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How do you feel about houseplants? Do you love having pots of verdant plants dotted around your home or do you think the best place for plants is the garden? Do they thrive under your care or do they struggle to survive your regime of drought followed by drowning? As a plant lover I’m ashamed to admit that houseplants are my achilles heel.

I have always had a plant or two since I left home. Plants at university never really survived my student lifestyle. In contrast, my good friend doted on her plants, all of which had names and thrived. During the summer breaks I would be treated to updates on their progress in her letters to me.

In our first home together we bought a couple of plants from that large Swedish furniture shop. Along with the flat pack furniture with the strange names it seemed obligatory to buy a couple of plants. The one that I remember, possibly because it survived our attentions or lack of them, was a rubber plant or Ficus elastica. He even made the move back from Germany stuffed in the back of our car with the rest of our possessions deemed essential for living for several months whilst the rest was moved into storage. In our new flat he, his name is lost from my memory, was joined by a weeping fig which within days of purchase completely shed it’s leaves leaving a pathetic looking couple of bare stems in the pot. Eventually, the rubber plant got too big and was given to someone with more space.

Streptocarpus Seren (image from dibleys.com gold medal winning streptocarpus growers)

There have been other plants; a kalanchoe whose leaves were eaten by some undiscovered creature, an areca palm that developed blotchy leaves, orchids that never flower again and a streptocarpus that I overwatered amongst others.

My peace lily

My current houseplant roll call consists of 2 peace lilies, 3 money plants and 1 streptocarpus. The peace lilies were flowering when I bought them four years ago but haven’t flowered since but they do make attractive foliage plants and obligingly droop when they require a drink, so there is little danger of overwatering. They are also, according to NASA,  one of the best plants to have in the house to absorb the chemicals that are given off by modern furnishings and electrical appliances. I read somewhere that peace lilies are particularly sensitive to chlorine in tap water. It causes the tips to brown and die. So now I leave a glass of water standing overnight before using it to water them.

The streptocarpus is fussier and has proved more of a challenge to keep alive. It doesn’t like full sun so is only really happy on one particular window sill. It has slightly hairy leaves and doesn’t seem to like water splashing it’s leaves, otherwise it develops brown, dry patches. I have managed to get this one to flower though, which is something and once it starts flowering it goes on and on. I did forget to water it for a while though, partly because I killed the last streptocarpus by drowning the poor thing, so now the compost in the pot has formed a solid mass and shrunk away from the sides. Fortunately, March is the best time to pot on houseplants and give them some TLC so it won’t be long now before I can give this plant a new home.

My money plants

The money plants were grown from cuttings from my mum-in-law’s plant and have been very successful, they can get quite big and I don’t have the space, so I have to take cuttings every couple of years and start the plants off again. Money plants, however are really undemanding and there would be something wrong if they couldn’t survive my attention. They sit on my study window sill facing south east which is apparently where they should be according to feng shui. I have to say this has less to do with any adherence to this eastern philosophy than it is the only window sill available but still when I win the lottery I can say it was because of the placement of my money plants.

I know I’m not alone when it comes to struggling to keep houseplants alive. So why do they give us gardeners so many problems? Well as most gardeners know you should work with the conditions you have rather than trying to get plants to adapt and to some extent this is the problem with houseplants. Our homes really don’t provide most plants that are sold to us for the house with the conditions they require. Most houseplants are tender plants from the tropics. They generally like humidity and constant temperatures, the 2 things homes can’t really provide. If they did it wouldn’t be very pleasant for us to live in them, think Eden project in your lounge. Despite this I do still like having a few plants indoors and I’m sure they do make the environment in my home healthier, I just need to try a little harder to nurture these plants that I so often neglect.

Please feel free to share any houseplant horror stories, it’s a cathartic process.

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