Tuesday, March 5, 2013

Houseplant Tour

I've had this personal challenge for the last 3 years or so: how can I incorporate more plants into the interior of the house? How can I use plants beyond decoration? Where do I put them? How do I balance my ideas with the plant's health needs (ie sunlight, watering)? These are surprisingly complicated questions. It takes more than setting a plant in a spot and forgetting about it. You have to watch a plant over months, make sure it's thriving, perhaps reconsider its location when the holidays come and the Christmas tree takes its place, and then there's the fact that they do GROW. Will you trim it? Leave it alone? Repot it? How does that effect your houseplant strategy?

Sometimes I look carefully at published photos of plants in a room, only to discover that they are either completely staged or fake. I feel disappointed. There is NO WAY that particular plant could actually live and grow and thrive in that particular location. Somebody just put that particular plant in a location for a 30 minute photo shoot. Judging by the DIY-home-blogs out there, my houseplant challenge is not a very popular pursuit for my generation; I'm at a loss to find good advice online. And I'm certainly a novice in this endeavor.

I write this post, not because I really have any great wisdom about what I'm doing yet, but because maybe you can help me. What are your experiences? Any insights? Maybe you have houseplants that you want to blog about?? We can start a new trend! Okay? Okay: Here's what I've learned and what I've been doing:


Leave (These) Plants Alone:
Above is a fern that lives in our guest bathroom. I thought I could use it as a screen between the bathtub and the toilet, which is behind the knee wall. I think this fern is remarkable because it is gigantic and it is thriving in DRY Colorado! Since ferns like humidity, I don't know why it is doing so well. This is bathroom rarely used, so it's not any more humid than the rest of the house. The fern gets no direct sunlight. Aside from leaving it sitting in water when I do water it (I forget a lot), I mostly leave it alone. I think it likes being left alone. (Baths in the guest room are a special treat reserved for when Mommy needs the children to provide scale reference for her photos.)

Pitcher plant, fern in background mirror reflection

This pitcher plant above is also in the guest bathroom. I bought it about 2 years ago to catch flies. They like similar conditions to orchids (low light, humidity); its blooms are shaped like little pitchers (which in nature are) full of water that trap flies.  If you follow that link above you can see what the blooms/pitchers look like. Well, in our house, it never caught any flies and it never bloomed again. But it grew and it looks more impressive and vine-y than it did before. It also seems to like being left alone, I think.

Living Room plants
BUT... Pay Attention to What the Plants Want:
I must have taken the above photo sometime last summer. My goodness, the screaming child and rearranged furniture (aka "boat" with "oars") is a little counterproductive here; try to look at the plants. Somehow I ended up with a lot of plants against the back wall of the living room and it seemed, well, striking. And the plants seemed to like their location (not always so easy). So I left them there, without much planning.

Okay, well that's a little more representative of the overall plant effect, but a lot less representative of what everyday life in our house is like....


Stem Supports:
Ah, yes. A plant. This dracaena is a pretty typical houseplant. It branches and spreads in a rather Seussical way, if you let it. Do you see the stem support? Stem supports are more often marketed for outdoor plants, but my aunt taught me that they work just fine on indoor plants as well. A closer look at a stem support:

Stem support on dracaena

Below are more stem supports being used on a Christmas cactus; do you see them? I'm pretty sure this is NOT how Christmas cacti are suppose to look. The branches are awfully long, floppy and strangle-y. That's why the plant pot is also sitting on a spool of ribbon. Spotting the stem supports is a game! (There are three.) Do you see them?

Christmas cactus

I probably would not have messed with stem supports had my aunt not pointed how plants can look more sculptural (and less sad) with a bit of mechanical intervention.

Another standard houseplant: the rubber plant in the corner.
A spider plant barely visible to the right of the chair.
The little plants in the window above are an aloe plant
(doesn't every home with kids need one of those?)
and some other succulent that I forget the name of.

The Size of Houseplants and Furniture (can be frustrating):
One of my general frustrations with my houseplants is size. I think really big plants generally would look better and would fit the living room better. But big plants are expensive to buy. They take a long time to grow. Some of the most chatter I've seen on the internet regarding houseplants lately is related to fiddle leaf figs. They are beautiful, especially when they are huge and gigantic; but there's nothing simple about this size of plant. Think of how many conditions must be correctly maintained for how long to achieve a plant that looks like that!

None of my plants above are even big enough to sit on the floor yet, so they are all sitting on tables or window sills or hutches. It feels like I need a lot of furniture for my plants. I don't really like that. I would like to have less furniture for the plants. I even feel lukewarm about the prospect of having plant stands.

(Although I really like these Modernica planters/stands as a possible solution. They are a little spendy for me; I find myself plotting my own version.)

More Listening to the Plants:
Above is the current status of my Spoon Bouquet. The succulent behind it may be the only plant that I'm satisfied with sitting-on-the-furniture. It grew into the bouquet by itself. I find the whole assembly together quite fascinating. How crazy and random! I'm not sure I could purchase or intentionally create anything so bizarrely decorative if I wanted to. I've got a fair number of succulents because they tolerate  my random watering patterns.

Plants/flowers in the top windows are silk or dried.
In the bottom windows are a calla lily, orchid, several amaryllis,
and the succulent that later grew into the spoon bouquet.
Far right is papyrus.
Plant Collages...or Not:
The stairwell goes through phases of plants. Above is the Plant Hospital Phase from about the time Mattias was 18 months old. I had a lot of suffering plants (post-Mattias'-infanthood, that is), so lots of plants went in the window sills to be resuscitated. I have a general theory that setting plants in the window is a good way to make your house look welcoming from the outside AND provide a level of semi privacy. As I hinted earlier, maybe this makes me an old lady. Or maybe it makes me super retro cool. (Um, probably not, huh?)

One thing I'm not doing very well is mixing the plants together. I imagine a gardener (with an outdoor garden) would be much better at mixing textures and colors and patterns. I don't really know how to do that AT ALL yet. And I don't know where to begin in a houseplant (as opposed to garden) setting. There's The Pots and The "Furniture" and The Size and The Plant's Sunlight Needs to consider....

Papyrus and little succulent whose name I forget.

This plant above is my favorite, papyrus. It's cheap, it likes to be swimming in water, and it grows like crazy. It needs sun, but other than that: it's an easy-to-care-for and under-appreciated as a houseplant. It pretty much fills its container with shoots. This papyrus is about 40" tall; it just keeps growing taller in competition for the sunlight. That means you could do all sorts of interesting things with papyrus: imagine it in a long, thin container! It would make a living screen wall if you had a bright, sunny location.

Pencil cactus

The pencil cactus is one of my newer additions. This one has chartreuse leaves and tips. Occasionally, I've seen them in stores with red branch tips. I really wanted one with red tips, but always tsk'ed over the cost and never bought one when I saw it. Eventually, I gave up. Chartreuse it is.

Children and Houseplants:
First, my houseplants have all suffered when there is a baby in the house. I just can't remember to take care of the plants when there's a baby around. I anticipate many of these plants suffer in the coming months.

Second, Yes! The boys dig in the dirt: mostly 35-month-old Mattias, at this point. I was going to take the front loader out of this photo, but then I realized that this is more honest about what goes on around here:


This particular front loader doesn't fit well in the pot.  But I have had SEVERAL conversations with Mattias this winter about (smaller) front loaders and backhoes digging in the dirt. The best prevention for this ficus is to either take away small construction vehicles, or tape paper over the top of the pot and around the trunk. Mattias STILL continues to insist that his diggers NEED to dig there, so the conversations aren't helping (yet).

Third, Yes! The boys destroy the plants. They pull off leaves and pretend the leaves are who-knows-what. I think in this particular insistence, the leaves were food they were cooking:

pieces of "food" on the box lid

I heard that jade plants like to be "woody;" in other words, they don't like to have too many leaves. (?) This is one of the reasons I've allowed this jade plant to continue to sit in the boys' play areas, even if it gets occasional abuse. The best thing for this jade plant, however, was when I let it sit outdoors over the summer. It loved the outdoors. I'm not very brave about bringing houseplants outdoors (bugs! disease! hailstorms!) but they do seem to thrive and grow exponentially when I take the chance.

Jade outdoors in early summer. (It was a lot smaller.)
The plant in the red pot is Lemon Fizz Lavender Cotton. It didn't survive in the pot.
(I think the Lemon Fizz wanted to be in the ground.) 

At this point, nobody is actually putting leaves in their mouths to eat anymore, but when they were younger, it was a concern. Certain houseplants are poisonous (the pencil cactus, for example) and so those plants were relegated to the off limits guest room, or placed up really, really high. As the boys get older, and the span of age ranges in our house gets wider, I think I'm going to need new techniques to keep everyone in line.

The mystery plant: in the big terra cotta pot...
Help Me! The Mystery Plant:
This plant above is brand new to our house. The original owner tells me it's about 20 years old, but she's not sure what it is. She was sure it wasn't getting enough sun in her house, and that's why she gave it to me. (We get a lot of sunlight.) I'm not sure how representative the overall photo (above) is. For all I know, this would be a very bushy plant/tree given enough sunlight. So, I'm including a photo of the leaves and stem/bark. My first two concerns are: it's in a really big pot, given the spread of its branches. How big could the rootball possibly be? Maybe it needs a smaller pot?  It's also in some very sandy soil.
Mystery plant leaves

Any ideas what this plant is? I would love to bring it back to it's full glory! I could go to a nursery with these photos and some leaves, but asking the internet requires less lugging...you know?


Katie said...

Love this! Those ferns in your guest bath are outrageous. I think I want to live in there with them. ;)

I'm seeing potted citrus trees in all that gorgeous light!

Ann Wyse said...

Oh, you're so right, Katie! A citrus tree is definitely on my wish list!

Sara Struckman said...

So great! I'm jealous of your plants (and all of your sunshine). How do you keep your ficus looking so good? We've barely kept ours alive for about 3 years. It's getting plenty of sun and water. I'm shocked that it hasn't died yet.

Ann Wyse said...

Thanks, Sara. About twice a year, I put the ficus in the shower for about 10 minutes. I forgot to mention that... I think they like showers. ;-) Maybe that would help?

Pregnantly Plump said...

I wish I had info, but I don't. My allergies and our cats keep us from having indoor plants. Although I'm thinking about getting one of those plants you mount on the wall. I don't the cats could get into it if it was hanging on the wall.
My grandmothers have lots of indoor plants, and I can ask them some questions if you'd like. But we live in a very humid climate.

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Erin said...

Ming aralia?

Ann Wyse said...

Oh, yes, it IS ming aralia! A totally stressed-out, not-enough-sunlight ming aralia. It's looking better after being outside all summer. ;-)