Houseplants have never been a big part of my life. When I moved to a big old house on Grinnell Street with my five children in 1971 I had never grown houseplants. I had hardly grown any plants at all. However you may remember that in 1971 organic gardening and the value of gardening was all the rage. I was ready to join the crowd.
The house had a large sunny living room. I had not brought a lot of living room furniture with me to this wonderful house, but I had brought dreams of beautiful plants. Of which I knew nothing, but I was ready to learn.
Do you remember those hippie days when hanging plants were supported by macramé plant holders at every other window? I hung an airy delicate asparagus fern, and a more sturdy Swedish ivy plant (Plectranthus) in front of my big sunny windows, Below them was a makeshift table covered with a Christmas cactus, an aloe, a peace lily (Spathiphyllum), and a prayer plant (Maranta). I even had a small rubber plant sitting on the floor, but I don’t remember how I ever acquired such an unusual (to me) plant. We called this area The Jungle.
I did have a tiny vegetable garden outside those big windows, and began my life as a gardener. However, we took a step back when we all moved from Greenfield, to a brief year in Maine. We had chickens and pigs and a vegetable garden there, but no houseplants. Then it was on to five years in New York City. No gardening at all. Not even a hanging asparagus plant.
When we moved to Heath we quickly set up a too-large vegetable garden. There was very little time for flowers or house plants. I soon learned there is always time and space for flowers, indeed they are needed, but aside from a Christmas cactus and an abutilon, there were no good spaces in our house for a houseplant jungle.
Life in Greenfield in a small house gave us a small yard sufficient for an ornamental garden with blooming shrubs, perennials and annuals. But that small house does not have satisfactory windows for blooming houseplants. In the contest between furniture or plants, I am afraid furniture won.
Recently I hung a cheerful hanging asparagus fern at the sunny window in my so-called office. I also have two non-blooming Christmas cactus, a begonia, and an aloe, but if I had my druthers and beautiful big windows and windowsills I would welcome many more houseplants.
I’d choose striped spider plants, sometimes called airplane plant. The plant in its pot will grow be between one to two feet, but the cascade of stems with baby plants will be two or three feet long. NASA has done tests and says this is one of the best air cleansing plants around as is the Peace Lily (Spathephyllum). The succulent Aloe vera also cleanses the air and is useful if you get a sunburn or scrape on your skin. I always have an aloe in the house.
Sticks on fire, Euphorbia tirucalli, is a plant I have always admired. The green version is called pencil cactus which gives you an idea of its shape. The hybrid red-orange color of the sticks is very dramatic. This cactus needs sun for the fiery color to develop.
I have always like the shrimp plant (Justicia brandegeana). It has little white blossoms and bracts that resemble pink shrimp – if you just use your imagination. To insure blooming this plant needs medium to bright light. It will grow between one to three feet. Careful watering is important.
There are many more plants on my wish list and a visit to my friend Edward Maeder’s house is always inspiring. His house has a large sunny front room filled with plants in the winter. Dozens of plants are cuddling through the cold season in that room, including a giant wine-colored begonia, many un-named (to me) hanging plants, and a large fragrant lemon geranium to name only a very few. There is even a 7 foot rubber tree!
In the living room is a Christmas cactus with more blooms than I have every seen on one plant. He also has several small tropical sago ferns by the window. They are small now but will continue growing outside in good weather. The varieties of houseplants Maeder has is stunning.
If you are considering adding houseplants there are things to keep in mind. You will need suitably sized pots with good drainage. Ever larger pots will be needed for repotting. They are necessary because roots will grow and become potbound.
Potting soil needs to be chosen carefully. Does the plant need fast draining soil? Will a basic potting mix be sufficient? Do plants like African violets or succulents need a specific mix?
Careful watering is essential. Try to have a watering schedule appropriate to the nature of the plant.
Potted plants need to be fertilized from time to time. Sometimes this is a seasonal task. Sometimes a plant will look a bit peaked, suggesting it is time for a pick-me-up.
Needless to say, plants need grooming. They need a shower bath from time to time. Drooping leaves and dead flowers need to be removed. They need to be checked for mealy bugs and aphids.
Do you have houseplants? I’d love to hear about them.
Between the Rows January 18, 2020