IIt’s amazing, at least to me, to think that I’ve been working in horticulture for nearly two decades. For most of this time, there has been a real concern about how to attract new audiences, and especially young people, to art. I was often invited to sit on industry boards to think about new approaches and asked to consult on huge campaigns, all of which simply insisted on producing more of the same . So it’s exciting to see that young people are now doing it for themselves – in radically different ways, essentially creating what I think can only be described as a parallel horticultural universe.
Over the past five years, there has been a veritable explosion of interest in plants among younger generations. With the #plantsofinstagram hashtag racking up nearly 13,000 posts, more than six times that of #avocadotoast, and some indoor plant retailers reporting a 500% spike in interest in the last year or so, this is the radical transformation that we desperately needed.
But when you meet them, these new horticulturists don’t read gardening magazines, watch gardening TV shows, or even shop at garden centers. They often come from backgrounds such as tropical fish or exotic animal farming, or the geek science of lighting or hydroponic technology. Or they have a passion for interior design, or simply a fascination with collecting rare things. But what they have in common is that almost all of them entered plants through completely new routes. To me, what’s so fascinating about this is how it creates a palette of plants, new techniques and an aesthetic that are all very different from the stilted horticultural standards I grew up with and have stuck with. largely unchanged for decades. And it seems to exist in another gardening reality.
They’ve really built their own gardening media on YouTube and Instagram that’s much more dynamic, experimental, and accessible than traditional gardening media, which in my experience is notoriously dangerous, repetitive, and open only to people of one social demographic. and very fixed ethnicity.
They’ve even launched their own online nurseries, like the very cool Grow Tropicals, Spicesotic Plants and Ugly Plantling, sold on internet auction sites and at fairs with more ironic beards and arm tattoos. than you might see at craft beer festivals.
At a recent sold-out event, I asked the audience of young plant geeks, a few decades younger than me – for my own curiosity – how many of them were actually trained horticulturists. Only two hands were up, and both had been expelled from horticulture college for allegedly picking too many plants and having unusual pets in their student dorms.
No wonder things are changing, and thank God it’s for the better!
Follow Jack on Twitter @Botanygeek