Sunday, April 18, 2021

Getting High With Plants

 I have a problem with the whole concept of trends, the ones that pop up in glossy magazines or become internet memes forecasting what we are all going to follow next. I always feel as though I’m being manipulated in some way to adopt a completely new style by a current day company of Mad Men.

Yet there is another type of trend, the kind that is actually happening, in the moment, simply because people have decided that something is a great thing to do. In the world of plants and gardens, there are two that are prominent, and they are both connected to that unfortunately branded group, millennials, that is, those born in the years roughly spanning 1981 to 1996.

By all reports, this group is into plants and gardens in two specific ways — or both. One is the surge in backyard vegetable gardens, simply because they like to feed their young families with their own healthy produce. Wait, haven’t Generation X and baby boomers been doing that for ages? Yes, but the latter are tapering off a little as they reach the age when bodies are creaking as much as an old wheelbarrow. Many of that group are now moving into apartments and condos, leaving their gardens behind.

It’s in those new high-rises springing up like — okay, weeds — where the other trend is taking place. That is the growing of houseplants, particularly succulents. Succulents are especially popular because they’re easy to take care of. Little do these people know they’re also the gateway to larger, more exotic houseplants.

Next thing you know, these folks will be wanting to grow plants on their terraces and balconies. I can see it now — small shrubs, trees even, with masses of vines climbing and cascading over their multi-story building, just like Bosco Verticale (Vertical Forest). Bosco Verticale is a pair of residential towers in Milan, Italy where, instead of cold steel and glass, greenery flows over the whole exterior surface of the buildings

But why not here? Sure, Milan has an enviable climate, but we could start with roof gardens. Now I don’t mean green roofs covered mainly in hardy ground covers. They’re fine and have their purpose, but I’m suggesting more. Roofs on these buildings are wasted space when they could be productive. There’s plenty of room for raised beds where the building occupants can grow their fruits and vegetables, or ornamental plants if they wish, maybe even a cutting garden, and plants for pollinators, of course.

But what about a real garden? This isn’t a new concept, and many have been installed. Some years ago, in London, England, I ate at a restaurant located on the roof of a six-storey building that looked out on a beautifully landscaped garden. The garden held over seventy mature trees, including oak. It even had a stream and a pond complete with wandering flamingos. Known as the Derry and Toms Roof Gardens, it was on the roof of the former department store by that name which opened in 1933, when the gardens were first installed.

That may be ambitious, but why not? We’re losing green space, not only because of suburban sprawl, but in our uptowns and downtowns where the word is intensification. In order for this to take place, many new building high-rises are built on land that previously held houses. Gardens at ground level vanish along with the homes. “Paved paradise” anyone?

There is a need for greenery, for people to be able to stay in touch with the natural world, evidenced by the trends above, and countless studies have shown the benefits. Those millennials may believe they’re adding a living artwork to their condo, but it reveals an inherent need to stay connected. For those older baby-boomers living in the same buildings, there’s nothing many would like better than to again have a garden they can tend.

They’d be lining up to buy or rent, so what about it, planners, architects, builders, and developers? You can do it. Start a trend.

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