Houseplants are trendy

A London-based garden centre has seen a big increase in sales of houseplants. North One Garden Centre in North London specialises in urban gardening, making plants and gardening an essential part of city life. It’s creative director, Paul Holt has observed a new group of people coming in to buy his unique range of houseplants, which he puts down to the ‘Instagram effect’.

Paul Holt
Paul Holt. Credit: Leela Axon

Paul, who is fulfilling his dream to bring exciting plants to urban dwellers, has a great passion for indoor plants. “Houseplants have become so trendy because of one thing — Instagram. It has to be. People see nice pictures of a houseplant in a macramé basket and when they see it, they want it. But it’s very much a London thing. I’m not so sure it’s reached too far out of London.”

“It’s great for me because I always wanted to sell this amount and finally, for the first time in my long history in the houseplant industry, it has moved like this and been trendy. It’s not happened like this — not since the 1970s.”

Trendy plants

The on-trend mistletoe cactus (rhipsalis), named as the new European Federation of Indoor Gardeners office plant of the year, is one example, with giant houseplants like cheese plants, white bird of paradise plants (Strelitzia nicolai) and other 1970s favourites such as ficus and ferns selling best at prices of up to £1,200, but more generally £250-£400. Holt said the bigger the better, up to 7ft, and that trends have moved on from succulents.

Holt said: “I’ve always grown Rhipsalis for 20-odd years and it was never popular, but in the last two years everyone wants them. They’re such great houseplants because they’re so easy to look after.”

Brexit effect

Holt pointed out that all the plants come from Denmark and Holland and are not easy to get. “You have to talk to the suppliers,” he said. “If you want something unusual you have to know what you’re talking about or how can you possibly sell it to the consumer?”

He added that Brexit’s effect on sterling is making prices rise, with cheese plants up from €65 to €78 in a fortnight and asparagus ferns now retailing at £7.99 against £4.99 last year. “Fortunately, that’s not putting people off,” he said.

British growers cannot compete with Dutch prices. “We don’t have the expertise anymore,” he said, and there are better grower-retailer networks in Holland and Denmark.

Ian Drummond, outgoing chairman of Interior Landscaping Industry Trade Association (eFIG), said houseplants are trendy but garden centres are failing to exploit the opportunity.

 Drummond, who is also a director at Indoor Garden Design, has been working backstage at Glastonbury and London Fashion Week installing houseplant displays. While events such as this would previously have dressed areas with cut flowers, they now use houseplants, he said.

“I’d love to work with garden centres to improve boring ranges and boring displays of houseplants. It’s rare for the younger generation to have access to outdoor space so houseplants are a good way for them to garden.”

Making a comeback

Ikea has led the sales of houseplants, while shops such as Habitat and Urban Outfitters use them in displays. Drummond said florists are stepping up with new ranges but garden centres are lagging behind. Hanging plants and ferns are big, he added, while on the commercial side he has never been so busy and people are regularly showing him photos of their houseplants grown at home.

The top three in the running for eFIG office plant of the year were mistletoe cactus (Rhipsalis), the ZZ plant (Zamioculcas zamifolia) and the pencil cactus (Euphorbia tirucalli).

Latest Garden Centre Association figures show houseplant sales were up 29% in February and 5% in May. 

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