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Interview

Why we’re going gaga for gardening

Interview

Words by Georgie Sinclair

Photos by Lauren Maccabee

Growing up as a teenager in London, gardening was definitely not a hobby you’d be getting too familiar with. But now it’s 2018 and it’s not just a pastime for our aunts and grandparents, it’s for the rich and famous, too. One journalist who has been watching this phenomenon with keen interest is Alice Vincent. As an arts and entertainment writer for The Telegraph, she’s used to keeping up to speed with the latest trends. And with the latest craze taking hold she’s even scored her own piece of it with her new book, How to Grow Stuff. We caught up with Alice at the Barbican Centre Conservatory to talk about trends, technology and the future.

What do you think kickstarted the trend for gardening?

Trends are often a culmination of things. I think my generation – I’m 29 – were the first to grow up with the internet. We’re the first to have smartphones as young people and social media. Our adolescence was spent doing things with technology, rather than connecting with nature. A decade on, we’re beginning to feel the urge to switch off and slow down – embracing nature through plants is a very good way of doing that. Plus, they look beautiful – a decade ago the trend was for maximalism and loud, brash vintage styling. Design trends have naturally swung towards a more austere, pared-back look as the economy plummeted, and these emptier spaces create space for plants.

Can you identify any wider societal changes that it might be part of?

The housing market is definitely a big part of it. The only garden I’ve ever had access to as an independent adult was in Hackney, and I barely grew anything in it. That’s partly youth, but we were also renting it very cheaply, and nobody felt they could put down roots for long. As if to prove us right, within three years we’d been kicked out and the house was on the market for more than a million pounds. There’s a transience to people’s lives now that fewer people can afford to buy, but houseplants are portable, they also make a room feel better instantly.

“Our adolescence was spent doing things with technology, rather than connecting with nature”

Would it have taken off in such a huge way without the hand of social media and ‘influencers’?

It’s impossible to know. It’s true, I started my Instagram account (@noughticulture) to test the waters before I launched my column, and Instagram continues to be a source of stories and inspiration because trends will appear there first. However, I only started it because photographs of things I was growing did better on my personal Instagram account than other photos – people were captivated by greenery, whether it was taken in an aesthetically pleasing way or not.

Where is it headed?

I’ve thought about this a lot, especially as someone who has written a gardening book! Someone made a good analogy: it’s like healthy food trends. They will come and go, but every time there’s a major new health food trend, it changes the greater landscape a little bit. Perhaps quinoa will be stocked in supermarkets. Perhaps people eat more adventurously, even if they’ve never picked up the cookbook that started it all. While houseplants are a trend – in interiors, in other aspects of design – they are popping up in lifestyle branding more widely. You’ll see them in the visual merchandising on the high street, you can buy succulents in supermarkets, people are more intrigued about growing their own food. I don’t think it will leave, it may just quieten.

As a self-taught gardener, where did you look for guidance, or has it been a case of trial and error?   

So much trial and error! I think I have killed every plant in How To Grow Stuff, my book. It’s taught me how to spot if a plant is suffering or needs something. But I’ve also read books, of course, and looked online relentlessly. Part of the reason I started my column, however, was because I found the information online was baffling – it assumed so much knowledge, it assumed people had time and money, it used long latin words. I wanted to simplify what is quite complex, just so people could gain enough confidence to find out more.

What advice would you give aspiring green-fingers making a start in their career?

I gather what people like about my approach is that it’s honest and I’m upfront about the lack of my experience and my willingness to learn. I find it difficult to be artificial about gardening – it will become rapidly apparent if you don’t have the knowledge, so why pretend? So I’d advise to be genuine and try and offer something that isn’t already out there. I’d also recommend really questioning what your service is doing – what are you offering to people, how does it benefit the greater green movement.

Cool, thanks Alice!

 

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