Phytocustos – The Plant Guardian (or parent)

Phytocustos - The Plant Guardian (or Parent)

Mike Rickhoff

29 April 2020

New Kids (and Parents) on the Block – the Indoor Green Revolution?

One of the emerging tendencies or inclinations – or should I say groundswell – is a movement that carries the rather enigmatic tag of Plant Parenting – and really, even referring to it as a “movement” seems a bit diminished because I honestly see this bent as a strong contender for an important part of a new human social condition, if the social trenders have anything to say about it.

So before plunging into my reflections, I was asking myself, “What on earth is a plant parent?”

And you may well be doing the same thing. Does this mean that the plants themselves – especially those grown indoors – are the Nouveau-New-Age kids-on-the-block? Even more intriguing a question is; who are these phytoparents when they are at home?

Well, on the face of it, it seems as though the designation is aligned mainly – though not necessarily exclusively – to the Millennial Generation or Generation Y – a phrase used to describe a person who reached adulthood in the early 21st century and covering those born between roughly 1980 and 2000. So we are really looking at those in their mid-twenties to late thirties, give or take. It also suggests a generation that has taken to the nurturing of indoor plants – all guns blazing, so to speak.

So I was considering what makes this all new animal different from some of us dedicated “Indoor Plant Keepers”, for want of a better expression.

I mean, I am one myself. I like my houseplants – I like them very dearly, have as many as will make the house look and feel comfortable and welcoming, and I have friends who are like-minded. We have all been doing this for years and most of us are Baby Boomers.

In truth, as much as we like our plants, some of us still tend to feed them when we remember (some have better memories than others), water them when they look sad (and then often drown them with love), and generally try our best to nurture and protect them. We still make mistakes – as one does – and then we get on with our other lives.

And Here Be the Rub

Not so the intrepid and dedicated plant parent. Yes, they do indeed get on with their lives as well – but here’s the main distinction – the plants in their care are true surrogates, not living ornaments, – so they get on with life but the plants under their foster care are an integral part of that life – as would be the case with one’s own children or pets.

This, then, is the crux and it helps, perhaps, to define and characterise them, as well as to distinguish them, from the more familiar devoted plant hobbyist.

The vexed question is – well – why?

Firstly, we should consider the whole social situation in which these young adults find themselves, and this has to do with technology, work conditions, living conditions and even economic considerations.

In truth, millennials lead a screen-based existence – much more so than the Baby Boomers and even Generation X who were only really on the fringes of this condition. Apparently, they tend not to be home owners or to delay home ownership, partially due to economics, but also given the high degree of relative mobility that characterises this generation.

As a result they usually rent rooms, flatlets or apartments, especially during the more upwardly mobile part of their life journey. People of this peer group tend to be largely unmarried, have no children and seldom have pets – exceptions conceded. Millennials have also been dubbed the ‘Wellness Generation’ and plants fit very nicely into this profile.

The fixation that millennials have with plants has coincided very neatly with social media and access to articles, pictures and care tips. Plants are also “Instagrammable” which makes them that much more desirable to on-screen junkies.

It has been suggested that millennials are addicted to plants because they really don’t know what the future will bring. They are always on the move and so concern over what to do with the plant when moving is simply not an issue.

But having said all this, it is becoming increasingly evident that millennials are simply getting deeply in touch with their more nurturing side by adopting plants. A nurturing that is accessible – the joy of caring for a living organism and watching it grow and change along the way.

In so many ways, millennials do not have the same outlets for their energies or even extensive living space that early generations had. Caring for living things in a confined, urban setting soothes and provides a sense of real purpose. In so many ways plants can really mitigate loneliness and anxiety and, of course, plants brighten up the space. It is also, not surprisingly, a reaction to the increased modern urban living patterns of today.

I have, as a much younger person, lived in a small flat when starting out my journey in life and yes, I did turn to plants even then. This was back in the early 1980s, so how much more does this resonate and apply now with all the added factors and the fast, mobile pace of today?

I rest my case.

Into the Realms of Phantasy – the Plant Hotel

On the road to convincing myself that indoor plants are fast becoming (or indeed, have already become) the new child of the times, my attention was brought to the world’s first hotel for plants. Nope, I kid you not. Called the Patch Plant Hotel, this plant care destination, reminiscent of kennels for pets (or more fashionably called Pet Hotels) was established in London in September 2019.

Plants can be booked in when the owners (or dare I say, parents) are away on holiday or business.

Among other things, the hotel offers “Top Notch Fertiliser”, “Careful Watering” and “Perfect Sunlight”.

With slogans like “Give your plants a holiday as good as yours, free of charge” and “Just relax and let us look after your plants while you are away” – I think we may have a winner here. Time will tell if this catches on – I just happen to believe it will.

Why the Fixation with Indoor Plants?

While houseplants have never gone out of style as low-budget home décor, sales of indoor plants have increased in recent years.

This has been largely attributed to the millennial’s obsession, but probably also has much to do with the infectious nature of plant nurturing. Also, because the potential for plant sales has increased, growers and garden centres are seeking new and exciting varieties to put out of the shelf – one simply feeds on the other.

So, for anybody, the joy of having indoor plants has a place – whether you see yourself as a plant parent, hobbyist, décor-savvy fashionista or if you simply wish to add some organic brightness to a dull and lifeless space. Plants are essential for the quality of the air we breathe inside our homes, they are important for our state of mind, they lift our spirits and bring a bit of cheer and happiness to boot.

Part of the evidence I have seen is the wide array of new books on the subject. On one site alone, I found over sixty books on plant parenting and indoor plants – a far cry from what was on offer a few years ago. They also have some amazing titles such as “Houseplant Survival Manual”, “How to Praise a Plant and Make it Love You Back” and “Indoor Jungle”. My Personal favourite title is “How Not to Kill Your Houseplants” – I think that’s a good place to start.

I, for one, am delighted by all of this. The more plants we get out there (or in there, depending on your point of view) the better – and the finer will be our overall sense of wellbeing and quality of life.

Personally, I think that if we really think about it, we can all try to be responsible, loving and caring Plant Parents whatever our circumstances!