Storm Cupboard: Houseplants

When did we first start bringing the outdoor in? Was it for celebration, was it for beauty or ritual? Was it to feed the flame of fire or an act of awe? I don’t know. A better question: when did we first start pushing the outdoor out?

The invention of indoor space has been to human survival no more or less a part of nature, than the den is to the creature or the nest is to the bird. We are den-needing creatures. We take shelter, so that we may endure. The instinct to seek our nest is so profound to survival that “indoor space” can hardly be referred to as a human invention at all.

It is the further separation between the outdoor and the indoor, that is the particular fad of human society. That is an idea, not an instinct. It is a habit we have all been raised to understand. We understand it to the point that if we see an artificial flower, a bright specimen cut from chemicals few of us could guess at to name, that will out-live in years beyond any memory of the person who asked for it; we only see a thing so ordinary, unremarkable, normalised and expected, that we may not remember having seen it all. You could go a whole day without seeing a real, growing plant on the inside of a building, without even needing to try. We have separated our space and often now bring plastic in instead.

Yet, indoor growing things are among our greatest allies. Just as shelter defends us from the night, the sun, the wind and the rain, plants shelter us from pollution. Outdoor, or indoor, pollution of all kinds is insidious to human society. So it has always been, of one kind or another.

One solution: the integration of human and plant-space. Conservatories with trees in, windowsills teeming with life, an indoor jungle intermingled throughout the books and furniture of the home. Gardens full, balconies bedecked with hanging flowers, rooftops as living as the people beneath them. Extended green integration that flows from the field to the heart of the city and back. To live in the sound of birdsong, in the sight of blossom and leaf and fruit, even in the most urban, human, concrete part of the world. Cities marked on a map and by signage at the side of the road, but blurred at the edges where the is no clean, hostile border where the green things must not cross.

We have a right to plants, a right we have only to claim. Purchase one, take cuttings, plant-up its seeds and grow generations in your lifetime. Plants are a way that we can all invest in air. We must claim the right to do so.

Have you ever known a person who put plastic flowers in their garden? Or in terrace pots? Have you ever been somewhere where the grass had been replaced by a plastic lawn? It is possible the perpetrators acted before the really knew what it was that they did. Now, we know.

Any utopia we dream of in this, the twenty-first century (the promised time of many decades past, but which needs dreaming and needs uncharted centuries yet to come) must have home environments filled and coated with green life. There are predictions that we are approaching a year when the climate crisis will be beyond our power to repair. There are those telling us that this could be the last human century. Yet, this deadline they speak of, is only the time by which we have to buy ourselves more time. We do not have to have a perfect planet by 2030 or even 2050. We need to have a planet that has more time, that is all. We need the time, to do the greater work that must be done. So that those uncharted centuries will be possible, because of us. Unlike Aladdin’s instructions from his Genie, we can wish for more wishes.

We need to slow the crisis, we need more time. Push for renewable energy so that the remaining fossil fuels stay in the ground, reduce the plastic that you use, give up the habit of throwing things away; do this and you invest in time. Plant plants and you are wishing for more wishes.

Carbon-offsetting schemes, tree-planting, marine reserves, meadow set-aside, grass verge let run to tall flowers for the bees, green urban space, community gardens, allotments, window boxes, international schemes, the yard at the back of your house, the nooks and crannies in your student shared-house that are just large enough for a potted plant; each grounds us in our ancient home, before we pushed the outdoor out, and gives us the extra time we need breath by breath of fresh air.

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