1970s are back, as Swiss cheese plants take root in homes of the young

It may have been the decade that taste forgot, but one convention of the beige-hued 1970s is said to be making a comeback with homemakers who don't even realise their parents did it first.

Mary Clear from Incredible Edible, Todmorden. Picture by Simon Hulme
Mary Clear from Incredible Edible, Todmorden. Picture by Simon Hulme

The once familiar sight of a Swiss cheese or rubber plant sprawling across the G-Plan furniture is now a sought-after accessory among couples and families with nowhere to grow plants outdoors, according to the Royal Horticultural Society.

Its list of gardening trends for 2019 also includes a return to “grow your own” vegetables, and planting to mitigate the effects of climate change.

The fashion for houseplants waned in the minimalist 1980s, as teak veneer gave way to Ikea pine, but the RHS says the trend has now reversed, with sales of cacti up by a third last year and peace lilies by a quarter – a movement it expects to continue.

“Social media shows this is a huge and growing trend,” said Matthew Pottage, curator of the RHS Garden at Wisley in Surrey.

“Tweets on houseplants often receive thousands of retweets,” he added.

Mr Pottage said he now saw fiddle leaf figs and Swiss cheese plants “everywhere in daily life”, especially around the younger generation who do not remember the 1970s and don’t want a garden of their own.

The coming year’s other likely trend, for home-grown vegetables, was greeted with little surprise in the Pennine town where the fad took root a decade ago.

“There is a little latent farmer in all of us,” said Mary Clear, chair of Incredible Edible, the community growing initiative she helped found in Todmorden in 2008 and which has been copied in hundreds of other locations worldwide.

Tim Hollis, head of buying at the RHS, said sales of vegetable seeds were outstripping those of flowers, with potatoes and courgettes heading the list, followed by onions, shallots, garlic, herbs and tomatoes.

Ms Clear said: “I think it’s a really primitive thing to do, to plant a seed and watch it grow and water it and nurture it.

“We’re powerless to do anything about Brexit so it’s little things like growing where people can make a difference. There has been a radical change in the last year and a half as people start to think about all the plastic in the oceans.”

She said she was “pleased but not surprised that the RHS had recognised growing’s popularity.

“It’s great to know they are thinking about it, because big showy planting displays that are pulled up each season are not very economical any more and not very kind to the planet. Even people who only grow flowers are thinking now about how they can produce in a more economical way,” Ms Clear said.

The RHS said it would adopt more sustainable strategies at its own gardens this year, including its showpiece centre at Harlow Carr in Harrogate, where green roofs will be installed on outdoor structures from wheelie bins to sheds, reflecting the need to deal with heavy downpours as the climate changes.

Amid rising concern about climate change, the need for sustainable solutions will also be a feature of this year’s RHS Chelsea Flower Show, which will have a water purifying wetland area.

Sarah Eberle, a gold medal winning garden designer at Chelsea, said: “We’ll be seeing a lot more planting that considers climate change.”