Young urbanites are filling their homes (and the void in their hearts) with houseplants

Washington Post
Monday, September 18, 2017

On Sunday mornings, Hilton Carter’s girlfriend makes herself scarce from their one-bedroom apartment in an old Baltimore mill.

Carter, who is 6-foot 5-inches, bearded and the sort of man who wears a denim shirt and a ball cap with his peach shorts, begins a four-hour grooming ritual.

Not his own, of course. That would be insane.

The hours when others are sipping bottomless mimosas, that’s when Carter, a 37-year-old artist, feeds and inspects and prunes and otherwise tends to the Great Dane of a fern cascading down above his bed. It’s when he “bathes” the tiny air plants perched like tropical bugs on his geometric mirror. This is when he can fuss over the verdant monstera, trademark Swiss-cheese holes in its sprawling leaves, that sways gently in the breeze coming off the Jones Falls River just outside the window.

There are 180 plants here. This means every Sunday, there are yellowed leaves to pluck away and toss. Bugs to keep an eye out for. The great existential mysteries of light and air and sun to consider.

“There’s a lot of expletives flying, all day,” Carter says of his weekend labor. “It’s just, ‘What is happening to you?! You were fine for the last year in this spot!’ It hurts.”

Greenery has been a motif among the achingly hip for at least three years, when blouses flecked with leaves and palm trees and massive birds of paradise first strutted down the runways at Marc Jacobs and Marni, and then floated all the way down to the Gap.

But suddenly, the tropicalia is finding its way indoors. Even in drab gray concrete jungles like Baltimore and New York, young people are turning their apartments into “house jungles.”

Others prefer the term “urban rain forest” or the cutesy “jungalow.” In this aspirational landscape, outlandishly and photographically lush is ideal, and filling your home with plants is “urban wilding.” In less enlightened times, we probably would have just called it “decorating.”

Annie Dornan-Smith, a 22-year-old London-based graphic artist, guesses she may have as many as 50 plants in her flat. “They’re not particularly expensive, and it’s another way to have something to look after,” she muses. This summer, she published House Jungle, an illustrated guide to selecting and rearing the ubiquitous architectural plants of this trend: the slender and spiky dracaena and areca palms, the birds of paradise, the lanky snake plants and ... “Fiddle-leaf fig,” offers an employee of Little Leaf, a twee plant and paper shop that opened in the winter in Washington, D.C. She nods in the direction of the hot seller, a sprawling bush-like number laden with floaty, almost translucent waxy-green leaves roughly the size of dinner plates.

The fiddle-leaf fig has achieved what is known in the Instagram universe as holy-grail status. But as with Pokémon, the plant-obsessed are collecting them all.