THE HISTORY OF THE HUMBLE HOUSEPLANT
Whether it’s for their fragrance, style, culinary use or health benefits, people have been bringing plants into their homes for thousands of years. The history of the houseplant is wicked – from female pioneers growing gardens upside down to sailors risking their lives to bring citrus trees back across the oceans. We give a knowing nod to the Victorians trying to combat pollution with the humble fern, and then have our minds blown as a houseplant reference book becomes the second biggest seller after the Bible. But throughout all this, one thing holds true: over thousands of years, we’ve all been plant obsessed.
No-one actually knows when the first plant was brought inside, but the first recorded examples can be found in artworks from Ancient Greece. The Greeks decorated almost every part of their lives, from their streets to the insides of their homes, so it’s no wonder that they turned their attention to plants. Ancient Egyptian records indicate the first official trade of flora between countries, and the badass Egyptian Queen Hatshepsut grew frankincense in her temple in 1478 BC. In ancient China, the Chinese pimped their homes with plants to signify their wealth, and Roman villas were scented with the blossom of citrus trees. In around 600 BC, King Nebuchadnezzar built botanical bliss down by the rivers of Babylon. He made the gardens for his wife, Queen Amytis, who missed the green hills of home, filling them with fragrant blooms – every plant you can imagine, and trees hanging from the ceiling!
In the seventeenth century, plant discoveries from far and wide were brought back by blustering sea captains. Houseplants got their first shout out in The Garden of Eden, a MASSIVE book written by Sir Platt in 1652. He wrote of ‘cultivating plants indoors’. Over three hundred years ago, the first book aimed at the ‘city gardener’ (sound familiar?) remarked on how fellow citizens indulged their love for gardening in the little space the city offered, by ‘furnishing their rooms or chambers with basins of flowers and bough pots’. Pots were a big deal in the eighteenth century, when they started to be mass-produced for commercial uses.
The nineteenth century saw advances in the home and as domestic heating improved, plants moved from hot houses to conservatories and into our living rooms. The arrival of the sash window from Holland led to the design of window sills and balconies and houseplants flourished, natch.
The twentieth century saw houseplants falling in and out of favour on the regs, but their big moment came in the 1980s, when they were not only considered as design features, but a great way of making a healthy home! Until this point there had been a strange stigma that houseplants were bad for you because they might attract pests and dust into the home, but when NASA launched their research that having plants in the home was absolutely beneficial for your health, plants flew off the shelves!
In recent years, plants have made (another) comeback, and we can look back to history to see why plants are relevant now. Like the Greeks, we are all looking for more ways of self-expression, like the Victorians we are trying to combat pollution, and like anyone living anywhere in the modern world we are trying to reclaim nature, in whatever mini-succulent-sized way we can.
To learn more about the history of the houseplant and the amazing benefits of so many more plants, pick yourself up a copy of How Not To Kill Your Plants!