By Claire Thompson
It is 7.30am on a Saturday in St Peters, Sydney, and there is a line of millennials stretching a block behind me. They are not lining up for the latest iPhone or for a smashed avo breakfast at a trendy new café. No, they are lining up for plants, or more specifically for a “Huge Indoor Plant Party Warehouse Sale” as advertised on Facebook by the event runners, Melbourne couple Josh O’Meara and Linda Vydra, otherwise known as The Jungle Collective.
Why have twenty-somethings crawled out of bed on a Saturday morning to buy plants? Are they simply trying to keep up with the latest trend? You only have to search #indoorjungle on Instagram to realise there is a growing trend for indoor plants, as it will bring up over 100,000 photos of apartments filled with greenery. In 2016 the U.S. National Gardening Report found 83% of Americans new to gardening were in the age bracket 18-34 and if over 2000 people clicking attending on the Jungle Collective’s event is any indication, the trend has spread to Australia.
But is millennial interest in plants simply about following the trend, or is there a deeper reason behind millennials filling their apartments with plants?
Zoe Wyeth, 21, lives in a one bedroom Stanmore apartment with her boyfriend. Her apartment is filled with plants, ranging from the designer’s pick, the fiddle leaf fig, to the lesser known dracaena which stretches from floor to ceiling. Zoe guesses her apartment contains forty plants in total, but despite admitting they make her apartment feel even smaller, she prefers it that way, saying plants improve her mood.
“I like their vibe, there’s definitely a different aura of having plants in the house versus not having plants in the house…they just give off a good energy. It’s like having something living in your home that’s not really disturbing you or you don’t really have to maintain that much but it still really affects the mood of the house. I remember when we first moved in, I was like I need to go out and get some plants. When we did our first trip up, the first stuff I brought up was the plants because they were the prized possessions.”
A video tour of Zoe’s apartment. Footage: Claire Thompson
The positive impact of plants on Zoe’s mood supports scientific research which suggests indoor plants can improve the mood and wellbeing of occupants, with a 2010 University of Technology study finding plants reduce stress and negative emotions. Not only that, plants have been found to reduce urban air pollution, removing carbon dioxide and releasing oxygen.
Michael Jones, 21, lives in a one bedroom, level-four apartment with his boyfriend in Chippendale and mentions he is drawn to plants because of their health benefits, saying they are “great for your air quality. The rubber plant gets rid of all your toxins.” As Michael says this, he points to the large plant sitting by his apartment’s only window. The plant indeed deserves its name, looking like rubber with its glossy, deep green leaves.
James Gilronan, an employee in the nursery section of Bunnings Alexandria, has noticed young people rather than older people seek plants for wellbeing. He puts it down to young people engaging with social media more than older people.
“I think young people might be more-likely to read articles about how plants can help with wellbeing and clean the air,” James said.
However, Michael feels most people his age are more into the aesthetic-appeal of indoor plants rather than health benefits.
“I feel like over health people more care about if it is Insta-worthy,” Michael said.
Michael admits that he also likes indoor plants for their beauty and their effect on his mood.
“It’s the sculptural element of plants. They’re abstract, they’re continuously changing…I like the greenery, I like that it makes it feel like the outside is inside. It’s very relaxing,” he said.
Plants help millennials feel closer to nature in an urbanised world
Talking to young people waiting in line at the Jungle Collective’s warehouse sale revealed another reason why young people are interested in houseplants: they want to bring nature back into their urbanised world.
Nee*, 26, who is waiting second in line, says one of the reasons she loves indoor plants is they introduce nature back into her city-based life.
“It’s just lively, it just feels nice to have plants. I feel like because we live in such an industrial world, cause there’s not enough plantation as it is, to have some in your room is like, oh this is nice. I think I’ll create my own little jungle inside,” Nee said.
The 2016 Census found one in five people aged 25-34 live in an apartment, making it the most common age demographic of apartment dwellers. This means many young people do not have access to a garden. Michael says not having a garden makes him feel more of a need for indoor plants.
“You don’t have your own garden or outdoor area and there’s a highway outside,” Michael said.
James has noticed there have been more young people at Bunnings buying indoor plants recently and he suggests it could be because an increased amount of young people are renting apartments in cities.
“The most commonly bought plants by young people are indoor plants and herbs. Whereas older people buy more outdoor plants. Which is probably because a lot of young people don’t own property. They are more-likely to be renting apartments…I also think there is a trend of greening places. Perhaps because we live in a city and there is so much urbanisation,” James said.
Indoor plants could be the new smashed avo
While plants may improve the wellbeing of millennials, they are not a cheap investment. Some plants, like the fiddle leaf fig, can be as expensive as $300, placing more distance between millennials and a home loan than $15 smashed avo ever could.
While waiting in line at the warehouse sale, I spoke with Elise*, 26, who had already attended one Jungle Collective event and was waiting in line for her second. She said she did not mind spending a lot of money on one plant.
“I think the max I would go is probably a hundred,” Elise said. She continued, speaking of the first event, “The first time I did spend two hundred dollars.”
Nee did not want to set herself a limit.
“If it was like love at first sight, I’d be like boom, you’re in my living room definitely,” Nee said.
Zoe has found that trendy plants are more expensive, even if they are not well-developed so she always makes sure she is getting value for money.
“They [plants] can definitely be easily over-priced… Of course fiddle leaf figs are always going to be more expensive…You kind of just have to know what is the appropriate price to pay for something. Like I would definitely fork out money if it was well-developed but if it was just like a freshy, I wouldn’t buy it,” Zoe said.
Like Zoe, Michael based how much he would spend on how big it was.
“I spent $65 on the rubber plant…If it was a small plant and expensive I wouldn’t buy it,” Michael said.
Millennials may be more willing to spend hundreds on plants rather than put their money into a savings account because buying a house does not seem like a reality. In the past six years, Sydney median house prices have risen by 50% in almost every suburb. Millennials are aware of the unlikelihood of being able to afford a house in Sydney.
“Look I should be saving for a house, but that’s not going to happen. I’d rather buy a nice plant,” Michael said with sincerity.
Whether they are buying a rubber plant for its aesthetically-pleasing qualities, its air-purifying ability or because it makes them happy, there is no denying that indoor plants are trending in millennial circles, so much so that while the rest of Sydney enjoys a Saturday morning sleep in, millennials are willing to stand in line for an hour just so they can get the best fiddle.
*Last names were not given.
Michael talks about how he cares for his rubber plant
Zoe shows us a few of her plants