Is pampas grass really a signal to swingers?

Suburban shrub a supposed sex signal but experts say it’s simply gone out of style

It was big in the 70s along with flares and macramé, but now pampas grass has fallen drastically out of favour in the UK -thanks it seems, to an unfortunate association with swingers. Once a stalwart of suburban gardens the fronded plant has been dropped by gardeners across the UK and sales have slumped in Ireland too.

UK plant sellers have told The Daily Telegraph that sales have plummeted "in no small part due to the plant being regarded as a secret signal to passers-by that its owners are happy to indulge in partner-swapping, or "swinging."

The piece carries quote from a garden centre in Kent that has seen pampas sales more than half in the last 10 years, with its marketing manager Nick Coslell blaming the drop on the perception that it sent out a signal to swingers.

The plant’s saucy association have been dismissed by gardening experts, but broadcaster Mariella Fostrup said she had mistakenly identified herself as a swinger by putting two potted pampas out side her Notting Hill home some years ago. Since installing the plants she says she has been inundated with calls and visits, she said on Twitter.


Here, Pampas sales are flat says Adrian Sharp, plant buyer at Celbridge-based The Orchard Garden Centre and Café.

“Its architectural form, the fact that it was low maintenance and evergreen made it really popular in Ireland about 10 years ago. What everyone wants now is instant colour so the garden looks well when you spend time in it in the summer when barbecuing. They want a modern version of the traditional cottage garden, a space that will encourage wildlife like bees and butterflies; flowers like foxgloves, perennial geraniums and bluebells.”

While he still stocks pampas grass customers look but don’t buy. “Its downfall is that is a very big risk plant. It is difficult to handle. Its leaves can cut you like a razor blade when you try to cut it back and it has big root systems.

“I’ve never heard of it being used as a flag for wife-swapping or swinging,” he adds.

Pampas is “very easy to plant but a nightmare to remove,” cautions Sam Smyth of Plant Life on Dublin’s Cork Street. “I wouldn’t put it in unless it’s in a pot. You will need a JCB to remove it.” As for it being used as a flag for wife-swapping he says “it’s possible but it sounds silly”.

The Telegraph was moved to write an editorial on the subject, alongside its view on Brexit. Under the heading Pampas Rumpus its leader says, "These feathery flowered exotics from South American, so popular in the Seventies, have gained a reputation as a flag for the practice of wife-swapping (as it was called in the Seventies)." However, the leader goes on to rubbish the notion. "Might there be another reason for the decline of the two-headed grass? After all kaftans or cheese and and pineapple on a stick were also popular in the Seventies, but while admirable in themselves, are now seldom seen."

Alanna Gallagher

Alanna Gallagher

Alanna Gallagher is a contributor to The Irish Times specialising in property and interiors