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.
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.
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.
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.