The importance of houseplants

By Tom Seymour | Apr 29, 2021
Photo by: Tom Seymour African violets on a windowsill welcome visitors.

Plants, or lack of, are among the first things I notice when going to someone’s house. How barren a room looks without a few plants on the windowsill. And how empty a windowsill appears with not even a small potted plant to grace it. Yes, plants make a place feel homey. They round off the rough edges and create a pleasant, relaxing atmosphere.

The best thing about decorating with houseplants is that you don’t even need to be a gardener. And you needn’t have an extensive knowledge of the plants themselves. Basically, there are only three considerations. First, will the plants complement the area where you wish to put them? And second, will heating and lighting conditions be conducive to whatever plant or plants you choose? The third item to ponder is humidity. Many houseplants are of tropical origin and thrive on high humidity. Others, not so much.

The first consideration breaks down to just a matter of taste, and the people at the greenhouse or florist where you buy your plants can help you with the second and third.

Getting Started

Where, then, might we begin in our quest to add houseplants to our décor? Well, I would suggest concentrating upon one room rather than going full steam on the whole house. Select a sunny, or at least the sunniest room and go from there.

There are many ways to display houseplants. Some might happily sit on a sunny windowsill and others will do fine on a shelf where they receive indirect light. Others, such as spider plants, can prosper while living in a hanging basket in front of a windowsill. And some, notably larger varieties, can add dimension to a room by being planted in a large container set on the floor.

To begin, I suggest looking for a few succulents to grow on a sunny windowsill. Succulents need well-drained soil and they like lots of sun. You can buy them in small pots that will fit on most any windowsill. Water them when they become totally dry. To check, just lift the pot. If it seems light as a feather, place it in the sink and let a small stream of water gently fill it until water comes out the bottom. Then fill again and allow to fully drain before placing it back on the windowsill.

And if you forget to water your succulents, don’t worry. Succulents are forgiving and will perk right back up when you do get around to watering them. In their native habitat, succulents are plants of dry regions.

Bigger Spaces

Let’s say you want to have more plants than just the few small pots on the windowsill. If you have a picture window or bay window, preferably a south-facing one, the world is your oyster. Now you have room to really express yourself. Know, however, that the more plants you have, the more of a commitment they will require.

Plant care includes not only watering, but also feeding, trimming, dividing and re-potting. It also helps to give each plant pot a quarter of a turn once in a while, so that all sides get an equal share of sunlight, albeit at different times. This will help the plant to retain a symmetrical shape.

With a larger format, you can delve into trailing and vining plant types. The old standby, Swedish ivy, comes immediately to mind. This, and other vining plants, can be trained to run along and over objects. Some people just put them in a hanging basket and allow the vines to trail down naturally, in a weeping form. That is a totally legitimate use.

Another old favorite, especially for hanging baskets, is asparagus fern. The long, arching stems and little, thin leaflets, in their shades of pastel green, impart a light, airy effect to any location. Asparagus ferns can handle partial sunlight. Hang asparagus fern and other trailing plants on either side of a large window. There, they can serve as a foil for other plants to grow on the windowsill or windowsills.

Large, sunny spaces just cry out for flowering plants and here again, you have all kinds to choose from. While there are oodles of types to choose from (just ask your florist), I recommend beginning with a low-maintenance plant such as geraniums.

Geraniums seem to thrive on neglect. If you forget to water, the plant may fall over, pot and all, because it has become so light. But it probably won’t die. Just give it a thorough watering and it should come back to life.

Geraniums come in a variety of colors and if you only grow geraniums, you can easily have a whole, wide palette of color.

Floor Plants

When I speak of floor plants, you are probably thinking of those near-immortal varieties seen in banks, offices and shopping malls. These are the plants that take a licking and keep on ticking. Water, humidity and light needs are minimal. It’s good if they get plenty of all three but they won’t complain much if they don’t.

My two recommendations for this type of plant include Dracaena (dra-seen-ah) and Sansevieria (san-see-vair-ee-uh), or “Mother-in-Law’s Tongue.”

Dracaena, also called, “corn plant,” are tough, durable plants grown for their attractive leaves. The Chinese put dracaenas through a certain culture to produce the “lucky bamboo” plants that you often see in oriental restaurants.

Most dracaena leaves have darker margins and lighter centers.

Next, Sansevieria, ranks among the toughest plants imaginable. They will grow in any kind of container and will live in dark corners. The only thing they don’t like is being overwatered.

So, there you have it. If you lack houseplants in your place, now is the time to go out and remedy that problem.

Tom Seymour, of Frankfort, is a homeowner, gardener, forager, naturalist, Registered Maine Guide, amateur astronomer, magazine and newspaper columnist and book author.

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