As the winter garden outside slumbers my high impact houseplants give the chilly gardener an indoor gardening fix. Here are a few of my favourites – those that dangle from cupboards and shelves, those that simply grow huge and some smaller ones that add colour and variety…
Tradescantia zebrina – spiderwort
When it comes to houseplants, having a range of colours and textures is important if you want to create impact in the home. All green can be dull but throw in some colour and variegation and a houseplant collection will have some zing. Tradescantia zebrina brings burgundy tones and silvery shine. In certain lights the silver stripes look like they’ve been brushed on with metallic paint.
It’s a great one for dangling from a shelf, where it can break up a display of books or ornaments. Be warned, it will soon outgrow a table so if you do get one, think ahead, as within a year or two each strand will be 2-3 feet long (see photo below), at which point it can look a bit unruly. It does root easily from cuttings though so when each strand gets too long, I’ll cut it in half and poke the cut strand back into the pot to root higher up for a bushier overall effect. The cuttings also root very easily in water so you can create more plants to give away to friends.
This plant is fantastic for impact as it has such an unusual habit and a very striking fresh green colour. It is made up of long, flat fleshy tubes that grow downwards and branch appealingly. Again, this is a plant that needs a high home as they can grow to several feet it length. Sometimes it gets confused for a plant called Rhipsalis paradoxa, which has similarly long, fleshy, trailing branches. I thought mine was a Rhipsalis until just recently when someone on Twitter set me right. It just goes to show how sometimes things can be mislabelled in shops and garden centres.
As with the trandescantia, the strands are fairly easy to root so, again, I sometimes cut the strands and poke them into the pot. Once rooted, the cuttings will also branch downwards to create a shimmering green waterfall. The plant above is two years old and is 4 times the size of when I first bought it.
Here’s a picture of a baby one, from the mother plant above. It’s more of a trickle than a cascade so every now and again I add a cutting in the pot at the top.
Alternatives to these two trailing plants are scindapsus pictus (Satin Pothos plant) and philodendron scandens (Prayer plant). I grow these tumbling from pots and hanging baskets and just as with the tradescantia and rhipsalis, have rooted cuttings from unruly strands back into the pot above, for bushier effect.
Attractive colour and leaf shape are what makes a great plant but add in shine and you have the holy trinity of houseplant heaven. You cannot beat a Philodendron for sparkle and shine. The newest to my collection is Philodendron ‘Red Imperial’ with leaves so mirrored you can almost see you face in them.
When I bought this plant, the leaves were dull and dotted with chalky marks from where it had been watered overhead with hard water in the garden centre. The sparkle was restored with a wash of neem oil diluted with water. My philodendron ‘Xanadu’, got the same treatment last week.
Swiss Cheese Plant – Monstera deliciosa
These favourites from the 70s were out, then in, and now I hear they’re out again. Unless I accidentally kill something, I believe a houseplant is for life. The very idea of junking a plant because it is no longer “in” doesn’t make sense, especially when the leaves are as big and beautiful as my monsteras.
I have 7 monsteras in my home, ranging from the gigantic to the merely wannabee enormous. All but one are cuttings from a mother plant which is at least 55 years old. If you want to know more about the story behind this ancient plant you can read another article where I describe its history whilst also talking about how to set about taking cuttings from monstera deliciosa. These are my number one plants for impact, not just because they can grow to have spectacular, gigantic notched leaves but because they are so easy to grow. They’ll take dry homes, low light and a fair amount of neglect.
Monsteras are essentially climbers but need the support of a host plant in the wild and usually therefore need some support in teh home. Some I grow wound round canes or poles. The older ones, taken from cuttings of a large old plant, have hefty woody stems that, for now, they can support themselves. A final one is growing up a string nailed into an overhead beam – so they’re versatile too and you can create different effects depending on how you train them.
High impact plant for free – Avocado
I’ve included this one as many impactful houseplants are expensive and yet this one is free. I have four avocado plants growing in my home and each one came from the stone of an avocado pear that we’d had for lunch. All you have to do is dangle the stone over water (I use cocktail sticks to support them over a jam jar). The roots come first, then the shoot and I then pot them into compost.
The largest avocado is now a branching tree which has outgrown the kitchen and has had to move onto the landing. I achieved the branching effect by bravely chopping off the stem and allowing it to shoot from where I’d chopped it. Sometimes it just sends the new shoots straight up but if you wait until its 3 or so feet tall, i’ve found it’ll be more likely to branch well. This one has three main branches and has just sent a fourth one out towards the window.
Houseplants for colour – Saintpaulia and Fitonnia
Neither of these plants is large enough to add much impact in the home on their own but add them to a grouped houseplant collection and they’re transformational.
I don’t understand why African Violets aren’t more celebrated? I really like them though and once I learned to water them from the saucer to prevent marking the leaves, I have found them easy to grow. I also like the fact that they tend to flower in the UK autumn and winter when we relish their colourful blooms. The leaves can be green or burgundy and the flowers range from plum, to violet to deep purple and can even be stripey.
Meanwhile, the Fittonia albivenis ‘Skeleton’ provides its punch in the crazy pink veined leaves. I bought this and was scared stiff by reports of it needing very specific growing conditions – low to medium light, high humidity and free draining but moist soil. Certainly it scorched in my very bright greenhouse but it has been fine under a skylight in the kitchen in fairly dry air. I have found it easier to care for in a clay pot as I think a plastic pot can suffocate it a bit. This plant is a year and a half old and has expanded slowly outwards and may soon need a repot.
This seasonal diary is part of a weekly link-up of garden bloggers from around the world, called Six on Saturday. For more information and links to other blogs crammed with gardening activity, check the blog of host The Propagator.