Strategically placed geraniums,
Boston fern, bird’s nest fern, and
begonia can enliven a drowsy interior
and create a cozy retreat.
simple as you desire—or your home can accommodate. Fans of what I call the Tarzan style have
rooms filled with big-leafed philodendrons,
Norfolk Island pines, dieffenbachias, and dracaenas. In a smaller space with a sunny window,
a jewel-box garden with miniature begonias and
African violets in exquisite glazed pottery can
make a colorful statement. Or invigorate your
dwelling with a “decorator plant” such as a Ken-tia palm, Chinese evergreen, or spathiphyllum.
Some of you are saying, “But I have a black
thumb when it comes to houseplants.” I hear
that even from experienced outdoor gardeners.
Find the right plant for the right place and give
it TLC, then admire your bright-green thumb.
Here are some home-tested tactics for a successful indoor garden.
The light stuff
PROP ST YLIST (OPENING SPREAD AND THIS PAGE): LAURA DOTOLO@JUDY CASE Y INC.; ILLUS TRATIONS BY ALYSSA NASSNER
No houseplant can grow in the dark, and different kinds of houseplants prefer different
amounts of light. Which direction do your
windows face? If you’re lucky, you have several exposures. Sunlight from an unobstructed
south-facing window is strongest and best for
cacti, citrus, and flowering plants like hibiscus. If a plant
doesn’t want full sun, place it to the side of that window or
across the room, or soften the light with a sheer curtain.
East- and west-facing windows (with west being a bit
warmer) are perfect for plants like African violets, which
do not like to get colder than 65°F. Ivy and asparagus fern
prefer the cooler east window. Plants with large leaves
to absorb the most light—schefflera, aspidistra, Chinese
evergreen, dieffenbachia—will appreciate a bright, unobstructed north window. If that spot is a little too shady,
augment the light artificially. I moved an easy chair near a
palm at a north-facing window and placed the floor lamp
next to it. When I sit to read a magazine, the plant enjoys
some extra light as well. One more hint: Give plants a quarter turn every so often to keep them growing symmetrically.
planting medium from humus (my choice is coir—recycled
shredded coconut hulls) and perlite (small white chunks
of exploded volcanic glass). Use four parts humus to one
part perlite for most plants; more perlite for cacti, less for
jungle plants. If you have to buy a bagged medium, look for
African violet mix, which tends to have better drainage.
(Note: The terms potting soil and planting medium are used
The importance of drainage cannot be overstated. An
old notion was to fill the bottom quarter of the pot with
crocking—broken clay potsherds. But if your medium has
good drainage already, the only reason for a piece of crockery, or some pebbles, would be to keep the soil from washing out of or clogging the holes. One concave potsherd over
the single hole in a clay pot (or some pebbles for a plastic
one) should do the trick.
I don’t use garden soil for potted plants. It’s too dense and
heavy, and lacks open spaces for oxygen. Potted plants
need great drainage, and air for their roots. I don’t use
prepared mixes, either. They tend to decompose and
squeeze out oxygen. Instead I make my own “soil-less”
“Experts” often recommend watering once a week. Wrong.
You cannot impose a schedule on a plant, so water plants
when they need it. That depends on soil, container type,
indoor heat source (forced air is the worst), the weather