How to use fo­liage for wow­fac­tor in­doors

The Daily Telegraph - Gardening - - House Plants -

A new book shows you how to turn in­door plants into sculp­tures, says Alice Vin­cent

It’s one of the first prop­erly au­tum­nal morn­ings in east Lon­don. At 10.30am on Sun­day, Columbia Road Flower Mar­ket is rel­a­tively quiet: the more se­ri­ous gar­den­ers are al­ready car­ry­ing away their pur­chases and the keener tourists are only just start­ing to ar­rive. It’s no­tice­able that stalls once given over to tra­di­tional bed­ding plants are now stock­ing suc­cu­lents, ferns and other leafy house­plants. Young city dwellers, starved of out­door space, are clam­our­ing for green­ery in­doors.

This de­mand is tak­ing over sur­round­ing streets too – new gar­den shops and florists are open­ing up, cater­ing to a new gen­er­a­tion of stressed-out mil­lenials; ter­rar­ium work­shops and floristry classes are on of­fer to green­ery-starved hip­sters will­ing to swap a week­day evening at the pub to learn how to make a macrame plant holder.

Public spa­ces, such as res­tau­rants, bars and shops, are also re­al­is­ing the ben­e­fits of green­ery: Lib­erty, the stylish de­part­ment store off Re­gent Street, has long played host to an ex­pen­sive florist and now has a run of win­dows filled with as­para­gus fern. Sel­fridges’ shoe de­part­ment fea­tures a sur­real dis­play of mon­key puz­zle trees and lush tree ferns. At An­thro­polo­gie on Re­gent Street, a ver­ti­cal gar­den the height of the build­ing dom­i­nates the main stair­case and, on Tot­ten­ham Court Road, fur­ni­ture store West Elm has used the same idea.

Floristry meets botan­i­cal sculp­ture is now the name of the game for in­door plants – an ap­proach to green­ery that lifts house­plants out of their dusty wait­ing room ghetto. To de­vote pre­cious ur­ban square footage to botan­i­cal in­stal­la­tions may seem like a lux­ury, the pre­serve of West End stores or event plan­ners adept at com­ing up with at­ten­tion- grab­bing nov­el­ties. But, in their new book, Loose Leaf, Wona Bae and Char­lie Lawler, two Aus­tralia-based de­sign­ers (be­low right), show how to in­cor­po­rate botan­i­cal sculp­ture into the home – in­ter­pret­ing the new green trend for space-poor fo­liage fans.

Bae and Lawler both grew up around plants: she on a flower farm in Korea, he on a fam­ily plant nurs­ery. They’ve since taken de­grees in hor­ti­cul­ture and floristry and now run Loose Leaf, a studio in Mel­bourne that un­der­takes com­mis­sions, sells plants and of­fers classes to help peo­ple learn how to make botan­i­cal sculp­tures.

Loose Leaf dis­tils their en­thu­si­asm via wan­der­lust pho­tog­ra­phy and howto guides. They en­cour­age read­ers to “ob­serve na­ture, be in­spired by it and start ex­per­i­ment­ing”. The Bae-Lawler sig­na­ture is a mon­stera chan­de­lier – a tufty hang­ing sphere that reimag­ines the Swiss cheese plant. In­struc­tions for con­struc­tion are in the book, along with wreaths for sea­sonal dec­o­ra­tion and nests wo­ven from vine, which could be used in­stead of a ce­ramic planter or as a ta­ble cen­tre­piece.

This is, in essence, a form of revamped flower ar­rang­ing. But there’s also a chap­ter on liv­ing plant in­stal­la­tions, which, while largely pic­ture-led, hints at what an in­door gar­den in the home could be. Rather than rank­ing plants in mis­matched pots along a win­dow sill or half for­got­ten be­hind the cur­tains, Bae and Lawler sus­pend them from the ceil­ing in groups to form a tiered cas­cade of con­trast­ing fo­liage and forms.

Loose Leaf makes the most of the lush trop­i­cal fo­liage na­tive to the south­ern hemi­sphere: many are fa­mil­iar to us – bird’s nest fern, devil’s ivy, mon­stera – although oth­ers are more odd and Oz-like. The pho­tographs of Bae and Lawler tramp­ing around red­wood val­leys and perched above the canopies of trees on a moun­tain peak per­haps serve bet­ter as a travel guide than as any­thing hor­ti­cul­tural.

How­ever, the cou­ple also show what can be made from the con­tents of their pub­lisher’s gar­den (a sim­ple eu­ca­lyp­tus wreath and a kokozi – or Korean-style ar­range­ment from bam­boo) as well as flow­ers found by the road­side. Lawler and Bae told me that, while in Europe, they spent the sum­mer creat­ing wild­flower bou­quets and wreaths, and sug­gested that in the UK, we should make the most of blackberry vines to make wreaths, while our abun­dant flow­ers and grasses in the sum­mer can be used for tatami weav­ing – an­other project out­lined in the book.

I was cu­ri­ous about the ethics in­volved in this foraging phi­los­o­phy: see­ing plants in the wild is a joy and to re­move them from a public space for a sin­gle home’s plea­sure is prob­lem­atic. Bae and Lawler have some sim­ple rules: “Never take more than you need, be re­spect­ful of where you are get­ting the ma­te­rial from, if it’s pri­vate prop­erty al­ways ask. We sug­gest look­ing for sea­sonal ma­te­ri­als that are in abun­dance, so if you take a lit­tle and re­pur­pose it into a bou­quet, for ex­am­ple, it will hardly be no­tice­able.”

As for a mon­stera chan­de­lier, well, that will ei­ther in­volve buy­ing a mon­stera plant, or head­ing to a florist or flower mar­ket – the cav­ernous fo­liage sec­tion of New Covent Gar­den Flower Mar­ket springs to mind. (At Columbia Road, bun­dles of 10 mon­stera leaves are on of­fer for £20, give or take some hag­gling.) There are also dozens of pairs of scis­sors and pruners in­volved, and sev­eral dif­fer­ent types of wire, string and twine. If one were to get se­ri­ous about botan­i­cal in­stal­la­tion, some se­ri­ous in­vest­ment would be re­quired.

But these prac­ti­cal­i­ties de­tract from Loose Leaf ’s ethos, which can in­creas­ingly be felt in ur­ban spa­ces as the trend for house­plants and in­te­rior green­ing be­comes ever more present. A mon­stera chan­de­lier (let alone its big brother, the mon­stera tor­nado, which looks as large and im­pres­sive as the name sug­gests) may seem a lofty am­bi­tion, but the de­sire to ap­pre­ci­ate and ex­per­i­ment with na­ture is keenly felt in the city. We might only just be learn­ing to fall in love with house­plants again, but who’s to say that, once we’ve mas­tered the pot plant, we won’t feel tempted to string it from the ceil­ing, too?

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