With some people still shielding indoors, and others not having access to a garden or allotment, Sandra Gibson, introduces the solution of Indoor Gardening.
Someone interviewed on Radio 4 had 27 avocado plants growing from seeds left over from a guacamole habit. It’s easy to see why indoor gardening is in the ascendancy: it’s a cheap, miniaturised, controlled activity, time-efficient, free from annoyances like wind or rain damage, and easily modified – just move pots around until they smile at the conditions. Thanks to central heating we can grow tropical things, and these dramatic, sculptural plants contribute to our personal style of interior décor. A splurge of colour or a screen of living green can be impactful and instantly transformative, thanks to our local supermarket selling plants fully grown and at their zenith. For the Feng Shui aficionado, plants allegedly impact on household wealth. Money plants – often seen in Chinese restaurants – need light but hardly any water or feed and are prolific multipliers. Just take a succulent leaf and thumb it into some soil and you will get guaranteed interest on your minute investment of time and effort. For a hobbyist, happiness is having their collection of weird and desiccated air plants or blood-thirsty carnivorous plants safe, and well within fussing-over distance. Crucially speaking, indoor gardening means that people without gardens, or with shared gardens, can still benefit from their own plants.
Is there more to this trend than miniaturist zeal, or convenience or home styling or green deprivation?
Well, there’s the often-untapped yearning for self-sustainability that has us growing several sturdy plants from one left-over slice of disconsolate tomato. As children we have grown feathery green tufts from carrot tops, but things can become really chefie if we dabble with micro-sprouting. Alys Fowler1 recommends very bright light for baby leaves of basil, watercress, brassicas, red amaranth, coriander and peas, all to be harvested at 5cm tall. More bizarrely: place mushroom spawn inside a paper-back (read it first), moisten, and wait for the fungus to burst forth. She recommends some familiarity with germination temperatures if we’re growing mangoes, avocados (both 21-25 degrees), or pomegranates (18-20 degrees). In fact, a bit of gardening knowledge will stop us hoping for a little olive tree because olive trees must be left for fifty years without pruning. If we can bear the fuss, medjool dates need to be soaked for a week, (their water changed daily), then placed within damp kitchen towels, placed in a freezer bag, and kept warm for several weeks until germination. It’s probably just as satisfying to get rootings from things we’ve left forgotten in a vase: rose geranium foliage is quick to grow roots, as are hydrangea blooms.
Some indoor plants accommodate the laziest gardeners. Devil’s Ivy requires very little light and no care at all, except occasional watering when it gets floppy. Other retro favourites like spider plants and Swiss cheese plants are equally unkillable. I would buy a rubber plant simply for its name: Ficus elastica, and because it only needs watering once a fortnight.
Improving air quality is another reason for having plants. The Lady Palm will banish ammonia (found in beauty and cleaning products); English ivy needs only 12 hours to eliminate 80% of airborne mould, for example. Plants also increase air humidity and this fights against sluggishness – an important work-place consideration. Researchers2 had workers completing computer tasks in rooms with or without plants. Those in the plant-rich room were more productive, less stressed and had lower blood pressure. A Norwegian researcher3 found that sickness rates fell more than 60% in offices with plants.
Corporations have taken up these ideas, none more spectacularly than at Spheres, part of the Amazon Corporation HQ in Seattle (photo above). It contains a lush indoor garden of thousands of green plants, a living wall four storeys high, and a 50-foot-tall, 20-ton fig tree as its centrepiece, confirming it as the new tropical Eden, with temperatures kept at 22 degrees with 60% humidity. This is all for the benefit of creatively inspiring Amazon’s 53,000 employees. Yet top gardener Monty Don4, points out that the employees have been brought into a “bubble of nature” where their experiences are divorced from the outside world. The plants are not local and could not survive without technology and expense. I suppose he envisions a dysfunctional world in which we have created these indoor garden bubbles, expensively maintained for our survival, whilst outside is a desert.
Back to the avocados. To grow one, or even 27, we need to make a supportive structure involving toothpicks in order to suspend the large stones over water, so that the bottom half is submerged. I’m not sure what happens next, because none of mine ever made it. This is probably the reason, kindly suggested by Jane Hammett5: “This is really not advisable. They germinate perfectly normally in compost and the holes encourage rotting”. So be aware – human “ingenuity” such as toothpick technology is not always appropriate!