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'People love selfies with plants' - the rise and rise of the modern garden centre

PUBLISHED: 09:46 30 April 2019 | UPDATED: 17:27 30 April 2019

Local gardening expert Ellen Mary at Urban Jungle. Pic: Urban Jungle.

Local gardening expert Ellen Mary at Urban Jungle. Pic: Urban Jungle.

A nursery which has seen its social media followers rise by 20,000 in the last 18 months says much of it is down to the fact plants and flowers are so "instagrammable".

Bonsai in the Jungle - next month Urban Jungle is celebrating all things Japanese, including the wonderful world of bonsai. Pic: Urban JungleBonsai in the Jungle - next month Urban Jungle is celebrating all things Japanese, including the wonderful world of bonsai. Pic: Urban Jungle

People come from far and wide to Urban Jungle in Costessey, Norwich, and its sister nursery, in Beccles, to take photos of themselves with exotic plants and different kinds of cacti – and the result has been a huge business expansion.

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What started in 2001 with one couple has grown to 40 staff including a marketing manager, two outlets, and a major events schedule which will see 76 different workshops and seminars held this year alone. These include 'how to create your own Bonsai garden' to 'no fear gardening' 'unwrapping your garden for summer' and 'plants for wellbeing', many of which are already sold out.

Rachel Bannon, events and marketing manager, said it all started with the name. “Owners Liz and Malcolm Browne came up with the name 'Urban Jungle' almost 20 years ago and the hashtag has just proved so popular because it really describes people's plant space in the city.

An 'exotic garden' with cacti at Urban Jungle. Pic: Urban Jungle.An 'exotic garden' with cacti at Urban Jungle. Pic: Urban Jungle.

“Social media has been a huge part of our growth, we've seen our Instagram, Facebook and Twitter followers go from 8,000 to 28,000 since the summer of 2017. People just want to come and take pictures with our plants and then if we're lucky enough, they might buy some.”

Such is the love of plants, the venue is now available for hire for weddings, birthday parties and even hen and stag dos.

“The popularity of plants has just grown, all age groups just love them; from milennials want house plants because if they're in a rented home, they can take them with them, to those who have big gardens and want, say an olive tree for their forever home.”

Urban Jungle aims to offer something different, hence its 'Cacti House' in Beccles – and apparently, you don't need desert-like conditions but you can successfully grow one in your back garden in this country.

The Urban Jungle cafe with the counter made from reclaimed materials and framed by  Howea forsteriana palm. Pic: Urban Jungle.The Urban Jungle cafe with the counter made from reclaimed materials and framed by Howea forsteriana palm. Pic: Urban Jungle.

Another huge success has been the creation of a cafe, which grew from a self serve initiative with an honesty box to a major part of the business. “It's the whole experience of sitting, soaking up the atmosphere of feeling like you're in the jungle.”

Owner Liz Browne at Urban Jungle. Pic: Urban Jungle.Owner Liz Browne at Urban Jungle. Pic: Urban Jungle.

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