Neale Whitaker is wild at heart when it comes to his love for indoor plants.
When in doubt, think like a plant.” That might sound like my Year 8 drama teacher talking, but in fact it’s advice from Plant Society: Create An Indoor Oasis For Your Urban Space (Hardie Grant, $29.99), one of the most engagingly practical books I’ve read in a while. Its author, Melbournebased Jason Chongue, describes himself as a “plant cultivator”, but methinks he’s hiding his light under a bromeliad, as he’s also a qualified architect and interior designer – who just happens to love house plants. Hundreds of them.
Reading Chongue’s book whilst tenderly coaxing a fiddle-leaf fig back to health – as I am at the moment – says two things about me: I’ve embraced the charms of a plant variety I had hitherto scorned (my unreserved apologies to FLF lovers I may have previously offended), and I’ve declared myself a born-again “plantie”. To explain, let me rewind 40 years. If you grew up in the ’70s, chances are it was in a house overrun by plants. Hemisphere was no barrier. My English home might have been the Sumatran rainforest, so dense was the coverage of Swiss cheese plants, peace lilies, rubber plants and Joseph’s coats. There were plants in the living and dining rooms, the kitchen, bathroom and both loos. Strangely though, there were none in the bedrooms, because the same ’70s wisdom that declared raw vegetables inedible also decreed bedroom plants to be unhealthy.
No surprise then, that as adulthood beckoned, I chose to banish the house plants, give or take the odd succulent. I obviously wasn’t alone. As Chongue notes, “gardening skipped a generation in the ’80s. Basic gardening skills were not passed down and many house plants are now rare due to a lack of appreciation and propagation.” He explains that “people have fallen in love with house plants again for both aesthetic and therapeutic reasons. With higherdensity living on the rise, we’re moving into smaller spaces that don’t always have gardens. Indoor gardening is a connection back to nature… that brings our interiors to life.”
His book is a joy. Chongue walks us through his favourite plant varieties and groups them according to difficulty level. There’s even advice on which plants work best in which zones of the home. Begonias, devil’s ivy and rubber plants are apparently all good choices for the bedroom and help aerate the air as we sleep. My mother would have been horrified. Neale Whitaker is editor-at-large of Vogue Living.
“I’ve now embraced the charms of a plant variety I had hitherto scorned”
GREEN HOUSE (from top) Author Jason Chongue’s book Plant Society debunks the ’70s theory that plants are unhealthy in bedrooms; Chongue says indoor gardens facilitate a “connection back to nature”; pots and plants by Domus Botanica enhance this space.