Chastity Cummings had two houseplants as of mid-May.
Today she has more than 60.
Like many of her fellow millennials, the Ronks woman has thrown herself into living the plant-parent life.
The term “plant parent” was already prevalent and growing strong before COVID-19. Now? It’s like that trend has been given an extra dose of Miracle-Gro.
“Spurred on by social media and the wellbeing craze, millennials … have fallen in love with indoor plants,” according to a 2019 trends report from Kennett Square-based Garden Media Group.
Millennials were then responsible for nearly a third of all houseplant sales, according to the report. Sales were already booming.
“And that was before the pandemic. You can just imagine what’s happening now,” says the marketing firm’s president, Katie Dubow.
A desire to connect with nature. A need to make home somewhere pleasant to be. Time spent online following “plant influencers.” It’s all working in harmony in favor of plants, she says.
Before COVID-19, one such influencer — Timothy Hammond of the Instagram account @BigCityGardener — got a message from a follower every few days. He now gets dozens each day from new gardeners seeking advice and gained 10,000 followers in six weeks, according to Garden Media’s most recent report.
Hammond is into edible gardening. But decorative houseplant influencers are going strong, too, Dubow says. These are folks like Hilton Carter, a filmmaker from Baltimore whose plant-filled home graced the cover of Italian Vanity Fair this summer. And there’s Summer Rayne Oakes, a model and environmental scientist who grew up in a small town near Scranton and now has more than 1,000 plants in her apartment in Brooklyn, New York.
Plenty of plant non-celebrities also post pictures to Instagram using hashtags like #houseplant and #plantparent.
Cummings does. The plant that got things rolling for her was one she picked out for Mother’s Day. It helped her cope with a loss. Now, Cummings says, her growing collection is just generally good for self care. She relaxes by tending to plants and sipping coffee while her daughter is sleeping.
Many people her age who are into the trend don’t have human children.
“With the world the way it is right now, a lot of people my age don’t know if they want to have kids yet,” Cummings says, adding that many invest all their time in careers.
“Having a dog and being a fur parent — which I also consider myself; I have three dogs — won’t work for them,” she says. “So why not get a plant? A plant is a living thing. It just doesn’t need to be let out and fed as often.”
Those are the very motivators Dubow mentions while explaining millennials’ embrace of houseplants. To keep up the momentum amid a pandemic, sellers like Plants.com have adapted this year by adding new houseplant delivery options and creating a line specific to at-home offices, Dubow says.
Evan Young of Lancaster enjoys browsing for unique plants in person whenever he stumbles across a new purveyor during his travels. He’s a relatively new convert to plant care.
“There’s a definite nerdiness to it,” says Young, who describes his age as on the upper edge of millennial.
“Researching a plant’s properties and what it needs, figuring it out – that’s the kind of thing I enjoy,” he says. “There’s feedback from plants when you’re successful.”
Young and his girlfriend — crystal jewelry designer Emily Moccero — grow some greenery like a trendy “Swiss cheese” plant and an alien-like ant plant inside Realm & Reason, the jewelry and clothing store they run on West King Street.
They’ve also amassed a plant collection started by happenstance in the pumpkin-pine-floored apartment above the shop. They renovated that and rent it out on Airbnb.
“We wanted to pay a little bit of homage to its Victorian ancestry. So we wanted to put in some antiques,” Young says. “But Victorian isn’t always the most comfortable when you want to sit down and relax. So we decided to mix in some mid-century modern.”
The combination worked. But something was missing.
“It still felt stark. So we put in some live plants and it really started to fill up the space,” Young says. “It brought in color and life.”
He says the living additions help their apartment stand out among rental options, with one picture even beckoning potential takers to come “hang out with your new plant friends.”
Stays are usually short enough that Young can get into the apartment and water plants as needed between guests. But when someone lingers, he asks if they could give them a drink.
“Our guests aren’t the kind who are going to mind taking care of some plants,” he says.
It doesn’t always work. Young says a ficus met its demise when one long-term guest moved it to the wrong light.
“That was a bummer,” Young says.
Lani Longenecker of Lititz is proof that it’s not just millennials who are embracing the plant-parent moniker. She’s in her 40s and finds caring for houseplants quite helpful in a time of social distance.
“For me it’s very therapeutic. Staying home so much can make you feel sad and lonely. It really helps every day to be checking on them,” Longenecker says. “I search online for the best ways to take good care of each one. I’ve learned a lot. And I photograph each one.”
Longenecker is one of more than 1,400 members of the Lancaster County PA Plant Swap group on Facebook. Members arrange trades of both indoor and outdoor plants.
Longenecker has named a few of her plants. A favorite is a massive pothos called Queenie.
“It’s very inspiring every time they get some flowers or a new leaf,” she says. “I post those on Facebook and my friends are starting to get into it, too. It’s contagious.”
Cummings says she’s also converted some friends.
“And my mother-in-law shares this passion with me, too, which is nice because my father-in-law and my husband are Harley fanatics,” she says. “They go riding. We go to the nursery.”