“It’s so funny actually, when you start looking they are everywhere,” London-based photographer Oskar Proctor says of plants that peek through windows of homes and shopfronts. Sometimes they're gargantuan in size and sometimes miniscule, but they're always very much part of the furniture. Proctor has created a series of photographs of said greenery in collaboration with florist Nik Southern, founder of London’s Grace & Thorn; some of the images feature in Southern’s newly released book-cum-plant owner’s bible, How Not to Kill Your Plants, a publication that takes the looking after of plants joyously “back to basics”.
Southern wanted her book to feature photographs of plants that feature in real life – not “styled in situ”, as she puts it – and came up with the concept while sitting in a waiting room. “I was sitting in the Indian visa office in Goodge Street, and they had these three plants in there which had been there for years and years and years,” she explains. “They looked a bit battered but you know somebody definitely loves them and cares for them. And I just thought, I love them because they’re not there to be trendy, you know? They’ve been there for years.”
And so it was put to Proctor to capture other instances of plants like those – “they’ve outgrown their pots, they’re a bit gnarly, but they grow and they grow and they’ve been loved for years,” Southern enthuses – and the project took him a few day’s worth of walking around London, camera at the ready. “I was taking pictures of plants on people’s balconies, plants in people’s windows,” Proctor says. “It was mostly around Stoke Newington, and super spontaneous. And it’s another way of looking at plants that I haven’t really thought about.”
“These are traditional British places. The dry cleaners is a classic,” continues Southern. Proctor’s images are most satisfying for their familiarity; these are plants that have been right under our noses for years, and have become synonymous with their surroundings. Take the shot of a tall, spindly cactus that stretches up the inside of a window, snuggling next to a blind that seems to have distorted itself to accommodate the succulent. “There was this big funeral parlour with these amazing, huge things in the window,” says Proctor of one window display, in which shrubbery lines the lower third, while the rest of the space is taken up by what might be trees, with chunky stalks and ginormous deep green leaves. Here’s hoping the owners have a copy of Southern’s book to hand, and that these plants will last for many years to come.
How Not To Kill Your Plants by Nik Southern is available now, published by Hodder & Stoughton.