How do you feel about house plants? Do you fancy a bit of foliage, or do you see them merely as dust collectors? If it’s the latter, then you may need to rethink, as house plants are hip again. Log on to any cool interiors blog or follow a finger-on-the-pulse Pinterest feed, particularly those from across the pond, and you’ll see lush leaves sprouting from the corners of the most stylish apartments, while the flagship stores of the American high-street heroes Anthropologie and West Elm are home to vast, textural green walls. A sneak peek at renderings of André Balazs’s smart new Standard hotel, due to open in Marylebone this year, show a lobby bursting with oversized ferns. Even the showrooms at Céline are home to huge cheese plants.
Ken Masters, who creates preplanted bespoke terrariums at Hermetica, says much of it is down to our heightened awareness of sustainability. “Houseplants were popular in the 1970s and 1980s, but that dwindled due to convenience culture,” he says. “Advances in growing and shipping improved the availability, variety and cost of cut flowers, which suited busy lifestyles, and there was far less guilt or feelings of failure attached to throwing away a vase of wilted flowers than trashing a sickly yucca or drooping begonia. However, people now realise that living plants are more ecofriendly than a bunch of blooms shipped from Kenya. That’s not to say we should stop buying cut flowers, as their production provides livelihoods for the growers, but diversity in the way we decorate our homes is definitely the way forward.”
Ian Drummond of the interior landscaping company Indoor Garden Design agrees. “The fact that plants carry on living has made them much more fashionable. Even when we do big events such as catwalk shows and balls, we often use planting where traditionally it would have been floristry. Plus, people are fascinated by things that grow, develop and change, which is what makes plants special compared with flowers that fade and die in a short space of time.”
It’s not just the way indoor plants look that makes them appealing — they can also improve your environment from a health point of view. “Plants act as a natural air purifier, removing toxins released by everyday objects such as computers, TVs and paint, as well as carbon dioxide,” Drummond says. “They also release oxygen and, according to research at Washington State University, can reduce dust in a room by a fifth.”
Enough reason, then, to reach for the compost, but how exactly do you incorporate plants into your home, particularly if your fingers are less than green? The key is to choose low-maintenance varieties. “Yuccas, cheese plants and mother-in-law’s tongues are all virtually indestructible and can handle a wide variety of light conditions,” says Tara Heibel, founder of the Chicago-based landscape and floral design company Sprout Home. “They have a cool, retro feel and look sculptural. The same goes for succulents and cacti, which look cute potted singly, but they have shallow root systems that take up less room and so can be planted en masse to great effect.”
Ways to display
Forget the lonely pot, perched sadly on a window ledge. Now it’s all about creating impact. “Don’t just dot them around wherever there is a free space,” Drummond says. “Use the same principles as you would with outdoor gardening. Create a landscape using planters at different heights, and try trailing varieties such as spider plants, which look great grouped together. Position them high up so they cascade down, and mix up varieties to add texture and interest.”
There are plenty of cool products for displaying plants. “Macramé, 1970s style, is making a comeback, mainly thanks to craft sites such as Etsy and interiors blogs,” says Isabelle Palmer, founder of the Balcony Gardener and author of The House Gardener (Cico Books £25, out on February 13). “Hang macramé holders in a group at different heights to create a chandelier effect. And try to think beyond just pots, by looking out for vintage containers such as recycled jars, tins and crates.”
High on the hip house-plant list are glass container gardens known as terrariums. “As well as being a great way to introduce plants into a home, terrariums appeal to the burgeoning interest in home craft,” Masters says. “They can be made in just about any clear glass vessel, and as they are self-contained, they are less messy than larger plants. Plus a true, sealed terrarium rarely needs water, which makes them easy to care for.”
If you fancy having a go at creating one, West Elm has a great selection of terrariums ready to plant, or try Etsy. There are certain basic rules to follow — check out sprouthome.com for instructions. “Terrariums make a fantastic talking point,” Heibel says. “People are crazy for them here in America. They are like a piece of living art.”
If you really want to go all out, consider a living wall. They were originally developed by the French botanist Patrick Blanc, who created huge vertical gardens on the CaixaForum in Madrid and the Athenaeum hotel in Piccadilly, but it is now possible to install a green wall in a domestic environment. “Modern planting systems are simple to maintain. They are self-watering, need feeding only once a year with a slow-release pellet, and all you need to do is pick off the odd dead leaf,” says the garden architect Daniel Bell, who can install a green wall from £350 per square metre. “They also allow you to take plants off horizontal surfaces, which means you can incorporate them in smaller homes where space is tight.”
Cool plants for indoor gardens
? Ficus lyrata Also known as fiddle leaf fig. A huge, sculptural plant with large leaves that makes a real statement. Place in part sunlight and keep moist.
? Asparagus ferns In particular Asparagus setaceus, the plumosa fern. The feathery plumes will soften any environment. They will thrive with even moisture, humidity and shade to part shade.
? Hoya, wax plant or Indian rope plant This is a slow-growing hanging plant. Position in part shade and keep soil moist in spring, drier in winter but not dried out. Leave it be and it will produce stunning blooms.
? Cryptanthus ‘Black Mystic’ Spectacular stripy leaves that range from rich chocolate brown to almost black. They like bright, indirect sunlight and even moisture.