The unquestionable hipness of houseplants

Collecting houseplants is fashionable again. Which only begs the question, how does something as sensible as filling your home with inexpensively beautiful, living, breathing organisms, go out of fashion in the first place? But no time for pondering – first, I need to work out how NOT to kill them.

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I am death to houseplants. I may have mentioned this before. I’ve a homicidal talent when it comes to sharing my indoor space with greenery, the roll of my victims extending to include aloes, figs, and even the supposedly indestructible spider plant. “Abandon All Hope, Ye Who Enter Here” should be carved above the back door every autumn, as the pelargoniums brought in to protect them from the frost take their final glance at the sky. Few make it through to spring.

So it was probably a bit rash to have decided this year to embrace the houseplant frenzy that’s been sweeping the developed world since the ripples of the 2008 crash, Trump, Brexit, and probably Simon Cowell (it's usually his fault) have all combined forces to ensure millennials haven’t the remotest chance of getting a house of their own without robbing a bank (an act clearly sanctioned solely for members of the banking profession), and have collectively come to the decision that they may as well spend their disposable cash on good coffee and indoor gardening. But embrace it I did, initially with the cunning plan of ensuring any plants inside the house were under Emma’s care, rather than my own. And so, to supplement a few succulents and cacti that had already made it into the house having leapt into our shopping bags at Flower & Glory in nearby Sevenoaks (I mean, we paid for them, but you know how things you had no intention of buying jump into your bag or shopping trolley. It’s how Kettle Chips get into the weekly grocery shop.), we signed up to the Plant Post Club from GeoFleur.

A curated collection

This is a fabulous scheme where, for your monthly subscription of £20, you receive a parcel containing a houseplant in a handmade container, with care instructions and notes on the maker of the pot, and usually some other kind of goodies as well. It’s all very well packaged, and the combinations are always interesting and the plants in good condition – it may not be the cheapest way to do it, but it makes an excellent present, and while one or two of the containers may not have been what we’d have chosen ourselves, we’ve enjoyed having our boundaries nudged by having someone else curate our collection for us.

Geofleur have are kindly offering a 15% discount on all the products in their online shop as well as membership of the Plant Post Club to readers of this blog. You can find details at the end of this post. 

Canny shopping

Of course, canny shopping can save you a lot of money and, as few succulents and other houseplants don’t have particularly extensive root systems, you needn’t spend a fortune on the container either. Succulents are popping up in every retail environment now, from the DIY sheds to stationers – I saw a pack of three mini echiverias in Sainsburys last week. Ikea have a great selection, ranging from £2 for a small succulent to £67 for a shapely bonsai Ficus microcarpa.

I found this fascinating zebra haworthia (Haworthia attenuate ‘Striata’) for a few pounds in Frosts Garden Centre at Millets Farm near Oxford, brought it home and bunged it in a coffee cup (which I feel is almost a plant pot as we bought a set from Whichford Pottery).

It seems perfectly at home, and quite as stylish as anything we’ve had through the post.

It’s also worth checking the bargain racks of the houseplant section in your local garden centre. I’d been desperate to add the iconic swiss cheese plant to our domestic oasis for some time, but had been put off by the price, until I managed to find an ailing specimen with two or three blackened, crispy edged leaves in such a location.

Little over a fiver, and it’s a decent size. All it wanted was a feed, a shady location, and a water, though moderation is key with monsteras due to a tendancy to weep through the leaves (guttation), as I discovered when this one cried all over the freshly painted living room walls the day after allowing it to suck up all the moisture it wanted from the bathroom sink.

Rex begonias

These were a gamble, but I’d seen the wonderful displays of fabulously patterned and tactile leaves in rich, deep colours from Dibleys nursery at some of the RHS plant shows over the years, and their catalogue is so tempting I couldn’t help but order four, in spite of my poor record. They arrived as decent size plug plants in the post, at which point I potted them on into 9cm pots for about two months, before moving them on again into 12cm pots (which sit inside larger textured concrete containers from Cox & Cox). The key to their growth and continued survival seems to have been a weekly feed (I’m using up an old bottle of BabyBio but will try switching to the seaweed-based MaxiCrop I use outside when this runs out), and paying close attention to their watering requirements. Which doesn’t mean drowning them, but also doesn’t mean letting them desiccate (I’ve done both to houseplants in the past – hence how I managed to off the  spider plant). So when the standard advice tells you to go easy on watering over the winter, watch the plant for signs of wilting, particularly if you’re using a very free draining peat-free compost.

Begonia 'Fireworks'

Next year I’ll be experimenting with adding varying quantities of coir and perlite to my houseplant composts, but that’s a job for spring – let’s get one whole growing season out of the way first and see who survives. So far, it’s looking good.

But I wouldn’t want to speak too soon.

Do you have much luck with houseplants? I’d love to hear your stories and experiences, either on twitter or in the comments below.