Life

The retro plants to fill your home with right now

Posted by
Alice Vincent
Published
A large green cheese plant leaf on a pink background

Journalist Alice Vincent rounds up the retro greenery trends that first bloomed in the 60s, 70s, and even the Victorian era that you need in your home now. 

The foliage of tropical plants tangles elegantly against a backdrop of earthenware pots and polished teak, next to a gold watering can and, inexplicably, half an avocado. 

It may sound like the set-up of a well-liked Instagram post, but it’s a scene from a book published in 1978. I’ve amassed a fine collection of retro houseplant tomes over the years, and some of them seem uncannily familiar.

Millennials may have grown up in an almost entirely plant-free existence (hello, minimalism) but, as the author of How To Grow Stuff (£12.99, Ebury), I can tell you that houseplants were – sometimes literally – huge in the 70s. They were beloved in the 50s, too – and young Victorian women were obsessed with collecting ferns. In short, there’s nothing new about your late-onset plant obsession. People have been putting pots on windowsills for more than a century.

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And while there have been newcomers to our homes – in years to come, the fiddle leaf fig will be seen as a deeply 2010s plant – we keep returning to retro favourites because they are tropical plants that are happy to suffer in our dark, centrally heated homes. 

There’s also the cyclical nature of trends that sees our generation fighting on eBay over G-Plan units our grandparents might have bought. Plus, they’re practical: with more of us living in cities and facing the reality of a lifetime of rent, houseplants offer the closest we’ll get to a garden – and one that can be moved in an Uber.

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Cynics will call the houseplant phenomenon a trend – that we’re filling our homes with plants to avoid such responsibilities as, say, child-rearing.

But I can’t see plants going anywhere. Having them around actively makes us feel better. Plants boost concentration and mood, can reduce stress and some even purify the air – which is more than you can say for that bamboo lamp shade.

So, see below for my pick of the best retro houseplants to make your home greener.

Spider plants

One of the more unfairly overlooked retro plants, spider plants are ludicrously tolerant and look divine hanging. Beloved in the 70s, they’ll put up with low light and propagate like the proverbial. Brown leaf tips suggest not enough humidity – keep them misted or in your bathroom.

Monstera deliciosa

Known to baby boomers as ‘swiss cheese plants’, the monstera has become the de facto symbol of the millennial houseplant phenomenon, cropping up everywhere from tea-towels to T-shirts. Kept well-watered in bright, indirect light, the monstera will happily sprawl – just give it something to cling to.

Begonias

One of the more recent grandma plants to be hauled out of the archives, begonias came into fashion in the 60s. There are countless varieties, but the polka-dotted begonia maculata whitii has Instagram appeal. Keep it moist and don’t be afraid to cut back if it gets too gangly.

Cacti

Some may remember these collecting dust in their childhood bedrooms, due to the cacti fascination of the 90s. The rise of bohemian interior trends has seen jumbo cacti return to vogue. It’s true that they can be low-maintenance, but making sure they get enough light and warmth is crucial.

Parlour palm

The Victorians evoked class with the gently arching fronds of the parlour palm. These days, you’re more likely to see them being traipsed home from Ikea or Columbia Road Flower Market in east London. Too much dry indoor heat can leave their leaf-ends brown and crispy.

Rubber plant

Otherwise known as ficus elastica, this shade-tolerant beast was big in the 70s. The shiny, structural leaves make it a good, large-plant equivalent to the far more fussy fiddle leaf fig. Water every couple of weeks and make sure it has enough room in the pot to encourage new shoots to pop up.

Boston fern

The Victorians adored ferns, to the extent that there was even a word for the craze: pteridomania. Their understated foliage and lack of flowers makes them work in modern homes. Moisture is key: keep them away from hot spots and regularly misted, and snip any brown bits down to the base of the plant.

Golden pothos

My favourite beginner houseplant. This rapacious vine wound itself around interiors in the 60s but Pinterest has seen it make a welcome comeback. Golden pothos will grow tumbling leaves in spite of low light and minimalist watering (it will only start to droop after three weeks).

Succulents

It feels as if succulents have been around forever, but before their recent resurgence they hadn’t really been seen on windowsills since the 90s. Remember they hail from hot, dry places so water sparingly, put them somewhere sunny and remove rotten foliage as you spot it.

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Alice Vincent

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