Although I was born on the cusp of Gen Z, I identify with a lot of millennial stereotypes. I have social anxiety, a baby pink Away suitcase (totally worth the money, IMO), and I’m addicted to my phone. Recently I’ve fallen into another trope newly associated with my generation: I’ve become a plant mom.
I’m certainly not alone in this obsession. In 2016 more than 5 million millennials took up gardening for the first time, according to the National Gardening Survey. And in 2017 the number of 18- to 34-year-olds who bought plants reached an all-time high. Altogether, the gardening industry raked in a record $47.8 billion last year. It could be Instagram or a growing interest in our health as more studies are confirming the benefits of houseplants, but plants are now as much a millennial status symbol as Glossier and weighted blankets.
My journey started slow, a succulent here and there to make my college dorm feel more homey. When I moved into my first apartment, I adopted a tall leafy plant that I found on the street. In hindsight, this was probably a terrible idea, but what first-apartment decoration really ever is on point? Now in my current place, cacti and small palms line the windowsill in my living room. Flowers from Trader Joe’s cover my kitchen table, bedroom, and living room. A bodega bamboo plant sits on my dresser among my collection of perfume bottles and vintage ashtrays, and a planter shaped like a young pope holds an ivy plant on the window by my bed.
With every big, waxy Monstera leaf or pint-size succulent that flickered across my feed, my inner green thumb ached.
Before I knew it, my house held almost as many plants as pairs of shoes, and I couldn’t pop into a bodega or Trader Joe’s (two of my favorite spots for affordable plants) without leaving sans greenery. To be completely honest, the reason I first become a plant hoarder is the same (embarrassing) reason I make most of my decisions these days: Instagram. I follow more models and It Girls than people I know in real life, and it no longer felt like enough just to dress like them, I wanted to live like them too.
With every big, waxy Monstera leaf or pint-size succulent that flickered across my feed, my inner green thumb ached. I didn’t even know I had one, in fact, until literally all I could think about were plants. How would a cactus look in that corner? Ooh, what about a palm over there? I wondered as I aimlessly scrolled away, designing in my head to try an emulate the apartments I lusted over online. For every selfie posted with a lush green leaf in the background, I picked up another bouquet in hopes that it would make me more like the person I wanted to be.
Of course, that’s not how it works. Buying more plants didn’t make me more photogenic or outgoing—but it did make me feel like an adult who has her shit together. Instead of spending money on a quick thrill like a new lipstick or sweater I’ll wear once, I was purchasing something beautiful for my home. Studies have shown that houseplants can make us feel calmer and reduce toxins in the air. I’d like to think that’s mostly true. There really is something cozy and relaxing about being surrounded by greenery, especially when you get so little of that living in a city.
My plant purchasing habits also made me feel responsible in a way I never have before by giving me something to take care of. I’m not quite ready for a pet, and kids are way far off in my future—if at all—but I still have that maternal ache to care for something. Enter my collection of house plants. They don’t have names, but I lovingly refer to all of them as “she.” They give me something to tend to; plus, they help make my small, cluttered apartment feel a little more like a sanctuary.
There’s only one problem: I’m a terrible plant mom. About 70 percent of the plants I bring into my apartment die within two months. Buying the plants only gives me the illusion of responsibility; I have absolutely no follow-through and I’m awful at remembering to water them. Thankfully, my boyfriend is much more attentive, and I credit him for keeping our plants alive at all. My apartment has very little natural light and is shared by five people, so it’s super crowded and things are constantly being moved around. This isn’t a great environment for plants to flourish, and my place is often so messy that caring for them seems pointless. It’s not having them there magically transforms my space into an Instagram apartment.
And still, I continue to buy them. The initial thrill is so good that I convince myself this time will be different—this is the plant that will beat all the odds and live. But I’ve had to set a few ground rules. I won’t spend more than $20 on a plant (my boyfriend doesn’t follow this rule, though, so we have a few plants from The Cactus Store), and I tend to stick to succulents or cacti since they require less attention.
Although I longingly scroll through The Sill’s Instagram, I will not invest in a plant from them until I prove to myself I have the skills to care for it. Instead, I stick to corner stores and the local greenmarket. If I’m looking for something a little more interesting, I’ll splurge a bit at Rosehip and Other Times, which are both in my neighborhood and have reasonably priced plants. And for those not in NYC, obviously Urban cornered that market quick. (There’s an entire “Grow Shop” section on its website.) I’ve found I’m more likely to keep something alive if I keep it in a cute vessel—that way it feels more permanent—so I buy vintage planters and vases on Etsy as motivation.
Even though I’ve proved myself time and time again an unfit plant mom, I won’t let it stop me. The allure that, if I could just take care of it, I could be the woman I’m meant to be is too strong. Maybe one day.
Bella Cacciatore is a beauty assistant at Glamour.