(This story is part one of a two-part series.)
“A human being is a part of the whole called by us universe, a part limited in time and space. He experiences himself, his thoughts and feeling as something separated from the rest, a kind of optical delusion of his consciousness. This delusion is a kind of prison for us, restricting us to our personal desires and to affection for a few persons nearest to us. Our task must be to free ourselves from this prison by widening our circle of compassion to embrace all living creatures and the whole of nature in its beauty.” ― Albert Einstein
Romanticism and the Desire to Connect with Nature
I have always loved fresh flowers, but I’ve never been a houseplant person – that is until 2020. Houseplants seemed antiquated before then. What has happened? Are we in a new era of Romanticism?
When I taught American and British Literature, the writers of the era of Romanticism fascinated me. The Romantics urged people to be individuals, to reconnect with intuition and emotion. If the weather cooperated, I would take students outside without any “devices” and we would sit with nature.
Fast forward to the present, and I wonder if we are experiencing a new Romanticism. Many of those same students are now older Millennials, raising their children in more natural environments, free from the strings of technology that once held them captive as young teenagers. I see them caring for nature and exploring the outdoors.
One of the most prominent trends in this regard are houseplants –especially among young people. Houseplants seem to provide an immediate connection with nature, and there seem to be many proud “plant parents” posting photos of their “plant babies” on Instagram.
This newfound interest in botany started to “bloom” during the pandemic. IG users began to “ooh and aah” over new leaves opening and new growth shoots on the plants of their social group friends. We even have so-called, “Plantfluencers” who even have penned book deals. Check out, How to Raise a Plant and Make It Love You Back (A modern gardening book for a new generation of indoor gardeners). Anthropologie has doubled down on this trend by starting an offshoot store called Terrain. Shea McGee and Joanna Gaines use plants to breathe life into their designs, and here in Greater Cincinnati new stores like Fleurish Grounds (Madisonville), Gia and the Blooms (OTR and Findlay Market), Thimble Gardens (Lebanon), and in Dayton, Luna Gifts and Botanicals, with their gorgeous pictures and instructional posts, have started attracting younger crowds.
The Pandemic Effect: Why We Crave Indoor Plants
So, why the interest…why houseplants…why now? Perhaps it has its roots (sorry…couldn’t resist) in the fact that we are being forced to spend so much time sequestered in our homes where the stale air triggers a primeval need for fresh air and things green; and, simply put, healthy plants make us feel healthy.
But, perhaps there is more to it. Perhaps the relationship we build with our houseplants is satisfying our need for social interaction or providing us the satisfaction that caring for someone or something provides, which boosts happiness and reduces stress. The fact that it promotes health by improving the air quality is an added bonus. Combine all that with the glam of Instagram and BLOOM! Oops, there I go again…
Tending to houseplants – especially if you live alone – offers a form of bonding, which we all need. Family therapist Virginia Satir once said that, “We need 4 hugs a day for survival. We need 8 hugs a day for maintenance. We need 12 hugs a day for growth.” Suddenly, in March of 2020 we lost so much of our interaction with other humans; and even if you were able to socialize to some degree, physical human touching was highly discouraged. Simply put: we couldn’t get our four hugs a day for survival, much less any for maintenance and growth. We needed something to fill that void.
Plants and nature came to the rescue. Houseplants bridged that sensory loss and gave us something to do while we were sequestered, and because we were forced to slow down, we actually had the time to notice the wonder of nature and the life that exists within it. As we were forced to be more individual, plants allowed us to reconnect with intuition and emotion, perhaps breeding a new era of Romanticism.
Stories of True Plant Love
I recently asked people to share stories of their houseplants, and below is what I heard:
One of my younger clients (who is living alone) told me she appreciated the companionship that houseplants offered during quarantine, providing her with a purpose. She enjoyed the responsibility to keep them alive, which is something that she never thought about before quarantine because her social life was more important. She now realizes how much they enrich her life, and she plans to continue caring for them regardless of what the new “normal” brings.
Another former student and current client, Renee Rigrish Pelan, from the Dayton area wrote, “Over the pandemic I converted an Ikea cabinet into a greenhouse so I could have more places to put plants. It finally gave me a way to own fussier plants like calatheas and actually keep them alive…I already had a few plants going into the pandemic but have expanded my collection quite a bit since then. They just give me an opportunity to practice mindfulness when I care for them in my daily routine. It’s just therapeutic to see something grow and flourish in our space. Lately, I’ve been wanting to start with plant cuttings so I can watch the whole process of them growing from a few leaves into a larger plant.” Renee gets many of her plants at Luna Gifts and Botanicals. When I help her and her husband purchase their next home, she has identified a “jungle room” for her plants as a top need.
Samantha Hibbard also replied to my request. I recently helped Samantha and her family move from Liberty Township to Lebanon. Below is a picture of her former morning room, a.k.a., the greenhouse. Her new home is on two acres, and they plan to have a large garden in the coming years. Meanwhile, she started a new propagation station for her plants.
Shelbey Loudin, Sales Vice President and Manager at the West Chester Sibcy Cline office (and a former teaching colleague of mine) wrote, “I’m not entirely sure what this is, but I brought it home as an ‘end-of-year clearance’ plant from the horticulture program at Live Oaks where I was working back in 2000. By some miracle I’ve kept it alive for 21 years.”
Former student Vanessa Borer wrote, “Here is my fiddle leaf fig (and a Pilea right next to it) that I got when it was a tiny baby plant! He’s a great pop of color in my living room.”
Kelly Kamrath Sipes, one of my friends since childhood who just built a beautiful home in Montana wrote, “We received so many beautiful plants after dad died so mom and I split them up. I am back to live plants. They love the sunshine.”
Hanna Ledford (another former student and current client of mine who recently purchased a historic home in Lebanon that was built in 1875) has filled her new home with plants. She was the one who piqued my interest in Monstera Deliciosa. Her new favorites, which she purchased from Thimble Gardens are pictured below:
Emily Daniel (another former student) shared with me a picture of her plants. She told me that a friend challenged her to put them all together for a picture as proof of “just how crazy” she is over her plants:
Another longtime friend of mine who lives just outside of New York City sent me a few pictures her “plant babies” for this article:
My parents have a beautiful amaryllis that my great grandfather gave to them in 1969. He knew that my dad (who has a green thumb) would always care for it. It blooms spontaneously once a year, in different seasons.
If you are in downtown Cincinnati, check out Gia and the Blooms in OTR and/or Findlay Market who writes, “This green oasis has been our refuge through the past year and made 2020 suck a little less.”
This is what Thimble Gardens had to say about 2020: “I have always believed that miniature gardens and plants have been good for the soul. We started our Thursday night “Lives” to find a way to bring that and art kits to the kids during shut down. Those “Lives” gave us a platform to develop an amazing botanical community! During this once-a-week hour, we would come together and sell tropical plants. Our customers would have a blast and many friendships developed. It became a plant social hour full of friendship, support, and plants. We continue these “Lives” every second and fourth Thursday on Facebook at 7pm. We love bringing beautiful botanicals to our customers. Bringing the green in your home promotes clean air and studies shows it decreases the risk of depression! If you stop in our shop on S. Broadway, beware! Our super-enriched, oxygenated air causes elation!”
Indeed, I too, jumped on this botanical bandwagon and purchased some houseplants that were showcased recently on Instagram by Fleurish Grounds. Owner Christine Kim started selling plants out of her garage and just recently moved to a brick and mortar in Madisonville. Below are some of the beautiful plants that now grace my office.