House­plants just got hip­per

The Daily Telegraph - Gardening - - On The Spot -

Cacti, suc­cu­lents, DJs and cock­tails are all part of the show as the RHS reaches out to young ur­ban­ites, says Alice Vin­cent

Just as sea­sons pass, most things in hor­ti­cul­ture have been around be­fore. The first book on city gar­den­ing was pub­lished in 1722, as new Lon­don­ers moved into squares and houses with neat lit­tle plots. In the early 19th cen­tury, ur­ban housewives bought plants from “Botany Bens”, who would wheel their laden carts around the newly built streets. The Vic­to­ri­ans were so ob­sessed with ferns they con­structed glass palaces to con­tain them on top of their houses and sus­pended from their win­dowsills.

All of which shows that the cur­rent pop­u­lar­ity of house­plants, con­tainer gar­den­ing and green­ing cities’ grey ex­panses is noth­ing new. But it has been ne­glected by the hor­ti­cul­tural pow­ers that be. While east Lon­don opened its arms to new, de­sign-fo­cused plant shops, ter­rar­ium work­shops and com­mu­nity gar­dens, on the other side of the city, in Pim­lico, the RHS catered to its tra­di­tional home coun­ties card-car­ry­ing (and foam kneeler-fond) mem­bers.

Un­til last week­end, that is, when the so­ci­ety opened up its Lind­ley Hall and let in the bright young things – along with DJs, ar­ti­sanal cock­tails, neon light­ing and a queue around the block un­til 10pm.

This was the so­ci­ety’s first (in this cen­tury, at least) Ur­ban Gar­den Show, a col­lab­o­ra­tion between the RHS and Ci­tyscapes, a gar­den de­sign com­pany that has put plants in the pods of the Lon­don Eye and grown fun­gal gar­dens in the damp gloom of the tun­nels un­derneath Water­loo Sta­tion.

I met Dar­ryl Moore, Ci­tyscapes’ co-founder, in a shed in Hag­ger­ston, east Lon­don. I’m a bal­cony gar­dener and it’s the first shed I’ve been in for a while. But there was no soil, just iPads, as this is where Moore or­gan­ised a week­end’s worth of sem­i­nars, work­shops and stalls to cater for the cap­i­tal’s rookie gar­den­ers – and, in the process, show them that the RHS is about more than Chelsea.

“The RHS is def­i­nitely aware of the need to re­flect in­ter­est in ur­ban gar­den­ing,” says Moore, who is orig­i­nally from New Zealand and trained as a me­chan­i­cal en­gi­neer be­fore get­ting into hor­ti­cul­ture. “It re­alises it needs to be ad­dress­ing a whole new de­mo­graphic, both younger and ur­ban.” Ci­tyscapes was brought in to reach these gar­den­ers. Fliers for the show, fea­tur­ing a prismshaped ter­rar­ium filled with suc­cu­lents (both an en­try-level and en­vyin­duc­ing plant for to­day’s ur­ban gar­dener), had been de­liv­ered to Lon­don’s trendier streets. The event was posted on Face­book, where it reached thou­sands of peo­ple, helped by the In­sta­gram ac­counts of the show’s par­tic­i­pants, who have built their own fol­low­ing among young, dig­i­tal­savvy gar­den­ers.

But Moore and his team had to do more than just bring new peo­ple to the RHS – they also had to prove that peo­ple would re­turn.

The en­trance to Lind­ley Hall was trans­formed, with guests push­ing through a tow­er­ing dis­play of trop­i­cal fo­liage. In the op­po­site cor­ner, neon strip lights and in­dus­trial cages housed thou­sands of cacti. Both ex­hi­bi­tions were set up to ed­u­cate vis­i­tors about the main­te­nance of their in­door plants, be­cause, as Moore ex­plains, “peo­ple buy house plants and they die be­cause they don’t look af­ter them prop­erly. That’s their only en­counter with hor­ti­cul­ture; they give up af­ter that. It’s re­ally im­por­tant to get peo­ple to learn these ba­sic things so they can carry on.”

Depth of knowl­edge gives the RHS the edge over other ur­ban gar­den­ing shows, such as Grow, the con­tem­po­rary event on Hamp­stead Heath ev­ery June. RHS ex­perts were on hand through­out the week­end to of­fer ad­vice on car­ing for house­plants.

There were also in­for­ma­tive glimpses of the cut­ting edge of ur­ban gar­den­ing, cour­tesy of peo­ple such as Richard Bal­lard, whose com­pany Grow­ing Un­der­ground has turned cel­lars near Clapham North Tube sta­tion into a hy­dro­pon­ics farm, and Michael Perry, known to his so­cial me­dia fol­low­ers as Mr Plant Geek, who gave RHS mem­bers a whis­tle-stop tour us­ing gar­den­ing so­cial me­dia. On the main floor, ve­gan food stalls and plant-based gin trucks jos­tled with the hor­ti­cul­tural de­sign­ers and re­tail­ers of the mo­ment. Between Prick, a cac­tus “bou­tique” in Dal­ston, This Way to the Cir­cus, which plants suc­cu­lents and cacti in brightly coloured pots, and Blue Leaf Plants, which does the same with teapots, there was no short­age of in­spi­ra­tion. House of Plants, a duo who fol­lowed the new rise of gar­den­ing by sell­ing plants on Hack­ney’s Broad­way Mar­ket, in­tro­duced show vis­i­tors to air plants, while Seed Pantry, a com­pany that aims to get city dwellers mak­ing their own food, was show­ing off hy­dro­ponic Grow Pod units with seeds and equip­ment for win­ter crops.

In­no­va­tive de­sign came in the form of sleek wooden planters from Tanti that have been treated with bio-resin to en­sure house­plants get suf­fi­cient wa­ter and drainage in beau­ti­ful style. Plant nurs­eries that had shown at Chelsea took a new ap­proach for the show, with Bee­lands sell­ing herb pots for cook­ing, mak­ing tea and hav­ing a bath. Pen­nard Plants of­fered wasabi plants for ur­ban gar­den­ers keen on Asian cui­sine.

The work­shops showed that peo­ple are still ea­ger to mas­ter in­door gar­den­ing tech­niques such as kokedama, ter­rar­i­ums and bromeliad ar­rang­ing – even if these things have been around for cen­turies.

But that doesn’t mean there wasn’t plenty of learn­ing go­ing on. I over­heard one older par­tic­i­pant ad­mit that she hadn’t got to grips with in­door gar­den­ing. Which sug­gests it’s not just the young, hip and ur­ban who are hav­ing a mo­ment with house­plants.

Green fin­gers: de­signer James Kirby works on the Tanti stand

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from UK

© PressReader. All rights reserved.