Green is the new black: dispatch from the frontline of the houseplant revolution

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Entrance to the Ace Hotel, Shoreditch

The minute we walk up the steps of the Ace Hotel, Shoreditch, I know that all the talk about the houseplant revival is true. Here is a hotel lobby in the most fashionable part of town, full to the brim with millennials staring at screens – many appear to be there alone, happy to sit in a crowd of strangers with just their phone or laptop for company – and the entrance is packed wall to wall with greenery.

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Houseplant stall at Shoreditch High Street Station

Outside the new Shoreditch High Street Station, there is a stall selling houseplants to the hordes of 20-somethings arriving here from around the world. When we go out for dinner at the hip Lyle’s there are houseplants in the loo. When I was young, I came to this part of town for nights out. Today’s youth are just as likely to be here for street food or Swiss Cheese plants.

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Columbia Road Flower Market

On Sunday morning, we venture out to Columbia Road Flower Market. I have mentioned before that I lived just down the road from here for a couple of years in my 20s, but never managed to visit, although my more-organised flatmate would return each week with armfuls of blooms.

The market is a curious mixture of traditional stall-holders, many of whom have been here since the 1980s, foreign tourists and hipsters. Here the houseplants are bargain basement, three for a tenner. I am tempted by the more showy specimens, but with a rail replacement bus journey home ahead of me settle for a small bag filled with an Aloe Vera, a Pachyphytum oviferum ‘Miss Pebbles’ and an Echeveria ‘Taurus’ from London Houseplants.

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Succulents for sale

There have been several theories espoused as to why houseplants are enjoying a comeback including the purifying effect of plants on indoor air and the fact that millennials may never be able to afford a garden of their own. The last time houseplants were in fashion was in the 1970s and early 80s when I was a young child, like today a time of economic uncertainty and social divisions. At the end of Candide, in which a young man faces the horrors of war, poverty and famine, Voltaire writes: “We must cultivate our garden.” For today’s younger generation that could be adapted to: “We must cultivate our houseplants.” Vive la révolution.

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Back home: my Aloe Vera, Pachyphytum oviferum ‘Miss Pebbles’ and Echeveria ‘Taurus’

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