How many of you aim to buy good, sustainable, organic food and vegetables? But do you think twice before buying indoor house plants from the corner shop? Is your Instagram feed overflowing with fantastic looking jungle plants? Perhaps you were wowed by a designer houseplant store, or envious of someone’s apartment jungle. I do for sure! And living in a climate where these plants thrive, I find myself drawn to wanting to create incredible urban jungles in my living room.
However, the question of where and how the bulk of these indoors house plants are grown and whether they will actually thrive and survive in your own home is worth considering. Perhaps there is a more sustainable and simple way to create your own indoor oasis?
The problem with “off the shelf” indoors house plants
Now the truth is, I am a sucker for flowers and plants. Otherwise I would not be here writing about this. When the plant fever catches on, it sneaks into every corner of your life and becomes literally a living breathing hobby! Additionally, my interest in plants stems from sustainable organic food production. Therefore I can’t help but seek out alternatives to make my plant career and hobby more sustainable and environmentally friendly.
Whilst I love houseplant shopping, I’ve been learning about all the terrible methods and means that companies use to create our plants. This has stopped me in my tracks. I mean literally, all those indoors house plants we buy without thinking… they are grown in pots of chemicals.
For instance, growth retardants are common. They keep the plant small and compact for a certain time, to appeal to your buyer demands. The soils and substrates are all filled with fertilizers and chemical enhancers. It produces uniform plants that can transport easily, maintain good growth and outwardly appear healthy whilst on the shelf in a shop.
Essentially, the means behind the production are insane and vast, and increasingly so. Balcony and indoor house plants are the biggest market when it comes to plants being bought within Europe alone. And the companies behind growing them are enormous.
The bulk of the German plant market, for instance, comes from Denmark. They produce plants in huge heated greenhouses. Where a sea of just a single plant type stretches out under the heated glass. And I can’t help but ask myself, in a world challenged by climate change. “Is growing vast amounts of houseplants in such heavily energy intensive systems for the simple fact of sprucing up a living room really sustainable?”
Why this is so important?
Last year, I visited the ‘Grossmarkt’ in Berlin. All the little shops will go and gather their plants from there. It was slightly scary, I won’t lie. On one hand, it was beautiful and I wanted to traipse home with armloads of orchids and ferns. On the other hand, something hankered in me about my new gained knowledge about where and how these plants were produced. How many chemical cocktails were keeping them perked and alive? How would this poor addict thrive when in my home? Would it survive for a year and then suddenly just droop? Because I don’t have the chemicals the poor addict needs again. How would it cope in a year when I decide to repot it with my nice organic potting soil?
Honestly, I began to wonder if many of the problems that people approach me with in regards to their houseplants, are in fact simply because they have been raised in such controlled environments. With such a huge addition of fertilizers, nutrients and other chemical wonders, and growing under perfect lighting and temperature conditions, these precious greenhouse beauties would naturally start to flag or not look so healthy anymore, because they’re simply not resilient enough.
So, with all of this in mind, here’s something I wonder: why aren’t there any bio-organic-potted houseplant companies out there? I’m curious.
When visiting that big plant market in Berlin and after hunting for quite some time, I finally managed to track down the ‘bio’ corner. Which totally disappointed me. In Germany, there is a very large emphasis on Bio and Organic, and they offer it nearly everywhere. But there in the plant market, the organic corner consisted of a few herb bushes like lavender and rosemary. And that was it. No palm trees, no ferns, not even a simple devils ivy, which is pretty much indestructible. And I really just found this sad to say the least.
The best indoor house plants: how to fight the system
So then what’s the solution? Don’t fear, I’m not just banging on about this without a bit of thought as to what we could do.
It’s not like we’re literally going to band together to create a sustainable organic plant shop, and transform the house plant industry (although I am toying with the idea). But what can we do in the meantime instead?
Well, I think the simplest option is to think about where you’re getting your indoor house plants from and to stop buying the chemical drug addict plants. I’m sitting here in my increasingly jungle-like living room, and trying to remember how and where I got every plant. I would like to tell you all, I didn’t buy any of them!
They have all been pinched (as in taking a cutting) or given from friends plants. And most importantly they’re all resilient and thriving! Also, they are all pretty well suited to our apartment. Because they grew from cuttings and baby offshoots in organic composted soil, they’ve either died (it does happen from time to time) or thrived. And they need very little care.
The only ones that struggle a wee bit are those given to me by our amazing apartment caretaker who’s an avid gardener and plant lover. He somehow always ends up with a jungle in his sunny windowsills. So those poor guys have struggled a bit in adjusting to our darker apartment but they’re getting there.
When in doubt, propagate!
Having plants, getting cuttings and experimenting with propagating babies from your own fully grown plants can be way more exciting than going and buying ready-made plants. I regularly find my monstera deliciosa making babies, and pop them into water. It generates root activity, and recently a friend got a baby one gifted for her birthday, which delighted her completely.
Propagating can be such an exciting way to learn about how different plant species reproduce, and how to get more babies from say your favourite succulent plant. A friend of mine takes great delight in acting like an insect and going around with a cotton bud in spring. They ensure that cross propagation occurs between all the same plant types, and therefore ensure a great spread of baby new plants. And I like this idea of growing, reusing and gifting indoors house plants.
When I look around my flat once more, every has a story behind who it came from and how. And when I think of all of my friend’s apartments and how we all have a family of homegrown plants shared between one another, kind of like plant relatives, I can’t help but think how nice this method it is.
So perhaps next time you want to add to your jungle, hold off from heading out to a garden shop and rather have a peek around your friend’s apartments. Ask if you can try and pinch a piece of one of their favourites.
But don’t forget to do your research. Many indoor house plants possess different ways of re-propagating from stem or a leaf, some regrow from the root. But not to worry, all of this information is readily available on the Internet. And most plants will grow from a cutting placed in water. After a bit of trial and error, the ones that do take off will leave you glowing with pride like a proud green-thumbed parent!