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Houseplants

Houseplants

Houseplants are the essential accessory for your home. I never needed convincing that a house is more like a home with some living plants and I am pleased that more people have discovered the joy of keeping houseplants over the past two years. What has also changed is that people are being more adventurous and buying unusual plants and also large, specimen plants. These make more impact than a row of tiny plants and they are often easier to look after.

Not everything you buy in  a pot is a houseplant and some plants, especially flowering plants, are not really houseplants and won’t last long, though they will last longer than a bunch of flowers. Cinerarias, Calceolarias, pot Chrysanths and potted Primroses are all temporary plants. Flowering houseplants, that live for years and bloom every season, are not common but among the best are Orchids, Clivias, Anthuriums, Spathiphylum (Peace Lilies), African Violets and some Begonias.

Many people are frightened of houseplants but some just won’t last long whatever you do. But most will live for years if you treat them right. Watering is the main killer of houseplants. Never go round once a week and water everything. Keep a bottle of water ready to water. I use rain water or boiled, cooled, tap water. Check plants need watering before you water – pick them up and feel the weight. If a plant is heavy or wet, don’t water. Let plants almost dry out before watering. After watering, pour away any excess in the pot cover after an hour. Don’t forget to feed your plants. I feed once a fortnight in summer.

This is my pick of the hottest houseplants. I ran round the house to take photos of mine this week – sorry about the dust and cat toys!

Monstera

The good old Swiss cheese plant is the height of fashion again and loved because it is so tolerant. It will survive low light and some neglect – though temperatures below 10c and overwatering will kill it. Monstera obliqua (M. adansonii), sold as the Monkey Mask plant is similar and has holes in the leaves but grows much more quickly and is a trailer rather than a robust, upright plant.

Pachira

These are usually sold with plaited stems and with the large – fingered leaves looks like a sophisticated horse chestnut tree. It is easy to grow but needs good light and lots of water. It tends to grow in spurts – with rapid extension of new shoots that can be 1m long. It also has periods when it drops lots of leaves, but don’t panic. It benefits from pruning now and then to keep it under control.

Araucaria excelsa

The Norfolk Island pine is a tender relative of the famous Monkey puzzle tree and has similar growth with layers of branches. But it is a softy in comparison and is not prickly! When happy it grows quickly and can reach 2m or more in a bright room. It is quite thirsty so keep it well watered in summer and it will need to be repotted after a year if you want to keep it healthy.

Orchids

Orchids are a varied bunch but the most common are the moth orchids with low, broad leaves and stems with large, exotic blooms. These need bright positions in the home but not direct sunlight. Water when the compost is dry and pour away any excess after an hour – they hate to be constantly wet. Feed once a month to keep them healthy and promote more flowers. A cosy room heated to 15c or more suits them perfectly.

Zamioculcas

Often just called the ZZ plant, this is a real oddity but very easy to please. It will tolerate bright light or quite dark rooms and even puts up with drying out. Overwatering – sitting in water – will kill it. The leaves are thick and almost like plastic. The foliage is usually dark green but the new ‘Raven’ has leaves that are almost black and perfectly fit modern interiors.

Sanseveria

The common ‘mother-in-law’s tongue’ has been a popular plant for decades because it is so easy to please. It will tolerate bright windowsills and drying out so you won’t kill this unless you water it too much. When plants are happy they will produce spikes of fragrant flowers. Ideal for forgetful gardeners.

Kentia palm

This is the best and easiest of the palms. It will grow in poor light and will tolerate some neglect. But these are never cheap and a good-sized plant will cost about £50. But it grows slowly and is easy to look after compared to most indoor palms and should live for many years in the home.

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