Plantdemic: Horticulture indoor and out takes root in a city under quarantine

The desire for houseplants has continuously been on the rise, and they’re especially popular with millennials, according to a recent study.
Photo by Philip B. Poston/Sentinel Colorado

House plants have had an Instagram-worthy glow up in the last few years. Once a hobby, owning plants is now trendy with some social media influencers dedicating their entire online presence to their leafy friends. A study earlier this year revealed seven-in-10 millennials consider themselves “plant parents.”

But perhaps, in light of a global pandemic, being a so-called plant parent, however annoying the term, can offer some reprieve from a 24-hour bad news cycle that never seems to ease up, and offer a bonus lesson in survival.

I have about two dozen plants hanging out around my home, strategically placed so they get just the right amount of light for the season. No kids, no pets, just plants.

At least six of them are new additions, a result of the COVID-19 pandemic. One is a gift from a friend, but the others have found their way to my window sills after trips to the grocery store, stress purchases after having to mask-up and maneuver through mazes of picked-over food aisles, or via highly-planned trips to a local greenhouse where social distancing comes easy.

I am not alone in my ventures.

Richard Ortega, co-owner of Nick’s Garden Center in Aurora, said business has increased this year. More people are working in their yards because they’re stuck at home and yes, more people are calling themselves plant parents.

While shopping most retail stores these days comes with a major dose of anxiety, walking through rows of pepper plants or succulents doesn’t. Even under a double-lined cloth mask, you can still make out the scent of damp soil and it’s really difficult not to feel a wave of calm with a mixture of greenery and diffused natural light all around.

The same study that found the growing number of plant parents also revealed that about 20% of millennials would rather get a root canal than take care of a house plant. It’s just too much pressure.

Patrons of the house jungle would argue otherwise.

“We’ve always maintained that plants bring healing,”
Jamie Fairman owner of Forage, which has locations in Denver and Kentucky, recently told me over the phone. “When you start to take care of something else… then you take care of yourself in a bigger way and it becomes this almost catharsis of living.”

Fairman, who has largely operated her stores through brick and mortar locations, had to completely change the business model when the COVID-19 pandemic hit. She still hasn’t opened up the stores for in-person shopping, but they are offering curbside pickup.

“People have found solace in finding an activity that they can take care of something else,” she said.

Perhaps a house plant is a lesson in control, and also the lack thereof.

Getting a fickle fiddle leaf fig to flourish or a Christmas cactus to bloom is not easy. Plants “all have different wants, needs and desires, and they will tell you that pretty quickly,” Fairman said.

The trick is listening, patience, and adapting when necessary, all applicable to life, but especially during a raging pandemic.