carter’s girl­friend makes her­self scarce from their one-bed­room apart­ment in an old Bal­ti­more mill. Carter, who is 6-5, bearded and the sort of man who wears a denim shirt and a ball cap with his peach shorts, be­gins a four-hour groom­ing rit­ual.

Not his own, of course. That would be in­sane.

The hours when oth­ers are sip­ping bot­tom­less mi­mosas, that’s when Carter, a 37-year-old artist, feeds and in­spects and prunes and oth­er­wise tends to the Great Dane of a fern cas­cad­ing down above his bed. It’s when he “bathes” the tiny air plants perched like trop­i­cal bugs on his geo­met­ric mir­ror. This is when he can fuss over the ver­dant mon­stera, trade­mark Swiss-cheese holes in its sprawl­ing leaves, that sways gen­tly in the breeze com­ing off the Jones Falls River just out­side the win­dow.

There are 180 plants here. This means every Sun­day, there are yel­lowed leaves to pluck away and toss. Bugs to keep an eye out for. The great ex­is­ten­tial mys­ter­ies of light and air and sun to con­sider.

“There’s a lot of ex­ple­tives fly­ing, all day,” Carter says of his week­end labour. “It’s just, ‘What is hap­pen­ing to you?! You were fine for the last year in this spot!’ It hurts.”

Green­ery has been a mo­tif among the achingly hip for at least three years, when blouses flecked with leaves and palm trees and mas­sive birds of par­adise first strut­ted down the run­ways at Marc Ja­cobs and Marni, and then floated all the way down to the Gap.

But sud­denly, the trop­i­calia is find­ing its way indoors. Even in drab gray con­crete jun­gles like Bal­ti­more and New York, young peo­ple are turn­ing their apart­ments into “house jun­gles.”

Oth­ers pre­fer the term “ur­ban rain for­est” or the cutesy “jun­ga­low.” In this as­pi­ra­tional land­scape, out­landishly and pho­to­graph­i­cally lush is ideal, and fill­ing your home with plants is “ur­ban wild­ing.”

In less en­light­ened times, we prob­a­bly would have just called it “dec­o­rat­ing.”

An­nie Dor­nan-Smith, a 22-yearold Lon­don-based graphic artist, guesses she may have as many as 50 plants in her flat. “They’re not par­tic­u­larly ex­pen­sive, and it’s an­other way to have some­thing to look af­ter,” she muses. This sum­mer, she pub­lished House Jun­gle, an il­lus­trated guide to se­lect­ing and rear­ing the ubiq­ui­tous ar­chi­tec­tural plants of this trend: the slen­der and spiky dra­caena and areca palms, the birds of par­adise, the lanky snake plants and ...

“Fid­dle-leaf fig,” of­fers an em­ployee of Lit­tle Leaf, a twee plant and pa­per shop that opened in the win­ter in Wash­ing­ton, D.C. She nods in the di­rec­tion of the hot seller, a sprawl­ing bush-like num­ber laden with floaty, al­most translu­cent waxy-green leaves roughly the size of din­ner plates.

The fid­dle-leaf fig has achieved what is known in the In­sta­gram uni­verse as holy-grail sta­tus. But as with Poké­mon, the plant-ob­sessed are col­lect­ing them all.

“They’re each your own lit­tle baby,” says Joseph Wanek, 31, who lives in a mid­cen­tury house in Iowa with his part­ner, Nick Sell­ers, and at least 45 plants. “At first Nick was not want­ing me to bring them home,” says the prop stylist. “He was say­ing I was a plant hoarder.”

Nick came around. “It be­came more and more of an ob­ses­sion,” the 28-year-old art di­rec­tor con­fesses.

The buy­ing habits of mil­len­ni­als, nat­u­rally, have a way of at­tract- ing at­ten­tion. Shops have be­come wise to the grow­ing num­ber of novice green thumbs. “This has caught on,” Carter says. “The nurs­eries have fig­ured this out, the hard­ware stores have fig­ured this out.”

Of course, some peo­ple have al­ways had a fi­cus around the house. But a fad­dish in­ter­est in house­plants in Amer­ica seems to peren­ni­ally blos­som and then die out.

“One of the first waves of house­plants was af­ter the Industrial Revo­lu­tion,” says To­vah Martin, au­thor of sev­eral books on the sub­ject, in­clud­ing The In­de­struc­tible House­plant and The Un­ex­pected House­plant.

Peo­ple were build­ing and then mov­ing into cities, she says, and they be­gan to want to es­tab­lish a sense of – for­give us – root­ed­ness.

Henry David Thoreau went the Walden route. The less am­bi­tious re­signed them­selves to grow­ing roses indoors. (Un­til they re­al­ized they couldn’t.)

Martin has a the­ory about the house­plant re­vival of 2017.

In the 1970s, there was Water­gate and war and tur­moil in the Mid­dle East, and house­wives hung ivies, pothos and devil’s back­bone from their macramé plant hang­ers. (“My grandma to­tally had all these plants,” Sell­ers says.)

“It’s very cycli­cal,” Martin says. “I think the cur­rent cy­cle has a lot to do with peo­ple hun­ker­ing down. A house­plant is ther­a­peu­tic. It gives you some­thing to nur­ture.”

There are other fac­tors, of course. As with al­most ev­ery­thing these days: In­sta­gram.

Go on, search the hash­tag #ur­ban­jun­gle. Or #mon­ster­a­mon­day. Or #plant­gang.

“It’s just nice,” says Dor­nanSmith, “when you take pic­tures of your house, and there is this big sculp­tural plant in the back­ground.”

Carter’s plant-filled ac­count has 33,000 ra­bid fol­low­ers (some of whom mes­sage him for plant tips, oth­ers ask­ing whether they can just come see his ur­ban jun­gle in per­son). A pop­u­lar blog called The Jun­ga­low also show­cases the plant-filled life.

Lit­tle Leaf opened late last year, in the model of Lon­don’s cool-kid plant bou­tique Geo-Fleur (as seen in Goop) and New York’s on­line (and now brick-and-mor­tar) The Sill, whose web­site pro­claims “in­door plants are LIT­ER­ALLY GOOD FOR YOU.”

“We opened in the dead of win­ter,” says Lit­tle Leaf owner Amanda McCle­ments, and even so, “we had a hard time keep­ing plants in stock.” When it was bar­ren and cold out­side, and green and lush in, “we had so many peo­ple say, “I just want to stand here.’”

But funny thing about the ur­ban jun­gle. In all its wel­com­ing In­stalove­li­ness, there hardly ever seems to be a gar­den­ing tool or even a stray speck of pot­ting soil in sight, much less a hair spray bot­tle now re­pur­posed as un­fash­ion­able plant mis­ter.

No one ever com­plains about mites. Few men­tion four-hour wa­ter­ing ses­sions. Or yel­low­ing leaves or when a beloved plant­baby meets its ugly – lit­er­ally, ugly! – end.

“We lose, like, 20 a year,” groans Wanek.

“Some are just sup­posed to die,” Carter says, prag­mat­i­cally.

Per­haps it’s bet­ter to fo­cus on the ’Gram. Like the ac­count Boys With Plants, which is ba­si­cally what it sounds like: bougainvil­lea porn.

Carter is a three-time Boys With Plants, er, boy. When his girl­friend, Fiona, spies him on the ac­count, “she likes to send it to all her girl­friends,” he says. She’s proud of him, right? Well, she is, but as for the rest of them ...

“I know,” he sighs re­signedly, “they’re just mak­ing fun of me.”


Hil­ton Carter, 37, has al­ways en­joyed plants. But his Bal­ti­more apart­ment now holds 180 and is a per­fect ex­am­ple of a grow­ing trend.

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