George Orwell hated house plants so much that he titled his 1936 classic Keep The Aspidistra Flying after his least favourite.
He saw the leafy green perennial as symbolic of the stuffy, middle-class society the book portrayed.
Fast-forward to the 1970s and cheese plants and spider plants quickly became as much a symbol of interior naffness as the avocado bathroom, flock wallpaper or chintz. How the pendulum swings.
Pot plant expert Nik Southern at her home in Essex as items once banished resurface once more
The pot-plant industry is again blooming, with indoor gardening as popular among millennials as with style-savvy Baby Boomers, in part thanks to the influence of photo-sharing app Instagram, where obsessives show off their perfectly manicured indoor greenery.
The fashion industry is even in on the act, with T-shirts decorated with banana-leaf, cheese plant and even cactus prints appearing on catwalks.
House-plant sales have rocketed by almost a fifth in the past year, according to the Horticultural Trades Association.
Gynelle Lyon, founder of boutique cactus store Prick, says 'plants help us slow down and connect to nature’
And the Royal Horticultural Society has seen sales in its plant centres double in the past financial year, with cacti seeing the biggest sales increase of an astonishing 150 per cent. Many retailers are even complaining of a cheese-plant shortage, as they fly off the shelves faster than nurseries can grow them. With outdoor space increasingly a luxury for so many, it’s no wonder Britons are choosing instead to bring the outside in.
TV gardener and garden designer Diarmuid Gavin explains: ‘Garden space in cities and urban areas is hard to come by. But house plants are relatively cheap, and they need us for watering, misting and feeding.’
Jane Perrone, garden writer and host of house plant podcast On The Ledge, agrees, saying: ‘As the number of homes with outside space drops, owing plants that can perch on a window ledge becomes an attractive option.’
Michael Perry, known to his social media fans as Mr Plant Geek, has been in love with plants since he was four
There is also the increased interest generally in healthy living. In a world of rising mood disorders, air pollution and insomniacs, the house plant could be an unlikely medicine.
Studies show that indoor plants ingest pol-luted air and convert it into energy, protecting us from potentially harmful toxins in our homes. Plenty of research aligns a house brimming with foliage with better mental health, and interactions with house-plants have been associated with a reduction in stress hormones.
But why has the sudden surge in pot-plant purchases happened now?
In a world of rising mood disorders, air pollution and insomniacs, the house plant could be an unlikely medicine
Diarmuid says: ‘It started with palm and banana prints for clothes, curtains and sofa coverings being trendy. But I think it’s probably more about a desire to nurture, to create a nest, to be responsible for something.’
He is one of many setting up their own pot-plant shop in the coming months to cash in on the trend, and he’s hoping to make it a nationwide chain. But it’ll be tough for Diarmuid and other pop-up plant emporiums to beat a certain Swedish store that often vastly under-cuts rivals for price.
The spider plant and others previously thought unfashionable are making a stylistic comeback across the country
‘IKEA have become a major player in the UK market,’ says Jane. ‘They’ve realised the potential of allowing customers to purchase a plant together with the bookcase they’ll place it on.
‘And development of techniques has meant that exotic plants that were once rare and expensive to buy are now commonplace.’
The poster boys and girls of the new trend are predictably cool, edgy and armed with legions of Instagram followers. We met the three pioneers of the indoor gardening revolution…Five (almost) indestructible house plants
By Dr Martyn Cox
1. Aspidistra elatior
An elegant plant that’s as tough as old boots. Happy in shade, drought-tolerant and probably bulletproof.
2. Monstera deliciosa
The Swiss cheese plant, famed for its huge, glossy, holey leaves. This tropical climber will flourish in a dimly lit spot.
Modern varieties of the Cape primrose bloom on and off all year round with little attention. Perfect for a shady windowsill.
4. Crassula ovata
The Jade plant is a shrubby succulent with vibrant green leaves. Ideal in a sunny position, this easy-going plant thrives on neglect.
5. Chlorophytum comosum
The spider plant forms an arching clump of green and white striped leaves. Set to perfection from an