Younger gardeners are discovering the joys of old-fashioned flower gardens, houseplants and crafty containers.
How do you know you’ve reached the stage of life politely referred to as “mature?” Perhaps when the things you once thought of as cutting-edge and hip are being discovered and embraced by a new generation.
There’s truth to the adage that everything old eventually becomes new again. It happens in interior decor; for instance, there’s the resurgent popularity of brass fixtures and Flokati sheepskin rugs.
Or take a look at the Fall 2016 Color Report, published by the Pantone Color Institute, which listed “Spicy Mustard” and “Aurora Red” as hot. Never mind that those colors are simply new versions of “Harvest Gold” and “Burnt Orange” that were popular back in the 1970s.
Trends get recycled in gardening, too.
Millennials are once again enthusiastic about the plants their grandparents grew. Houseplants are experiencing a renaissance, and folks today are digging interior garden accents formerly regarded as hopelessly passé, such as mounted plants, terrariums, macramé hangers and more.
The concept of a grandmother garden appeals to many, according to Katie Dubow of the Garden Media Group. “Flowers planted along walkways and close to houses and porches encourage lingering, touching, tinkering and inhaling,” she said. “All of this symbolizes, to us, the effort to slow down, enjoy life, and breathe!”
Judy Alleruzzo, perennial and tropical plant buyer at Al’s Garden Centers, also sees renewed interest in old-fashioned plants.
“Some new gardeners come from gardening families, so they have sentimental attachment to certain plants that Grandma or Grandpa grew in their gardens. They look for these varieties to remind them of gardening with their loved ones,” she said.
Leading a tour through her personal garden, Linda Hannan of Hannan Garden Design declared it her right to grow “grandma plants” like Lychnis coronaria (rose campion, pictured at right).
“I let Lychnis and Digitalis (foxglove) seed wherever they want to. If I don’t like where they’re growing I might move them in early spring, or rip them out entirely,” she said. “Many people think of [Lychnis] as a weed, but I love the felty blue-green leaves and the bright fuchsia flowers. It blooms for months and when it starts looking ratty I cut it down for another flush of bloom in late summer.”
When Hannan designs for her clients, especially those who have never gardened before, she strives for low-maintenance gardens featuring plants with at least three seasons of interest.
“Some of my clients have always grown annuals, but when the annuals died they realized that their garden looked horrible through late fall until spring because their garden lacked structure and beauty. I create gardens for them with a permanent backbone and then leave small pockets for them to plant each year with the annuals they love.”
These pockets are where “grandma plants” can be planted. “It’s my job to teach gardening fundamentals, without the fussy details that the grandma plants can require,” Hannan said. “Most of our grandmothers didn’t have the resources to acquire expensive or exotic plants, so plants were obtained from seeds, division or cuttings. We don’t even have to make that kind of effort now, because we can go to the local nursery and purchase our annuals. Our grandmas would be amazed at the diversity of the plants that are available to us.”
Hannan is also fond of Pelargonium (annual geraniums). She favors those varieties with less traditional colors, such as Pelargonium ‘Crystal Palace Gem’, with its lime-green leaves featuring a darker green center and a single coral-red flower, and P. ‘Vancouver Centennial’, which has variegated leaves — yellow with a bronze-red center — and a single orange flower.
Another old-fashioned flower Hannan praised is the marigold; specifically, Tagetes patula ‘Disco Golden Yellow’ and ‘Disco Red’. “The flowers themselves are single and vivid,” she said. “I pop them in wherever I need a bright spot.”
For foliage color, nothing beats Coleus. Hannan name-checked Solenostemon scutellarioides ‘Wasabi’ and ‘Electric Lime’ for their ability to brighten up shady areas. “I also use purple and deep red Coleus that have a foliage color so intense that they imitate large blooms,” she noted.
Another plant that’s regained the spotlight is Senecio cineraria (dusty miller), which has gone from weedy has-been to darling of high-end floral designers everywhere. It’s frequently seen nowadays keeping close company with ever-trendy succulents in bridal bouquets. For a stylish planting it can be combined with Ophiopogon planiscapus ‘Nigrescens’ (black mondo grass) to create a black-and-white color scheme that takes on a new dimension when the daisy-like yellow flowers appear on Senecio cineraria.
Houseplants are hip again
According to Jennifer Williams, creative director at Dennis’ 7 Dees Landscaping and Garden Centers, houseplants are the gateway to attracting younger generations into the garden. “Houseplants, as well as edibles, bring in the young, and once they’re in the door they fall for the creative potential of plants,” she said.
The high cost of home ownership may be a contributing factor to the newfound popularity of houseplants, table-top gardens and wall-mounted plants. A tight housing market puts owning a home — and soil in which to plant — out of reach for many Millennials.
As a result, not since the 1970s has there been such a proliferation of plants inside the home. The once-common Nephrolepis exaltata ‘Bostoniensis’ (Boston fern), Chlorophytum comosum (spider plant) and Epipremnum aureum (pothos) are less popular.
Today’s urban dwellings are more likely to have Monstera deliciosa (commonly confused with split-leaf philodendron, which lacks the holes seen in Monstera leaves), Ficus lyrata (fiddle-leaf fig) and many Sansevieria species (mother-in-law’s tongue).
Another difference is the density of potted plants, which isn’t on par with the ’70s jungle aesthetic. The modern-day look is small groupings near windows and on horizontal surfaces.
Planters are carefully considered. Containers need not match, but they are definitely meant to evoke a certain feel — terra cotta, textured glazes or the trendy repurposed containers. Teacups, spice jars and thrift-store finds are prized for their reduce/reuse/recycle credibility as well as their one-of-a-kind nature.
Alleruzzo said small succulents and cacti are “cool” because they’re easy to care for, and they come in interesting shapes and colors. She said terrariums are also coming back in a major way. “Glass environments are very interesting to create and keep alive in your home. Instead of the clear plastic spheres on a white stand from the ’70s, we stock new and unusual glass for terrariums,” she said. “We have formed molten glass attached to driftwood, geodesic hanging glass shapes and new glass containers that can be used as terrariums.”
Williams agreed. “Arid terrariums (no lid) with cacti are super popular right now and are very easy to take care of.” She explained the traditional tabletop terrarium has also been given a twist, with “hanging glass terrariums and aeriums (for Tillandsia, aka air plants) as well as the classic ferny forest combinations.”
Customization is important, Williams said. “Some people like to go whimsical and add a tiny deer or other accessory to add personality. And there are a ton of top dressings that aid in expressing your style: different colored sand, small pebbles in natural and glossy, small polished glass in collections that color coordinate.”
Alleruzzo said interest in air plants is off the chart. “They are easy to care for and just so unique! I used to just bring in a selection of Tillandsia and not have their specie names on the price tags,” she said. “We now have collectors that seem to stop by weekly to check out our selection. They want more information about what they are purchasing. We built specific tables with wire mesh for our Woodburn store’s display. Sales increased dramatically. In 2017, we’ll remake Tillandsia displays to fit the floor plan of the area in our other two stores.”
There’s a crafty side to today’s plant-related decor and accessories, which appeals to a wide assortment of people.
For starters, macramé is back. Alleruzzo reported that Al’s will carry woven plant hangers for indoor houseplants, for those who haven’t yet learned how to craft their own.
At Dennis’ 7 Dees, classes and hands-on workshops are popular with 45 to 65-year-old customers as well as a much younger crowd. “It’s all about the experience,” Williams said. “Young people want to take a trend and make it their own — something that expresses their personal tastes and style.”
Mounted plants are again in vogue. Staghorn ferns (Platycerium, a genus of about 18 fern species) are frequently sold unmounted, but there are online tutorials that explain how to mount them. Tillandsia and bromeliads are often wired or glued to driftwood. These do-it-yourself projects give the creator an opportunity to put his or her own stamp on the finished product.
Williams summed it up: “The really great part about these trends is that they’re helping to engage young people who don’t consider themselves gardeners, but recognize the benefits of adding greenery to their indoor environments and want the experience of nurturing plants. It gives them options that are creative and trendy.”