Wednesday 22 May 2019

'Plant parenthood': Meet the 26-year-old whose collection spans more than 80 plants

Sales of indoor shrubs and greenery have surged by 50pc in the last three years. And mostly among millennials. Meadhbh McGrath gets to the root of the interior horticultural craze

Eoin Murphy has more than 80 houseplants in his collection. Photo: Kyran O'Brien
Eoin Murphy has more than 80 houseplants in his collection. Photo: Kyran O'Brien

Meadhbh McGrath

On Valentine's Day five years ago, Julie Murray's boyfriend presented her with an orchid in place of the traditional bouquet of flowers. It sparked a keen interest in houseplants - as we speak, Julie and her boyfriend are about to pot some more plants at their home in Carrickmines, Co Dublin.

"I adore orchids, and I just started gathering more since then," she explains. Julie (29), a consultant in Therapie Clinic, now has a sizeable array, but she's currently on the lookout for a banana plant. "They make me incredibly happy. I love adding a new one to the collection and finding a new home for it."

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A report just out from America's National Gardening Association found that sales of houseplants have surged almost 50pc to $1.7bn (€1.5bn) in the past three years. Last year, a business adviser for the gardening industry told The New York Times that purchases by millennials - the generation defined as those born between 1982 and 2000 - account for up to a third of those sales.

The trend has evolved in the last three years, as lush foliage took over from picture-perfect blooms. Meghan Markle and Prince Harry's green-and-white floral archway has supplanted Kimye's flower wall as the must-have for millennial weddings, while young fashion designers, including Rodarte, Jason Wu and Richard Quinn, have turned their catwalks into garden parties bursting with greenery.

And on social media, #plantstagram is thriving, with 2.7m tagged posts - more than double that of that other most millennial fixation, #avocadotoast.

Dianne Curran runs Anú Plant Artistry, a design-led company based in Limerick selling unique, handmade pieces that combine airplants, succulents and cacti with metal, glassware and driftwood. Since launching last year, she's observed great interest from young customers, particularly for her carefully styled Instagram posts.

Harry and Meghan’s floral archway is now the must-have arrangement for millennial weddings
Harry and Meghan’s floral archway is now the must-have arrangement for millennial weddings

"The feedback I get has been amazing," she says. "People who haven't the luxury or time to maintain a garden want houseplants that are easy to care for, so succulents, cacti and airplants are attractive to this market as they're low maintenance and very trendy."

For Eoin Murphy (26), houseplants provide both a hobby and a design project.

"Since I was a kid, I was always doing the garden work at home, and I got really into plants. I ended up studying science in Trinity and I specialised in botany. After that, I did a master's in plant biology and biotech. In college, it was more the science end of it, so I just had that as a kind of side interest. I moved from outdoor to indoors and started building a collection," says Eoin, who now works in pharmaceuticals.

His collection spans more than 80 plants, including cacti, cheese plants, string of hearts and the fashionable fiddle-leaf figs. While some are stored in his parents' house, the majority have been arranged around his home in Drumcondra, Co Dublin.

"One of my biggest things about moving into my house was whether I'd be able to bring them all with me. I know it sounds so small to anyone else, but when you've been building a collection for that long and it's become a hobby, knowing exactly how to care for them, it's a huge thing for me, definitely a lot more than just something nice to look at. It's about seeing the progress and how far you've come with it," he explains.

Some commentators speculate that this generation have embraced houseplants as something to nurture; that 'plant parenthood' offers a surrogate for the child they may not be prepared, financially or otherwise, to have. But while young people may develop an emotional attachment to their plants, Eoin notes he doesn't consider his plants his 'babies'. "I wouldn't say I'm the type to cry if I kill a plant," he laughs. "There are going to be a few failures along the way."

Maintenance is a key concern for millennial plant owners. Eoin says he'll typically devote a Sunday to repotting, and is diligent about setting light levels and watering schedules.

Stephanie Murphy (24) says she always considers how much time and care a plant will require before buying one, and prefers varieties such as snake plants that deliver high impact with minimal effort.

"I try to go for waxier plants and plants that store a lot of water, which are fairly low maintenance. They're normally all cared for once a week in a quick half-hour watering spree," she explains. "The one flowering plant I have, as well as herb plants I keep in the kitchen, are a lot more high maintenance. I really have to remember to take care of them properly."

Stephanie, a waitress and barista in Limerick City, recalls having a lot of plants around the house growing up, but first bought some for herself a couple of years after getting her own place.

"I think they definitely add warmth to a room - a house with plants feels cared for and looked after, to me," she says. "I always feel a room feels fresher and more alive with plants in it. Living in a city, it helps me feel a little closer to nature and I don't live in a big cement block. They can cheer up and freshen up the badly-maintained rented housing a lot of young people are limited to, and they make a house seem cared for, even if it wasn't by the landlord."

As for 'plant parenthood', Stephanie says there is a measure of truth to the desire to nurture.

"I can see that for sure," she says, noting that she does find herself worrying about the survival of her more demanding plants. "Especially my orchid - I could definitely relate to having a pet, and it probably gets more attention than most pet goldfish. There is a real sense of responsibility for me - I check it every day and when one of the flowers died, I genuinely felt a little sad. And pets aren't allowed in a lot of apartments, so a plant is probably as close as a lot of people can get to a little responsibility, which I think people actually like having."

In 2019, rare is the young person who can afford to buy a home. Stuck in rental accommodation, millennials are frequently restricted on space, and often based in urban areas lacking in greenery. Plants can offer a temporary solution.

Eoin points out that high-street stores such as Urban Outfitters have jumped on the bandwagon, selling cacti and succulents in stylish pots at greatly inflated prices but that, for him, it's more than a fleeting home decor trend.

"It's huge for me aesthetically, that I can build a home I'm happy to live in and that looks the way I want it to look," says Eoin.

"When you're renting, there's not a huge amount of change you can do when you're tied into a lease," he adds. "Permanent fixtures aren't really an option - plants are a really effective way of injecting a bit of personality into the house because there's such an array to choose from. You can pick out the ones that speak to you and bring your own style into the place."

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