In­spi­ra­tion so even plain house­plants can stand out.

Gar­dener rec­og­nizes roots of ob­ses­sion in books that cel­e­brate house­plants

San Antonio Express-News - - FRONT PAGE - By Molly Glentzer STAFF WRITER

House­plants were my first gar­den­ing love, much to the dis­may of my fresh­man dorm room­mate decades ago. The af­fair be­gan as a plant­buy­ing habit, to be hon­est, be­cause ev­ery small spec­i­men at a nearby nurs­ery seemed like a dis­cov­ery. By the end of the first se­mes­ter, that cramped room was all about the green­ery, in­clud­ing ter­rar­i­ums, ferns and my ab­so­lute fa­vorite — the del­i­cate Cerope­gia woodii, or string of hearts, which dan­gled from a pot in a macramé hanger I made my­self.

My hus­band’s big­gest fear about my re­newed in­ter­est in grow­ing things in­doors is that I will un­earth the macramé thing some­where and haul it out.

He re­ally needn’t worry, but just for the record: A big pic­ture in the re­cently pub­lished “Won­der Plants 2: Your Ur­ban Jun­gle In­te­rior” in­cludes a cou­ple of In­sta­gram-wor­thy macramé hang­ers above a ver­i­ta­ble for­est of palms and ferns on the bal­cony of a hip Amer­i­can de­signer in Zapopan, Mex­ico.

Long live the ’70s — and mil­len­ni­als’ deft adap­ta­tions of a wave that be­gan in about, oh, the 18th cen­tury, when Western plant ex­plor­ers be­gan drag­ging ex­otic spec­i­mens home from Asia, Africa and the Amer­i­cas that could not sur­vive life in Europe out­doors. The ‘ur­ban jun­gle’ trend re­ally flour­ished dur­ing the Vic­to­rian era, when plant col­lect­ing got so out of hand the ‘it’ room be­came a glass con­ser­va­tory.

Global in­spi­ra­tion

Now, in a fol­low-up to their first “Won­der Plants” book, European au­thors and blog­gers Irene Scham­paert and Ju­dith Baehner pro­vide in­spi­ra­tion from homes and apart­ments across the world where even the most mun­dane spec­i­men plants look chic. They have an eye for plants as in­te­rior design state­ments serv­ing a range of styles, from Asian-min­i­mal­ist to grand French to ro­man­tic boho; in­clud­ing cool abodes where a small, pot­ted fig tree can look

ge­nius on a rus­tic ta­ble and ri­otously green en­vi­ron­ments with la­bor­in­ten­sive plant walls.

Scham­paert and Baehner pre­fer plants that have de­vel­oped some char­ac­ter by adapt­ing to their sur­round­ings, even to the point of grow­ing lop­sided. “If you want a dis­tinc­tive plant with its own shape, you need pa­tience,” they write.

I’m a com­pul­sive pot­turner, al­ways en­cour­ag­ing stems to de­velop evenly, but I like the con­cept of let­ting na­ture do its thing. If plants are happy, they grow and change; that’s what it’s all about, af­ter all.

“How to Win­dow Box,” ($14.95, Clark­son Pot­ter, 2018) a smaller, more task-ori­ented book, of­fers 16 themed de­signs for rec­tan­gu­lar, in­door con­tain­ers.

Its au­thors, South­ern Cal­i­for­nia blog­gers Chan­tal Aida Gor­don and Ryan Benoit (The Hor­tic­ult), wisely rec­om­mend plants with sim­i­lar grow­ing re­quire­ments — group­ing ferns, jun­gle plants, suc­cu­lents and so on. That’s crit­i­cal to suc­cess when plants share a pot.

A few of their ideas are des­tined to be short-lived; the “Flower Stand” box of spring-bloom­ing bulbs would fin­ish its show in a cou­ple of weeks. But de­signs called “Tiny Is­land,” “Sunny Suc­cu­lents,” “De­tox Box,” “Dan­glers, “Rain For­est” “Jun­gle Box and “Wood­lands” could pro­vide many months of in­ter­est.

No such thing as bor­ing plants

Most sur­pris­ing, with both books, is the em­brace of plants that I years ago aban­doned as

— among them rub­ber plants, philo­den­dron, di­ef­fen­bachia, as­para­gus fern, ivies and va­ri­eties of san­se­vieria, or mother-in-law’s tongue.

But those stal­warts are pop­u­lar for good rea­sons: They are rel­a­tively for­giv­ing. They cleanse air. They can be sculp­tural, bring­ing or­ganic life to a room sub­tly or dra­mat­i­cally, on a bud­get.

Oh, and the touchyfeely thing: All plants, some­what like pets, ground us to a world be­yond the one in­side our busy, stressed-out heads, by re­quir­ing a bit of ten- der tend­ing. So — un­less you need a con­stant chal­lenge — why not just achieve that with the plants that are likely to cause the least ag­gra­va­tion?

While some house­plants are more care­free than oth­ers, all re­spond to oc­ca­sional at­ten­tion and need proper con­di­tions to sur­vive. Here are a few ba­sics.

Light: Con­sider your home’s avail­able, nat­u­ral light first, and choose the house­plants best suited to it. Many thrive in in­di­rect but bright light. The far­ther away from win­dows they are placed, the less light they re­ceive.

Mod­er­ate the in­ten­sity of su­per-sunny rooms with win­dow cov­er­ings. With floor-to-ceil­ing win­dows, you can prob­a­bly go full-bore ur­ban jun­gle.

Pots: Choose pots that are about 2 inches wider than the size of the nurs­ery pot, to en­cour­age plant growth, and be pre­pared to up-size next year. Pots with drainage holes and saucers are best. While col­or­ful glazed pots are fun, my plants never thrive in them. Roots seem to breathe bet­ter in clay pots.

Plas­tic saucers aren’t as pretty as clay or ce­ramic, but they’re kin­der to wood floors and fur­ni­ture be­cause they don’t sweat. An­other op­tion: El­e­vate saucers with pot feet or cast­ers. If you must use a pot with no hole, leave the plant in a plas­tic nurs­ery pot that can be lifted out, wa­tered and drained.

From a design per­spec­tive, any­thing goes these days, al­though pots with some patina have more soul. Find them for a song at garage sales and thrift shops.

Mois­ture: It’s bet­ter to un­der­wa­ter than over­wa­ter. Sat­u­rated roots in­vite dam­ag­ing in­sects and dis­ease. Let the soil dry out be­tween wa­ter­ings.

Un­like pot­ted plants on a hot out­door pa­tio or bal­cony, no in­door plants should need a daily dous­ing. Hu­mid­ity-lov­ing spec­i­mens may ap­pre­ci­ate oc­ca­sional mist­ing from a spray bot­tle, but that can get messy if you don’t have a sharp aim.

Air: Be mind­ful of air con­di­tion­ing, heat­ing and fans. Many plants are sen­si­tive to drafts and tem­per­a­ture changes.

Nutri­tion: If you se­lect a qual­ity pot­ting soil with a timed-re­lease fer­til­izer, you shouldn’t need to feed a plant again for sev­eral months. Then, no more than once a month dur­ing the plant’s grow­ing sea­son, add a bal­anced, or­ganic liq­uid feed when wa­ter­ing; or pe­ri­od­i­cally add timed-re­lease pel­lets. Don’t over­feed; that stresses roots.

Trou­bleshoot­ing: House­plants raised in green­houses with per­fect grow­ing con­di­tions may stress at first when you bring them home; some ini­tial leaf drop is nor­mal. Use snips to prune off brown or yel­lowed leaves (signs of im­proper light and wa­ter­ing) and to shape plants as they grow.

In my ex­pe­ri­ence, all in­door plants perk up with a hit of rain­wa­ter now and again. I leave a large wa­ter­ing can out­side to cap­ture rain for that rea­son. House­plants may be do­mes­ti­cated, but they’re still wild things at heart.

And nur­tur­ing them en­cour­ages the wild thing in­nate in all of us — macramé and all.

Won­der Plants 2

A plant wall is def­i­nitely a dra­matic design el­e­ment, but it’s not low-main­te­nance.

Molly Glentzer / Staff

Even a scrag­gly English ivy can have sculp­tural qual­i­ties. Two new books on house­plants rest on the shelf below.

Won­der Plants 2

An atrium is the ul­ti­mate in­door plant design el­e­ment, but table­top dis­plays are easy, as are group­ings of pot­ted plants as seen in the back­ground.

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