Generation Z and The Leafy Love Affair

We are the new Fiat 500 girl.

Our water bottles are leaf patterned. Our phone backgrounds are a mess of cartoon cacti. The windowsills of our kitchens are decked out with herb plants. You’re growing seedlings in empty twelve-pack egg boxes. You’ve got courgettes and Brussel sprouts and carrots sprouting in the garden. You’ve got a monthly garden budget for new pots and hangings and bulk bags of compost. Or am I projecting?

Personally, I have been fascinated by houseplants since school. As a teenager, having a line of little leaf-babies on my windowsill relaxed my stressed-out, exam-orientated mind. Throughout university, I’d accumulate new leafy offspring. One cactus became three, and then four. One succulent became six. Things started sprouting and propagating faster than I could buy pots and now every surface in my flat has its plant-buddy and I spend Sundays clearing the neglected rainforest that is my rental-property garden.

Being a plant parent was the wholesome pastime of a multitude of Generation Zers even before lockdown but, since corona began to confine us to our flats and – if we’re lucky – gardens, those of us born after 1995 have turned into a whole generation of mini Alan Titchmarshes. We’re growing vegetables. We’re spending time in the garden. We’re home-composting. But why? I asked around.

‘Many of us grew up with an idea of what it means to be a ‘grown up’ and coming to that age has brought with us a realisation that things don’t always go to plan. How does this relate to amateur horticulture? When you feel like the odds are stacked against you, and you’re not where you imagined yourself to be, being a plant parent is a small but meaningful victory.’ – Aishah

‘I love how they make me feel. I enjoy knowing that I’m responsible for their wellbeing and that their success is a result of the love and effort I’ve put into them. Each one has its own set of requirements and a story behind me getting it so I really do feel as if they each have a character.’ – Beth

I have to agree with my interviewees. There’s something therapeutic in spending your time nurturing a little plant baby from seed to stem to plant. It feels productive. It’s an accomplishment. It’s a tiny bit of control in any otherwise financially confusing and career-confounding existence. Many people in our parents’ generation were getting married in their mid-twenties while a lot of us are barely out of university and deciphering how to simultaneously afford our rent and repay our university loans on meagre graduate job salaries. With the growing independence of twenty-somethings, perhaps we’re putting our more nurturing or parental tendencies into plants instead of relationships. (Plants also can’t throw food on the floor, vomit on you or grow up to be a Tory so without the energy-draining downsides.)

‘There’s something about a lot of us living in tiny flats with no garden and no pets. And I’m not in any place financially that I could even think about kids for a while. Getting to care for a plant is all I can do really.’ – Maria

There’s loads of research out there already about plants being a source of wellbeing and self-care. The gooey gloriousness inside aloe leaves makes moisturising face and hair masks. Lavender makes a great scent for everything from candles to salves and body scrubs. You can put rosemary, thyme and basil in your cooking. Plants purify the air, reduce stress, and can make a dingy London flat feel a little less claustrophobic. If – like a lot of us living in cities – you lack a garden, window boxes, balconies and roof terraces become our opportunity to bring some of the peace and tranquillity of the natural world indoors while flowers add a bit of colour to dismal rental-property rooms.

I would also argue that younger generations are gradually becoming more aware of their mental health and making practical life choices to support this in their lives, even if it’s something as small as caring for plants.

‘Plant growth is a good analogy for someone’s mental health journey. Having the right conditions to foster growth, maintaining patience, all plants looking different but them all being beautiful and valid. Sometimes it’s easier to take care of a plant than it is to take care of yourself. And that’s okay.’ – Aishah

‘Sometimes in lockdown it’s been difficult to get out of bed, but the plants always need tending. Sometimes that was enough to get me moving. I’ve invested in plants that purify the air in my room. Increased oxygen and humidity have helped my sleep quality, and I can’t stress the importance of a good night’s rest when you’re trying to manage your mental health.’ – Beth

With so many people being furloughed or made redundant and universities students leaving their studies to find the job market largely closed down, our usual routines might be decaying. But, even if we don’t alwaysfeel like caring for ourselves, having something to care for might give us that little bit of consistency and routine we need.

But what about the growing environmentalism among Generation Z? With more people trying to eat a plant-based diet, cycling our commutes or taking part in Greta Thunberg-esque activism, wanting to be surrounded by nature seems to conform to the Generation Z ideal of living an environmentally ethical life.

‘I think there’s been a realisation that this is the only planet we have, which sounds stupid because that has always been the case. But there are far more resources and such vocal educators on the matter that it is difficult to ignore, and the pertinence of the issue is finally getting through.’ – Aishah

‘The world may be put on pause because of COVID but the climate emergency certainly hasn’t. I think Gen Z understand the power they have as consumers and are actively being more conscious about their purchasing habits. Generation Z have grown up connected to the rest of the planet through technology and social media. Every other social issue you can think of is made redundant if we do not have a planet in the first place.’ – Beth

I asked some shameless plant parents for their best nurturing tips:

  • For the love of all that is good – don’t overwater your plants. Soil can hold water for several days so only water your plants when the soil is dry to the touch.
  • Make sure you have ample drainage to prevent the soil becoming water-logged. Pebbles and even broken crockery are great for this! Place them in your pot before adding your soil.
  • Don’t be scared of pruning small or damaged leaves to make space for new, healthier ones.
  • Don’t beat yourself up too much if one dies. We’ve all killed plants and, if someone says they haven’t, they’re lying. Try again, and again… and again and again.
  • Most plants come with a little ‘how to’ card so they’re helpful, or there’s loads of help online. YouTube is full of great videos for watering, repotting, propagation, and the lot.
  • Try to buy from sustainable sources. There are loads of sustainable brands online or shopping locally from smaller businesses can help to give back to your local community rather than giving your hard-earned money to big corporations.
  • Don’t get something really difficult like a fiddle fig tree to start. Just don’t.
  • Have fun with it!

Photo courtesy of Prudence Earl

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