My family are one of the lucky few to have an allotment in London. With waiting lists that tend to span years, these plots of land are hard to come by. Hidden in Stockwell, ours seemed like a haven far away from the bustle of the city – and as I child, I loved it. It was full of prickly gooseberries, the most crimson mulberries, sprouting onions and summer strawberries; spending my weekends at our allotment was absolute bliss.
As the child of an adept florist, plants and gardening have always been a big part of my life. My mum, with her seriously green fingers and an astoundingly extensive knowledge of botany, can grow just about anything. Whether it’s an impressive arrangement of flowers stuffed with eucalyptus leaves, or an array of plant shoots, herbs or flower clippings, it always seemed inevitable that my mum’s love of plants and gardening would rub off on me.
And it did, for a while. Growing Club was a beloved after-school activity; nothing filled me with wonder quite like visiting those giant, humid greenhouses in Kew Gardens. And Ground Force was the best makeover show television had to offer, in my eyes.
But the love affair didn’t last forever. What became a Sunday afternoon treat filled with picking vegetables, watering seeds and eating seasonal berries, soon became a chore the older I got.
After all, allotments and gardening weren’t cool, none of my friends gardened and the trendy botanical aesthetic that we millennials now love so much wasn’t in fashion when I was 14.
So, from my teenage years, up until finishing university, owning plants – let alone caring for them – was out of the question. I’d politely decline each time my mum invited me to the allotment, and switch over the channel when the Chelsea Flower Show was on television, pushing down whatever semblance of love I had for it in the past.
But now like many millennials, houseplants have become an obsession. We’re 88 per cent more likely to keep plants in our rooms than over 65 year olds. And I get it, the average age for first-time buyers has increased by seven years and in all this uncertainty, sometimes plants feel like the only thing that can brighten up our overpriced, rented shoe boxes. But they provide much more than just a backdrop for fabulous Instagram pictures.
I fell back in love with plants after getting a small Jade succulent from a colleague at my first ever office job. At first, it was another burden to add on top of my already hefty workload. But caring for it every day and watching it grow gave me more solace than I anticipated. No matter how stressed I was, caring for that one little plant really made feel like everything would be okay. It was the start of me falling back in love with plants and gardening again. That satisfaction of seeing the fruits of my labour never left me.
It sounds silly, but learning to care for plants has really helped me care for myself. I don’t have a child and I don’t have the space or money for pets, but plants do give me a sense of responsibility. On days when I’m feeling down and just want to stay in bed, knowing my plants need watering forces me to get up.
Having something to look after and care for feels so rewarding. I literally reap what I sow, and I get such a kick from all the money I save on herbs now that I grow my own. But one of the best perks about gardening is the time away from my phone, and getting a much-needed breather from the anxieties of social media.
I’m lucky enough to have a small garden in my flat. I have a herb bed with rosemary, sturdy thyme, purple sage and parsley. I’ve picked up great gardening hacks, such as buying potted herbs from the supermarket and planting them myself. I’ve added to my collection, too. Just last week, I planted some sunflowers and white onions, and my bedroom windowsill is filled with succulents. I can’t go to IKEA without coming back with a plant or three, and heading down to Deptford market and buying some cheap potted plants is one of my favourite pastimes.
On top of plants being aesthetically pleasing, they are a life force. Golden pothos, for example, literally purifies the air – it removes benzene and carbon dioxide while replenishing the air with oxygen, making it an ideal plant for the bedroom.
Each plant has a special memory, like my plump gasteria hanging in a macrame, which I got when I first moved house, or my giant tomato plants I bought as a tiny stalk from a summer fair for 50p.
I might not have fingers as green as my mum yet, and I’m still learning as I go – and that’s the process I love the most. The need to care for something is a basic instinct and in an era where we millenials feel so lonely, having plants isn’t just an aesthetic fad; it benefits our mental health too. We should all try and connect a little bit more to nature, it’s an inexpensive hobby, yet brings a world of comfort.