Gardening, houseplants and social class

Variegated Monstera deliciosa Thai Constellation
Image via Wikimedia Commons

It is no surprise that your interest in horticulture can be seen as an indicator of social class. After all, nurturing a plant so that it can produce pretty blooms or beautify your space is ostensibly very similar to the upper class’ fascination with beautiful pieces of art, at least in principle. In fact, in the 16th century, a formal garden was an indicator of being a part of the wealth upper class, and in the 18th century, how one’s garden was laid out and planted was a sign of one’s station in society. Today, due to the growing popularity of houseplants, no doubt driven by the desire to connect with nature within an increasingly manmade landscape, houseplant collections and Instagram feeds have become the new formal gardens.

Last night, I was shopping for plants online, when I saw a Monstera deliciosa “Thai constellation” for sale at a comparatively affordable price point, and wondered whether I should purchase it. In the end, I decided not to buy it. I realised something: people are buying ‘popular’ or trendy plants which are actually very easy to grow ad propagate for prices which can’t really be justified, given how easy the cuttings are to root. A variegated monstera, a variegated syngonium, a large ficus or an exotic-looking philodendron can cost much more than it costs to produce simply because they’re on trend.

Owning one of these plants is a signal to others that you’re on trend, and that you’re part of the small elite who was able to afford to drop hundred of dollars on a single plant. Having these plants on your Instagram is a surefire way to gain likes and follows from other indoor gardeners who want to see more of these plants. It’s almost like transforming economic capital into a plant that generates social capital. Thus, the acquisition of certain indoor plants, plant accessories (watering cans, plant stands, cover pots), or even certain aesthetics have become mainstays of the habitus associated with the culture of affluent city-dwelling millenials.

This kind of consumerism doesn’t appeal to me personally: when I buy houseplants, I think about the beauty they can bring to my space. Certainly, expensive plants are beautiful, but are they beautiful enough to warrant a price 5 times higher than their slightly simpler counterparts, who may not have the same variegation? To me, the answer is no. Plants are, at the end of the day, more than just a trend. They are companions, decorations, living art. All houseplants have inherent beauty, which you can bring out with good care, and a little consideration for aesthetics. This consumerism, to me, seems largely pointless, unless you’re a plant blogger or YouTuber, meaning you can later monetise your new followers and likes. Even then, one must rightly question: “if my followers are only there because they want to see rare and expensive plants, will I need to keep up with all the new trends from now on in order to satiate them so they stick around?”

Moreover, once the trends fade, these plants will no longer be sold at such high prices. If you truly love the look of these plants, simply buy them when the hype has died down, and others have propagated them. Peperomias were very expensive at the height of their popularity, but now, nobody can fathom paying more than $10 for a Peperomia because they’re so prolific in terms of reproduction. Nobody will know that you got the plant later than others, and I doubt anyone will really care either. Likewise, when the Philodendron erubescens “Pink Princess” first hit the market, people would pay anything to get their hands on one. Yet, it has become clear that they grow so quickly and propagate so easily that it seems foolish in retrospect to have paid exorbitant prices for such a plant. Thus, it seems to me, foolish that plants should be flaunted around for their price tag. Plants should be flaunted when they bloom to their fullest potential because of good care, or when each new leaf on it is larger than the last because you provided it with everything it needed, year after year.

Of course, this is all personal opinion. At the end of the day, you can do whatever you want with your money. This was just my two cents on the matter, and an affirmation to those who do not conform to plant trends in terms of their indoor gardening.

Published by plantboye

Tech illiterate and pretending to be proud of it.

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