Why Plants Are The New Pets
You’ve probably seen the beautiful greenery of houseplants showing up on your Instagram feed. With #PlantsofInstagram accounting for 5.4 million posts, you may find yourself a little plant-curious.
While it’s not a new trend, South African “plant parents” are becoming more and more obsessed – and giving our economy a much-needed boost with all the cash they spend. To find out what makes these plant collectors tick, we searched for a few to pick their brains.
First is Carolyn Ashmore, a landscape designer, founder of Lethabong-based The Atrium online store and self-proclaimed plant geek. She explains that the houseplant trend has been around for a while now, especially internationally among millennials. “Part of it is people buying houses and having children later on in life, and turning to house plants as a way to create a home, and fulfilling the desire to care for something – without the high responsibility of having pets or kids, or a bond on a house with a massive garden. But more than that, I believe it’s a retreat back to nature.”
Carolyn believes that caring for and surrounding ourselves with plants gives us a chance to reconnect with something we’ve lost. “We live such urban techno-driven lifestyles, and there’s not always time to get away to the park, the bush or the mountains. But plants are like little packages of nature on demand. They ground us. They provide a respite from spending our lives surrounded by concrete and staring at flat digital screens all day. Plants give us something real to admire and interact with, while reminding us that there is life all around.”
Plant parent Nthupang Magolego from Centurion started buying flowering houseplants in 2006 to beautify her first home. She eventually moved on to hardier houseplants with longer lifespans when she moved into a bigger home. “I started researching and reading up on houseplants and how to keep them happy and before I knew it, I was buying more and more. I learnt a lot about their benefits that goes beyond just home décor.”
“I definitely consider myself an over protective plant parent! I buy one or two plants every month and I harvest rain water for watering my plants and I stress profusely whenever I see a yellow leaf on any of my plants. I am also now propagating some of my plants, something I never thought I could do. I am basically always on the lookout for the best possible ways of keeping my plant babies happy.”
For plant collector Estia Crafford from Klerksdorp, houseplants made a horrible rental house bearable and more beautiful to live in. She started to collect plants and followed plant groups, plant-inspired Instagram pages and YouTube accounts. “That just made my plant addiction grow even stronger.”
Scrolling through her Plant Lady SA Instagram feed, you’ll find plenty of plants, but also tips to help you along your own plant journey. Similarly, Nthupang’s Instagram account, Plant Lady with Brown Skin, will inspire you to turn your own home into an indoor jungle.
All three plant enthusiasts have a common thread to their forays into houseplants – they all started with very little knowledge about the topic and learnt along the way.
Carolyne said goodbye to her corporate job four years ago after longing to do something creative, but outdoors. “Gardening was literally the perfect answer. I had no idea what I was doing in the beginning, or what the difference between a perennial or annual was. I just hung out in nurseries and researched a lot – it became my happy place. What I love about being a plant parent is that you never stop learning. It’s like entering another world where you’ll constantly discover new and wondrous things. And part of that is going through the pain of killing plants – any plant parent will go through that, but it’s part of the learning process.”
She saw a gap in the market and two years ago opened Atrium Plants that caters to younger urbanites that need a little guidance on their plant journey.
Happy, healthy people
There are real health benefits to keeping your home stocked up on plant babies. Nthupang says that caring for her houseplants provided the much-needed relief from the anxiety that came with the Covid-19 pandemic. “Watching new leaves unfurling from my plants, and moving my plants around from one corner of the house to another kept my mind away from the never ending stress during the pandemic. I was so thankful to be ‘social distancing’ in a home full of houseplants.”
Estia echoes the sentiment: “Plants bring me peace. Being surrounded by plants makes me happy… taking care of them kept me busy and kept me from feeling like I had to get out and leave the house.”
Apart from the mental health benefits, Carolyn says that it has also helped her physical health. “I used to get sick a lot when in a corporate environment. I got flu around three to four times a year, often leading to bronchitis. Since working around plants I’ve been sick once in four years. There are probably other factors at play, like our offices are not air-conditioned, and I’m not surrounded by as many people, but tons of research has shown that plants do have a physical and mental benefits.”
But what if they die?
“It’s okay to lose plants; it’s a learning process,” Estia says.
Here are a few more tips from Carolyn:
Plants do better when left alone. If they’re in the right environment to start with, you don’t really need to fuss over them.
Test the soil with your finger to see if it's dry or wet. Don’t water if the soil is still wet or moist. The quickest way to kill a houseplant is to leave it in wet soil, as the roots start rotting. Water less frequently, but when you do, water deeply to ensure enough water gets to the roots. Do this by taking the plant in the grow pot to the kitchen sink and run water through it until it drains out the drainage holes. Then leave it in the sink for a few minutes.
Philodendrons make excellent indoor plants, as does the Ficus family (Fiddle Leaf Fig, Long Leaf Fig, etc.).
While plants such as Snake Plant or ZZ Plant do not prefer low light, they do tolerate it better than other plants. Ideally all houseplants thrive in indirect light conditions by a north or east facing window.
Some house plants are poisonous to pets and small children, but only if ingested in very large quantities. Common toxic houseplants include: Delicious Monster, Fiddle Leaf Fig, Snake Plant, ZZ Plant, Philodendrons, Golden Pothos and String of Pearls.
Estia adds that new plant parents shouldn’t get discouraged when your plants lose leaves, get sick, or even die as it’s not always easy taking care of plants. “Ask for advice and follow and support other plant collectors.”
“Houseplants make people happy. I have interacted with so many generous and really kind houseplant parents on social media and I believe caring for houseplants contributes to this positive outlook by the houseplant parents,” Nthupang concludes.
Author: Leanne Feris