House plants have featured within the modern home for centuries. The practice of bringing the outside in, although influenced by changing interior trends, has persisted.
It began with modest and practical potted plants - bought into the home both for their medicinal purposes and ability to perfume stagnant air.
The 17th century saw arduous attempts to cultivate highly prized citrus fruits inside elaborate orangeries and glass houses. Our curiosity for plants grew into Botany, and advances within the discipline gave us the Linnean system of classification - a language to both name and identify plants. Indoor gardening became a favoured past time, as we attempted to keep newly discovered tender exotics, with varying degrees of success.
It was the Victorian era which really rooted our love affair with house plants. Embracers of ornamentation and decadent display, our great great great grandparents filled their homes with the most fashionable plant of the time: ferns. No interior was complete without bushy evergreens atop mantles, inside purposefully designed ceramics or balanced on fancy jardiniers. This fever for foliage came to be known as pteridomania, an obsession with the plant genus Pteris (a group of around 300 types of fern).
The story of house plants can articulate moments in social history and interior design. Specific plants seem to encapsulate a certain look and feel. Mid-century interiors featured the ubiquitous spider plant and aspidistra. Climbers and creepers filled macramé hangers in sunken disco rooms of the 70s. The sunset Californian palm became a motif of the following decade, with architectural towering plants like palms and monstera invading our spaces. The soft-focus interiors of the 90s embraced gentle, flowering plants. Orchids and sugary table arrangements complemented Laura Ashley schemes.
Today, social platforms, a growing awareness of the wellbeing benefits of plants, and the impact of the pandemic have compounded to seismically increase the number of house plant enthusiasts - as well as the variety of plants available to them.
Recent and ongoing research suggests that indoor plants can offer two potential benefits – both improved mental wellbeing and better physical health. The psychological benefits of plants are said to include lifting mood, reducing stress levels, aiding productivity and even increasing our pain tolerance. While the physical health benefits of keeping plants indoors are recognised as reducing blood pressure and combatting fatigue. Beyond this, plants in the home increase oxygen levels while reducing air born contaminants. Good air purifiers include Devils Ivy, Snake Plants, English Ivy, ZZ plants, Calathea, Rubber Plants and Dracaena (among others).
In a social, post-pandemic future Biophilic design is influencing the way we live. On one hand, a desire for increased connectivity to nature is shaping the design of our homes. Home improvement, being one of the few activities permitted during lockdown, became th
e focus of many. The care and maintenance of plants can be seen as a natural extension to this. We embraced house plants like never before and turned our living rooms into jungles. Just as eagerly as we retrofitted living spaces into our gardens so that Covid-permitted social contact could take place.
On the other hand, micro-networks of grower-to-customer relationships have emerged (primarily via Instagram) to cater to those seeking rare and often eye-wateringly expensive plants. Cuttings can be propagated and sold, often spanning continents, enabling healthy rivalry between house plant collectors.
Our relationship with house plants remains fertile. Next time you water your pot plant, know that you and it are part of a long lineage.
Want to start your own collection or add to your existing, here's a few of my favourites;
Calatheas are having a moment, and deservedly so. With huge varieties in leaf patterning, there's a favourite for every house plant enthusiast. This Calathea makoyana, also known as a 'peacock plant', has a distinctive feathery pattern. Calathea are a great air purifier and are pet safe.
Something more unusual. String of turtles are an uncommon houseplant. Beautiful round leaves, resembling a mottled turtle shell will cascade down from a (detachable) hanging pot. String of turtles is pet safe.
Commonly known as a prayer plant, the leaves of the Maranta fascinator will move or 'pray' throughout the day. The 'fascinator' has striking pink striped foliage and produces small flowers. It's a firm favourite and is pet safe too.
Jacqueline, Midrib Plants founder
Find Midrib inside NOOD Stores, 32b Church Street, Caversham RG4 8AU and the first Sunday of each month at Caversham Artisan & Farmers Market