FILL­ING the VOID

YOUNG UR­BAN­ITES ARE US­ING HOUSE­PLANTS TO MAKE THEIR PADS LESS LONELY

The Nation - - TRENDS / LIVING - LA­VANYA RA­MANATHAN

ON SUN­DAY MORN­INGS, Hil­ton Carter’s girl­friend makes her­self scarce from their one-bed­room apart­ment in an old Bal­ti­more mill.

Carter, who stands 1.96-me­tres high, has a beard and is 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 Swiss­cheese 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 grey 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, DC. She nods in the di­rec­tion of the hot seller, a sprawl­ing bush­like 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 Poke­mon, the plant-ob­sessed are col­lect­ing them all.

“They’re each your own lit­tle baby,” says Joseph Wanek, 31, who lives in a mid-cen­tury 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-yearold art di­rec­tor con­fesses.

The buy­ing habits of mil­len­ni­als, nat­u­rally, have a way of at­tract­ing 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 re­alised 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 macrame 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 Dor­nan-Smith, “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-and­mor­tar) 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’.”

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

Carter’s liv­ing room, com­plete with a tall fid­dle-leaf fig lurk­ing in the cor­ner.

Just an­other boy with his plants.

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