A 50-year-old Monstera Deliciosa is one of roughly 250 plants owned by house plant enthusiast Jacob James.
The 27-year-old from Leeds has turned his home into a mini jungle, with his leafy pals scattered over every room in his house. No windowsill, shelf or patch of free floor space is immune from the sprawling greenery, which he says calms him and adds “so much to a room”.
His favourite plant baby, he tells me, is a “50-year-old Monstera that has quite a lot of sentimental value and pride of place in our living room”. He bought the plant off eBay from a seller whose wife had recently passed.
“[The seller] told me plant was a present her father purchased for her 18th birthday,” explains James. “His wife had named the plant Cybil – 50 years later it was quite a substantial, large plant and he had no room to keep it.”
Letting his passion for plants show, James told the seller the plant would be cared for like a family member. “It’s a story that I think explains the importance of plants to some people,” he says. “We often grow up around the same plants in our homes and they get passed down from generation to generation.”
When James, the founder of Grow Tropicals – an online horticultural retailer specialising in rare tropical plants and indoor gardening accessories – first started his business, there were hundreds more plants in his spare room, he says, which his girlfriend wasn’t a fan of. Now, he’s settled on a mere 250.
A spider plant is his least favourite of the lot. “I always end up killing the ‘simple’ ones despite owning thousands of the rarest species,” he says. He’ll water the less fussy plants as and when needed, with no set routine. But the fussy ones live either in his office grow tent or an Ikea cabinet, and require a bit more care.
Even in smaller spaces, house plants are reigning supreme. Cathie Swan, 24, lives in a one-bedroom flat with her fiancée and has 53 leafy friends. “They’re lined up along all my windowsills – and every shelf, desk or table has at least a few plants on it,” says the freelance producer.
Swan’s friends and family think she’s obsessed, and she’s noticed her fiancée has mentioned they have “enough plants” on more than one occasion. “She’s learned I’ll always find room for more, so I think she’s given up on trying!”
Her favourite plant is a Calathea (Network), which has vivid green leaves and a pattern that looks like reptile scales. “I try to collect unusual-looking plants, and when I saw this one online, I was desperately ringing around plant shops, trying to get my hands on one,” she says.
“It’s absolutely beautiful and really low-maintenance – I have it in my living room, right next to the TV, so I can see it all the time.”
Swan’s least favourite of the bunch is a Fittonia, which she has a love-hate relationship with. “It’s so beautiful but, oh my god, SO dramatic,” she says. “They are prone to ‘fainting’ – if you allow their soil to dry out for even a day, they’ll wilt dramatically and look like they’ve died.
“I used to panic, but I find it quite funny now. I’ve assigned it a dramatic voice in my head. As soon as I give it some water, it perks right up again.”
Over the years, she’s tried to follow set routines with watering her plants but has swiftly realised that doesn’t quite work. “Some need watering far more than others, some need moving around a lot to get more sun, and some can literally be left alone in one spot for weeks on end and be totally fine,” she explains.
As such, her ‘routine’ is a bit more devil may care. She’ll check on them all every few days to see how they look. Do they have yellow leaves? Is the soil dry? This will determine whether she waters them or not. A few times a year, she’ll have a “pot-swapping party”, where she upgrades all her growing plants into bigger pots and makes room to buy more. “That’s about it really,” she says, “if you get low-maintenance plants, it doesn’t have to be a massive chore.”
It appears 50 seems to be the magic number for plants in smaller flats. Connor Prestwood, a 25-year-old from Leeds, also shares his home with 53 plants. “My friends and family are always dazzled at the amount of plants we have,” says the interior designer for Dowsing and Reynolds. “Whenever we give them the latest count, they’re shocked at how many more we have accumulated.”
His leafy friends are dotted around in places best suited to their type: high humidity-loving ones in the bathroom, sun lovers in his bright and airy living room.
Prestwood started off with some ivy and mini cacti – “easy to look after for a beginner” – and has slowly grown his collection over time. His favourite is the Common Asparagus Fern, he says. “I just love how it looks; a lovely and bushy plant that isn’t actually a fern.” His least favourite is the Calathea. “It’s very temperamental and can start to get sad and wilt at the slightest change in atmosphere,” he says. “Very high maintenance.”
Being an interior designer, he knows plants can brighten up a space – but he says they also make him feel good. “Plants are proven to clean the air and having them around the home greatly improves people’s moods and reduces the likelihood of stress-related depression,” he says. “There’s just something about being around them that makes you feel at ease.”
For Christina Pipe, whose small Bermondsey flat is filled with 67 plants, her leafy babes bring equal parts joy and stress – mainly when she hasn’t kept on top of maintaining them. “I try to keep as many as I can close to the window depending on light requirements,” says the 27-year-old operations executive. “In my bedroom I have about 20 – mostly cactis and succulents or easy water requirement plants – so if I forget about them it’s okay.”
Her favourite is her Monstera Deliciosa (“she’s basic but pushes so much growth with very little effort involved and always looks healthy”), while her least favourite are hanging plants like string of pearls and string of hearts, as she struggles to keep them alive.
If you’re looking to branch out into your own homemade jungle, Pipe’s biggest tip is not to overwater them – and the other house plant fanatics agree. “The easiest way to kill a plant isn’t neglect, but too much attention,” she says. “Overwatering is deadly. Location can affect the watering schedule too, as plants in less sunlight will use less water and need less frequent watering.”
Pipe says she’s learned there’s an ‘expectation versus reality’ of owning so many plants. “If you collect plants, it’s inevitable that some will die,” she adds. “I don’t think I’ve met a planty person that hasn’t brought a plant because it’s pretty, brought it home and realised after looking at the care instructions that it won’t work in the environment you live in. Letting go creates more growth.”
Top tips for keeping your plants alive
- Don’t take on too many at once, says Jacob James. Start with a couple of simple ones like Monstera and Spathiphyllum (Peace Lily) and learn to read the plant, when it needs water, how much light it needs, etc. “Once you have that dialled in you can comfortably start growing a collection without too much stress,” he says.
- Buy plants from reputable plant shops rather than supermarkets, as this will help you get plants that are healthier and more likely to thrive, adds James.
- Ignore those ‘hack’ videos you see on social media, says James. “Pretty much all of them are full of bogus advice that’s just eye-catching.”
- Don’t be afraid to experiment. Some plants die and that’s okay, says Cathie Swan. “Loads of the plants I’ve bought have died, despite my best efforts. But I’ve also had loads that have been growing for years, and doing really well, so those are what I focus on. It took me a while to figure out what types of plant could survive in my flat, but buying different species and sitting them in different parts of your house is a really fun, experimental part of plant ownership – it’s all a journey.”
- Don’t give up on your plants – or yourself! – if they’re going through a rough patch. “I once had a huge plant that one day, out of nowhere, dropped literally all its leaves except one tiny leaf at the top,” says Swan. She moved the plant to a different room with more sunlight, and months later it began to get new shoots. It’s still alive now and is huge.
- If you see a plant that you love the look of, swot up on its care needs so you have the know-how, suggests Connor Prestwood. “You’ll start to understand the plant’s language and will be able to read when it needs more/less light and water. If you still don’t feel 100%, there is a huge community of plant lovers that are always happy to help with queries.”