There’s nothing new about people telling me their gardening stories; however, I’ve noticed a strange thing happens when I mention the word “houseplant” to people who, moments earlier, were raving about their green thumbs. Like magic, that one word seems to induce a chain reaction of grisly confessions. The interesting thing is that, although there is never any joy attached to these accounts, I don’t think I come across bigger smiles than the ones I see on the faces of people who tell me their favorite I-killed-a-houseplant stories. More times than not, these conversations turn into bizarre competitions of who has the best (that is, most horrific) account.
At first glance, it might seem like people are proud of their failures, but I’ve realized (partly through my own houseplant nightmares) that this enthusiasm has more to do with relief than with masochism. By telling our happily-never-after stories, we get to tend to our enormous guilt and take ownership of our mistakes. It’s a sense of responsibility that runs deep and one that I believe stems from the fact that nature didn’t create houseplants—we did.
A book dedicated to indoor plants seemed like the natural next step in our What Grows Here? series. It’s designed to strike a balance between the desire to bring nature indoors and the knowledge to do it properly. As with previous books in this series, this one offers helpful tips and information about how to select plants to suit a number of diverse locations and environments. Because people’s experiences with houseplants seem to vary from terrific to tragic, I’ve included information for indoor gardeners of all levels, from the basics about light, water and soil to specific details about caring for orchids and grooming topiaries. So whether you’re
looking for a plant for that dark corner in your first apartment, wanting to make a terrarium with your kids or planning to create a plant
border for your office, you’ll be able to find the knowledge you need here.
Like all relationships, the one we have with houseplants
is at its best when it’s cultivated with understanding, respect and good advice. In fact, a relationship is exactly what you’ll find at the core of What Grows Here? Indoors. It’s our goal to turn information into knowledge, hesitation into confidence and problems into solutions.
Choosing Indoor Plants
Plants are often impulse buys. You see a gorgeous display of seasonal plants at the grocery store, and before you know it, there’s a violet or poinsettia sitting in your grocery cart next to the magazine you weren’t going to buy and the bag of potato chips you swore off the week before. The best way to ensure the plant outlasts that bag of chips is to think before you buy. Simply taking a little extra time to think about what you want from the plant—and what it needs from you—will greatly increase your chance of bringing home a plant that you can enjoy for years.
Here are a few tips to make that happen:
- Come prepared. Know which directions your rooms face and how much sunlight they get. Light is key to growing all plants, so knowing the intensity of the light that shines through your windows is key to selecting appropriate plants.
- Note both the daytime and nighttime temperature of your room.
- Consider how much space you have for a plant. Be careful not to select one that will outgrow your space too quickly.
- Be honest about how much time and care you have to give a houseplant. If you know you are likely to water irregularly, be sure to select a plant that will be forgiving.
- Talk to knowledgeable staff.
- Don’t be afraid to ask ‘stupid’ questions. Chances are you can’t come up with anything that hasn’t already been asked. Besides, when you take that little bit of time to strike up a conversation, knowledgeable staff will often offer answers to questions you may not have known to ask.
- Describe that plant you have in mind. Even if you can’t remember its name, you can still describe its form and growing habit.
- Select plants according to their light requirements. Different plants need different amounts of light, so read tags and note the suggestions.
- Inspect leaves for general health.
- Keep an eye out for pests and blotches that could indicate fungal or bacterial problems. In general, leaves should look shiny—not dusty or covered in residue.
- • Look for new leaves. Sometimes it’s hard to tell a new leaf from an old one, but color is a clue. New leaves are often a lighter and brighter shade of green.
- Look for buds on flowering plants. Plants need to be healthy to support bud production, so an abundance of buds indicates that the plant isn’t under stress.
- Buy seasonal plants early. They are usually very popular, so get yours before they get picked over.
- Ask about delivery. Large plants can be hard to get home, so take advantage of services that are available.