Styling Your Home With Plants
As someone who perhaps has a slight obsession with plants, it should come as no surprise to find that I am a fully signed up member of the house plant club. You will find me singing their lovely green praises as loudly as I can!
I have long been a keen gardener, growing up in a green fingered family and taking on my very own allotment at the age of twenty three where I grew lots of lovely vegetables, fruit and flowers for many years. Whilst living in the tropics of Singapore I then became quite obsessed with tropical plants, I bought plants before I bought furniture such was my need to be surrounded by all things green.
When I relocated back to the UK I had to say goodbye to my beautiful (and rather excessive) plant collection, but I was so pleased to find how many of my favourites are available here. Whilst the growing conditions may have changed a little, the joy that they bring me has not and I am slowly but steadily building back my collection.
Regardless of where you live, so long as you have a window and some natural light you can look at styling your home with plants, and bring the benefits of nature into your home. Studies have found that houseplants have both psychological and physical health benefits including improved mood, reduced stress and greater productivity along with reducing blood pressure, fatigue and headaches. The quantities of house plants needed to reap all of these benefits is an ongoing discussion, so that gives you an excuse for continuing to grow your collection!
However whilst it is easy to get caught up with buying lovely plants wherever you see them (guilty as charged) we should be mindful of the environmental impact of the houseplant industry and be sure not to treat them as disposable (although the occasional plant death can of course happen to us all). The good news is that it is pretty easy to take cuttings and to propagate many plants at home so you you can swap and share with friends and fellow house plant lovers. Be sure to use peat free compost and avoid chemicals when looking after your plants. Look at using organic neem oil and rubbing alcohol for pest control.
When choosing a plant for your home it is important to understand it's needs so that you can make sure it is suited to you and your environment. Check labels or look up online to see its preferred growing conditions. Individual plants have specific requirements to survive, let alone thrive. So you need to make sure that a plant is happy, if it isn't you will soon know about it! As lovely as a plant may look in a certain spot, if it doesn't get enough sunlight you won't be able to keep it alive. I had great dreams of having a beautiful frangipani tree in my bedroom in Singapore. As amazing as it looked initially, it just didn't get anything like enough light through the shutters of my shophouse and had to be moved back out to the garden before it gave up the ghost.
But styling with houseplants is still a lot of fun. It is a good way to soften edges and to hide not such attractive elements of a space. It is also a good way to 'decorate' without physically changing anything. If you rent your home then this is a real bonus.
Do think about grouping plants together, plants love company! A little vignette with a selection of leaf shapes and sunlight coming through the leaves is just the most beautiful thing. The Japanese have a name for the dappled sunlight coming through plants (of course they do) 'komorebi' And talking of all things Japanese if you are looking for inspiration on how to style you really can't go wrong with taking inspiration from Japanese gardens and plant styling.
Another major inspiration for me when it comes to styling interiors with plants is Tropical Modernism and the amazing Geoffrey Bawa. Bawa was a Sri Lankan architect with an instinctive way of connecting the natural world and landscape with the buildings he designed, bridging the gap between outside and in. Whilst it is now commonplace for us to do so in our interiors, Bawa was a truly early adopter, as was Frank Lloyd Wright who's architecture is also synonymous with this aesthetic. The incredible inspirations of Geoffrey Bawa and Tropical Modernism deserve (and I will have to give) their own blog entirely, but in the meantime if you are interested then I highly recommend Geoffrey Bawa: The Complete Works by David Robson, a beautiful and very thorough book which will introduce you to his projects, drawings and gardens. As you can see I am a big fan!
The same fundamentals apply to plant styling as to most styling, group in odd numbers and create height at the back so that your eye can travel. To create visual interest include different leaf shapes and textures. Think about scale and proportion; the bigger your space, the bigger you want you your plants to be. But that is not to say one large plant in a small space won't make a brilliant statement. Look at choosing colours, shapes and textures that compliment each other, just as you would for your interiors.
A few of my favourite houseplants are
Alocasia - Elephants Ear
I have a major thing for Alocasias! I had some real beauties in my garden in Singapore which grew incredibly well and frequently sent out little offshoots. The leaf shape is big and dramatic and they can have truly beautiful stems such as the stunning Zebrina.
Fiscus lyrata - Fiddle Leaf Fig
There is something very pleasing about a perfect looking fiddle leaf fig, and it has a great name! This is a plant that also looks good on its own, just go for a generous size, a lovely pot and put it in pride of place.
Monstera deliciosa - Swiss Cheese Plant This is probably up there with the best known of houseplants. It has that classic 70's vibe and is definitely a statement. Some of the variegated Monstera's sell for absolute fortunes and even the cuttings are sold at extortionate amounts online for you to propagate yourself.
Sansevieria rifasciata - Snake Plant
Whilst a snake plant might not seem like the most exciting of plants, once you search there are some really stunning varieties with beautiful leaf patterns. It is also very easy to look after being incredibly tolerant of most conditions. Easy to propagate you can take off a healthy leaf, cut into pieces and put in potting soil. I have an entire plant started like this from a friend's cutting.
Chlorophytum comosum - Spider Plant
A spider plant is another easy plant to keep alive and great for beginners. Once it is happy it grows quickly and will send off little spider babies (not as scary as that might sound) which you can snip off, pop in water and will root in a matter of days, ready to pot on and grow a whole new plant.
Along with Alocasia's the fern family are another firm favourite of mine. From the rather needy maidenhair fern with its delicate black stems and almost lace like leaves to a bird nest fern with its wonderful waves, there has got to be a fern for everyone with a nice shady spot. The Victorian's had such a craze there is even a name for it 'Pteridomania' or 'Fern-Fever'. Ok, I must admit, I may be suffering from this too!
I have recently sown seeds for Tacca chantrieri also known as 'bat flower' (you can guess why I like it!) and the amazing Aloe Polyphylla that grows in an incredible spiral. Pictured here at the Cambridge Botanical Gardens.
This is a bit of an experiment and quite the investment in time and patience. The seeds alone can take 1 - 9 months to germinate! We will have to watch this space to see if it pays off.
If you are interested in visiting glasshouses for house plant inspiration and to see some truly incredible specimens then I highly recommend a visit to Kew Gardens. The original Palm House is my very favourite and has an interesting history about the building of it in the 1800's if you are interested in reading about such things.
The Glasshouse Range at the Cambridge Botanical Gardens is another real treat, I love the beautiful wooden frames of the buildings and the truly stunning wrought iron mechanisms to open and close the windows.The Tropical Rainforests and Arid Lands glasshouses here are the standouts for me.
The Barbican Conservatory is also pretty spectacular and I just love the juxtaposition of the brutalist architecture and lush tropical plants. I have dreams of building my very own tropical glasshouse one day...
Until then, if you want to talk to me about styling your own interiors, with or without plants, just drop me a line.