Liv­ing

Neale Whi­taker is wild at heart when it comes to his love for in­door plants.

The Sunday Telegraph (Sydney) - Stellar - - Contents - by Neale Whi­taker

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.

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