The thriving surviving plants from the 60s and 70s
PUBLISHED: 12:16 29 March 2017 | UPDATED: 12:16 29 March 2017
Recalling a past colleague’s fuchsia faux pas, but keeping her own hatred of begonias, Naomi Slade celebrates the thriving survivors from the Sixties and Seventies
Some plants have an enduring popularity, but for some unfair reason other much loved species find themselves cast out and crushed with derision without warning. And while the 60s and 70s have a lot to answer for, it is remarkable how many plants have seen a revival.
Think about Swiss cheese plants, Monstera deliciosa. On the one hand, they evoke flared trousers, lava lamps and regrettable brown and orange interior décor. On the other they are a freshly acceptable thing in modern interior-tropical chic. Go figure. And air plants – suddenly they dangle in glass baubles in every home, but surely this is just the latest incarnation of the dish-of-cacti-on-a-windowsill of yore.
But it is not only about house plants. The descendants of those on-trend urban gardeners of 50 years ago are to this day struggling with the fact that granny’s dwarf conifers seem to have gone all massive on them. (Hint – not actually dwarf, just slow-growing. Give ‘em enough time, say about 50 years, and they’ll be pretty mega).
No plant is safe. I remember when I first joined a gardening magazine a colleague was extremely unflattering about a fuchsia that really didn’t deserve the abuse. I didn’t dare ask her about forsythia. Meanwhile I nurture a hatred of begonias (sorry chaps, not above irrational loathing – I just hate the colours, the leaves, the horrible fleshy quality – but I digress).
Dahlias, those darlings of the modern florist were doomed to years of ignominy until they were ‘rediscovered’ a few years ago. I suppose one could point the finger at the ‘Bishop of Llandaff’ and his tidy, well-coloured, handsome ilk. But that just opened the floodgates – pompom and cactus dahlias as big as dinner plates and the colour of tropical cocktails – we can’t get enough. And zinnias, too. Right on-trend are zinnias.
But there are some plants that just don’t deserve it. What did marigolds ever do to anyone apart from being pretty and easy to grow? And geraniums? I have fond memories of them growing in my great-grandfather’s tiny back yard, but they were planta-non-grata by the time I reached my teenage years, and their revival has been slow, but steady, and (presumably) helped by cheap flights to places where they look good in the heat, against whitewashed walls and blue sky.
Colour seems to be a factor in this. Strong reds and yellows seem to have had a bit of a dip in the fashion stakes (although the 1980s should hang its head in shame – what did they want, neon plants?). And what about Kerria japonica with its fluffy yellow pom-poms? Well it can still be seen hanging on in older gardens and just shrieks ‘blast from the past’ at passers by – that it until it becomes the next new old thing, I suppose.
But in many ways it is not the plants themselves that have changed significantly, it is us. The way we view them, the way we want to use them. Interiors may have become more minimal and bold plants look good. Wedding bouquets are now often soft and romantic with traditional flowers. And we often temper floral excess with moderating companions – or perhaps just revel in the vast, glorious vulgarity of it all.
But we should take a little care. As the legacy of the 1960s, 70s and especially 80s shows, what is high fashion now will be simply hilarious in a couple of decades. And there is not much we can do about it, apart from enjoy our tastes and excesses in the full knowledge that at some later point someone will have a good laugh at our expense.
• 17 things for gardeners to do in 2017 - Here’s a little bucket – or should that be wheelbarrow – list compiled by Naomi Slade to make the coming year a treat in our own ‘Great Outdoors’