“Growing up in Hyderabad, there was and still is a beautiful garden at my parents’ home, lush with flowering plants and vegetables, so I've always been fond of greenery and loved the freshness and relief they offer,” says Ushma Shah, who’s taken up the mantle of setting up a garden at her in-laws’ terrace in Mumbai. She spends at least half an hour tending to it every day, “On some days I spend more time when I fertilise them or re-pot the plants,” she adds. This is the story of the average millennial and Gen Z Indian, who are finding peace with plants and are feeling connected with nature like never before, just check Instagram for #PlantParent--it has 705K entries. Add to that a chance to nurture and bring out your creativity in your own home with houseplants.
The plant parent phenomenon
One common denominator in most big cities is the lack of living space. Square footage and rents are expensive and space is limited. Vinayak Garg of LazyGardener explains, “Our parents’ generation always had plants, but they never called themselves gardeners. There would always be a few basic plants in every household—curry leaf in the South, tulsi in the North—and then as per interest, there would be more. This habit was lost when the younger generation moved to bigger cities and lived in small apartments with restricted space. But the need for greenery was always there and so a pattern emerged, where plants moved from the ground to the balcony, and now inside our homes. Keeping plants indoors is a relatively new phenomenon.”
The rising trend of plant parents or gardening that has shot up since 2020 has several other external forces at play. Widespread awareness of environmental crises for one—“The current generation is the most conscious that we have seen in decades. The urge to do something for Mother Nature has contributed to the popularity of trends such as ‘sustainable living’ and ‘plant parenting’” says Aditi Khattar of The Greenish Affair, adding that social media is another huge influence. “People tend to follow trends and interior styling which showcases a lot of houseplants and greenery. It is a common sight on decor blogs, Pinterest or design magazines. The world went into lockdown and people got back to the little joys of life to expend their energies. Gardening being one of them.”
The significance of parenthood
The pandemic and the subsequent months of lockdown left many people yearning to build real connections. While human interactions were best kept six feet apart, pets bring a set of responsibilities that can become overwhelming very quickly. Plants offered respite to many and the term ‘plant parent’ became even more ingrained in popular culture. “Plants like peace lily and aglaonema, come with beautiful foliage and are efficient at removing indoor pollutants produced by your wall paints, furniture and appliances. Plants are known to enhance your mood and thus increase productivity. They help counter anxiety and depression effectively,” explains Khattar. During the lockdown, Shah has sowed seeds for everything from herbs such as basil to coriander, to vegetables such as tomatoes and even potatoes!
Though balcony gardening isn’t new, the terminology has come a long way with ‘plant parenting’. Garg says that it is important to understand that life goals and milestones for Gen Z and millennials have changed. It’s no longer about owning a house and car, or marriage and kids, “Having said that there is an innate desire to take care of something, nurture and have something to anchor one’s life. Plants offer that and it is not about having a lot of plants. Even a single plant is enough for the need to nurture,” he explains. Plants are another way to satiate the need to raise and nurture a living being, but with less demands or responsibilities to suit today's urban lifestyle.
There is a sense of achievement with plants that further builds the confidence to grow more. It is this and the impetus ongoing organic that is driving even the smallest apartments to sprout a few herbs and leafy greens. “Herbs are the easiest to grow and are widely consumed. Vegetable gardening is a trend that gained popularity because of the pandemic. It is also very popular among parents as it is thoroughly enjoyed as an activity by kids,” says Khattar. This is closely tied to the equally popular slow and conscious living movement. Plants help you be aware of the role nature plays in our lives and respect it. The same respect leads to meditative serenity and peace of mind. “Tending to my own garden helps me relax, I watch the tiny ecosystems that are created by plants in my flower bed, I have tiny songbirds that visit and one pair even made a nest and had a baby in my balcony. The bees and bugs and little ladybirds all thrive and play their individual role in keeping the ecosystem going,” elucidates Archana Shivanandan of Plant Stylist, Mumbai.
How to become a plant parent
Balcony and window gardens are flourishing across urban India, there is a lot of trial and error when it comes to understanding what can grow and what can’t. Here are six rules to become a plant parent and cultivate your green thumb.
1. Why Do You Want a Plant?
It is important to understand the motivation behind you wanting to nurture a plant. “Is it because it is going to be part of your room as an accessory or for the purpose of nurturing. In case of the former, any plant that serves your purpose works. But if you want to nurture and be part of a plant’s growth process, you need to ensure you are choosing the right plant.
2. Choose your plant well
Just because you saw it on Instagram and Pinterest doesn’t mean that the plant will flourish in your city. If you are looking for a sturdy plant that can stay alive in your absence, then snake plants must be your go-to. For beginners, our experts suggest ZZ plant (Zamioculcas zamiifolia), snake plant, philodendrons and money plant.
3. Water isn’t everything
“The biggest misconception when it comes to house plants is that one just has to water it and the plant will grow and thrive. But the number one duty as a plant parent is to provide plants with light. They need more light than you think. If you stick a plant in a place without sunlight, it's going to die for sure,” says Shivanandan, who has been documenting and measuring how much light various plants need on her Instagram stories.
4. Make your local nursery your new best friend
The best way to find answers to basic gardening queries is to go to a local nursery. They will also help you pot and repot plants, especially when your space is small. Nursery owners are the best resources to know what plant will work in your city and location. They will also tell you how to best care for the plant you’ve chosen.
5. Steer clear of succulents
Succulents have become all the rage in the last few years as desk plants or as part of terrariums. Our experts however suggest you steered away from them. Shivanandan clears it up, “Many soft succulents are not likely to survive low light and high humidity levels that we have indoors, so save your money even though they are cute.”
6. Of herbs and veggies
Growing veggies at home is a process that requires patience. It can take four to five years to understand how a veggie will grow, about pest control and to get a good yield. A lot will also depend on your consumption pattern, what you eat and how frequently. “I started in 2012 and grew everything I could find. Some worked better than others. While spinach flourished, I was only able to grow a single bhindi,” he says. Herbs on the other hand, though sturdy will need a lot of sunlight, so choose appropriately.