The Vintage Home #18: When Houseplants Ruled the Earth

In decades past, the ordinarily healthy practice of decorating the home with houseplants went off the rails.  It escalated beyond being a simple peculiarity of the times and entered into a sort of mass delirium, rivaled only by the international obsessions with recreational drug use and casual sex. 

Strange fads such as streaking, fondue parties, breakdancing, and mainlining heroine got a lot more attention than the boring and benign houseplant.  Do not be deceived – this quiet, unassuming, photosynthesizing home dweller was the perpetrator of a global hysteria that went under the radar – until now.    

Those of you who watched The Partridge Family will recall the veritable jungle habitat in their living room.  (I always imagined somewhere inside this dense flora was a tribe of naked natives, untouched by Western civilization.)

In the Blake Edwards film The Party (1968), you may remember the indoor river where Peter Sellers loses his loafer. This was basically a living room ecosystem, complete with stepping stones and waterfalls…..  maybe it’s an extreme example, but I could go on with plenty more.

Apartment Life magazine (May 1977)

As people got a lot more “Earth conscious”, more and more plant life started entering our homes.  Maybe it started as just a couple ferns hung with macramé.  Perhaps you purchased one of the many records on talking with your plants – a surprisingly popular phenomenon.  Soon, your addiction to newly freed oxygen got kicked up a notch.  It wasn’t long before your living quarters became less like a house and more like a terrarium.  

Movie experts claim Invasion of the Body Snatchers (1978) is really about the psychology revolution of the seventies, and paranoia over the corresponding “groupthink” and self-help ideologies.  In fact, I believe it is really about our subliminal fear of being overtaken by plant life. 

Naysayers will do well to remember that your average home was much smaller in the 1970s.  Vaulted ceilings and open floorplans weren’t yet popular.  Thus, you were in a much more enclosed space, making the surrounding vegetation much more “intimate”.  Leaves and fronds constantly brushed your face as they germinated further and further into your personal space.  Indeed, had the Houseplant Revolution (as it shall henceforth be known) not been quelled during the Reagan era, we may have all wound up Pod People. 

What do we have here in the picture above?  Three completely inconsequential houseplants?  Or two predators lying in wait on a kitchen shelf while a third closes in from behind? 

I will leave it to you to decide.  Just know that this man was never seen again.

And if you couldn’t surround yourself in shrubbery indoors, there was always the option of having a window to your wilderness habitat.  The mentality of the 1950s and early 60s was to trim and manicure your yard till it looked as artificial as possible.  Not so the 70s, where the philosophy was to let it bloom. 
In a twist of irony, just as The Pill entered the scene, our dwellings became more fertile.

1980s Plant Porn

But don’t imagine for a second that the influx of greenery ended in 1979. The 80s may have abandoned the macramé hangers, but their contents.  Even the occult powers of Ronald Reagan and Margaret Thatcher couldn’t ward them off until roughly November 1986, where they weren’t banished entirely but subdued to manageable populations.

Take note that by the early 1980s, plant life was making its way into our workplace.  Once the vegetation was firmly embedded within our places of industry, world domination was only a few seedlings away.  Thank God for the Reagan-Beelzebub counterstrike – a plan so covert, we still don’t understand its mechanism.

Now that the threat is gone, let’s not fall into complacency.  (The same thing happened to the Mayans, and look what happened to them.)  To watch the endless home shows on TV, the going style seems to be very minimal and sterile.  Houseplants simply don’t fit into our world of clean lines and stainless steel fridges.  We’ve come a long way from talking to our geraniums, but be forewarned: the flora shall return.   


  1. Dammit I busted out laughing when I hit the 'Read More' & saw that Partridge Family photo! Sigh... I can still remember my mom polishing the leaves on our big rubber tree plant with Pledge...

  2. Nowadays people won't care about houseplants until the plants start offerering easy monthly minimum payments plus unlimited minutes

  3. Our house, built in 1964, has what appears to be benches going out both sides of the fireplace. The base of the bench is brick and is a part of the fireplace. One time I was fixing the loose wood seat and found it was full of dirt. When I mentioned this to an older person they indicated that those were once planters. Someone had simply put wood planks over them. Our plan is put bookshelves over them.

  4. Dave Madden of "Partridge Family" died this week.

  5. I was no hippie, but I now have about twenty plants in my house at any time. I like having something growing in the house. (And they don't talk back.)

  6. We'd have plants, but one of our cats would eat them. I'd have some ferns, or "guys" as Larry and Warren call them in "The Lonely Guy".

  7. I always wanted a house plant as a kid but mom would always complain about how the soil would grow mold. I wasn't even allowed a Chia Pet.

    I still want a Chia Pet.

  8. Love houseplants, especially in the off-season when things outside are dormant. Managed to pot up around 20 to give to a pre-holiday bazaar in November, but then my Mother-in-Law needed a home for a dozen of hers, Had to donate a large Christmas Cactus to church, and now I still have around 50 or so, most of which are still getting larger = )

  9. Less like a house and more like a terrarium." haha, i like that.

  10. As I write these words a cactus looms nearby and a fern malevolently photosynthesizes... I fear the re-planting of the US has already begun...

  11. Thank you for this dire warning. I'm going to go outside and kill a plant now. Remember, it starts with just one. We shall overcome!

  12. Wow, the marketers were shameless, using sex to sell freakin' houseplants. (and no I'm not taking about the obvious "pancakes" pictures) From the MILF in short shorts in the first photo down to the "liveable office" ad.

  13. The Avengers were foreseeing the future with "The Man-eater of Surrey Green"

  14. I love all of those interiors - in fact, they could use even MORE plants! I especially love the homes with plants hiding in the loft areas, then hanging menacingly down into the dining room....PLANT TAKE-OVER!