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.
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 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.
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.
Clare Matthews said:
My passion for plants is obvious all over the house. Some plants perish under my haphazard care but that leaves the good value stalwarts that seem to go on for years, like the money plant and cacti. I would love a lush maiden hair fern but I have lost count of the number I have rendered completely crispy!
Flâneur Gardener said:
I’m horrible with house plants, perhaps mainly because I forget to water them and then over-compensate with too much water, confusing the poor little dears.
In my garden I won’t have anything that can’t basically take care of itself, and that philosophy is really hard to transpose to house plants, given that they have absolutely no chance of surviving on their own. I do manage to keep a few alive, though, even if they’re not doing as well as they could.
I’m hopeless with house plants and I don’t really LIKE plants indoors anyway. They die, they look horrible I guiltily throw them away.
At present I have a small orchid in a pot, a friend gave it to me and its PLASTIC so I’ve managed to keep it looking good for about 2 year!
I do love cut flowers and dream of making space for a cuttings garden. Christina
Bridget Foy said:
Not a great one for houseplants but I do have a few in the bathroom. Also a couple of Cacti who somehow came into my possession. They live in the front porch where the computer is. I also have a huge one of those Money Plants but alas have not won the lottery yet!
Most plants in my house were bought by other people; I am someone who believes the plants should be outside, and so for the most part they do not do very well as I provide little to no care for them and actually dislike watering. I do have some Orchids which are survivng well, mainly because they need little care!
Cut flowers are really all I want indoors and even then I’m lazy and leave them until they’re beyond dead before I throw them away…
Pauline Mulligan said:
You remind me so much of myself, underwatering then overwatering, poor things! I do like them in the house, would rather have them than cut flowers from the garden, but always seem to spend so much more time on outside plants than the ones indoors.
Hanni @ Sweet Bean Gardening said:
I do love having something to take care of inside…especially through the 5 long months of winter. 🙂 I’ve over/underwatered my fair share of houseplants, but I’ve just recently starting using Lechuza pots for my houseplants and they are amazing. THey go by the name Miracle Pots in our house, LOL!
The little hoya I have sitting next to the kitchen sink is the healthiest houseplant I have…probably because it gets so much humidity.
Janet at Planticru Notes said:
My mother used to have a theory that you were either good with plants indoors or outdoors. She kept some very sad looking begonias and spider plants that never got fed or re potted. I manage with weeping figs, peace lilies and orchids but they really don’t like central heating and I have killed more orchids (always presents) than I care to remember.
you have to do the lottery to stand a chance of winning it first!
Carolyn (urbanvegpatch) said:
Oh I can relate so well to the bare branches of your weeping fig! I’ve also killed off maidenhair ferns, and countless other undeserving specimens. Currently have a large cowboy cactus which thrives despite leaning like the tower at Pisa out of it’s tiny pot (think Chinese foot binding and you’ll get the idea of what’s happening to its roots). I’m proud to say that I’ve managed to nurture a money plant back to good health and haven’t yet killed off a bilberis which should have been put in a bigger pot a while back… I like Janet’s suggestion of either being good with indoor or outdoor plants – I’m an outdoor plant kinda person, in case you hadn’t guessed!
Your post made me smile WW – I usually just have to look at indoor plants to make them curl up at the toes. I think that I am slowly improving on this score as like you I have money plants, spider plants and my biggest achievement to date – an African violet which I think dare I say it will celebrate a third birthday soon 🙂 My student days also featured a rubber plant who went by the name of Robert Plant who managed to survive – needless to say I was not involved in his care. I like the look of your stretocarpus but think that I will resist temptation 🙂
The only houseplants I have are two orchids which are now a few years old and have flowered four times. They’re so easy to take care of, water once a week and cut off the flower spike when it’s finished blooming. They go on and on too. They came in to flower just before Christmas and they’re still going strong.
The Sage Butterfly said:
Over the years, I have tried various houseplants some of which thrived and some of which did not. Mostly, it is because of the humidity level…and even though I try to keep a water tray nearby or mist them, it never seems to be enough. Over the last year, I have come to the conclusion that I should stick with what works instead of trying to force some plant to thrive in my home’s conditions. What works for me are: jade plant, Christmas cactus, pothos, some ivy, pony tail palm, Norfolk island pine, spider plant, aloe, angel wing begonia, African violet, and corn plant.
I have exactly the same problem – I can grow lots of stuff outdoors, but have killed more houseplants than I care to remember! You are right – the main problem is that I am constantly wanting to experiment with new and different things, and just end up torturing them to death… Plants that grow well for me inside include hoyas (many different kinds), philodendrons, aeschynanthus (lipstick plant), and aglaonema (Chinese evergreen).
Debbie Qalballah said:
I personally really dislike houseplants. I prefer cut flowers in the home. I think bad memories of 1970s houses with spider plants and cheese plants really put me off. The only thing I can tolerate is aloe vera… but only because I harvest it for hand cream!
I have a few house plants, mainly “strays” that I’ve collected from other people. I find most house plants are not really suited to household life as many are tropical and suffer from a lack of humidity.
I have one peace lily that seems to keep trying to flower, I may put outside for the summer and let it get some more sun.
I’ve had fantastic success with my Kentia Palm. It lives happily in a corner of the sitting room and I often forget to water it, with no ill effect!
I’ve also had a Ficus benjamina in the past. It hates cold draughts, but other than that, it’s indestructible.
I just stumbled on your blog looking for pieces on tapestry hedges. I love your writing. I was glued to it for all of about an hour–even though I’m at work and supposed to be working. 🙂 I saw this, and had to comment. When I was younger, I worked part time at a nursery/craft store in their advertising dept. As a result I had discounts on their products, and became addicted to buying their “didn’t sell, left to die unless someone buys them” discount section in the back of the store. I had plants EVERYWHERE in my apartment, and loved it. Not all of them survived, since I had a soft spot for the worst of the worst (trying to save as many as I could afford). But now that I own a home, and would LOVE a house filled with plants (I have an extensive yard garden that I love already), I’m married, and the husband will NOT keep the blinds open during the day. Even indoor varieties wilt and die except for the most MUNDANE varieties, which I really don’t want. I was able to find two “low light” varieties. One is sad to look at, but thriving. The other is very odd and healthy and quite attractive. But I know if I had the option to police the blinds in our home during the day–I could get just about anything to thrive in the main rooms. Although it’s a sore spot in the relationship–it’s not a deal breaker (yet). So, divorce isn’t an option at this time. 🙂