Green up your home with these ingenious houseplants hacks for hanging gardens, indoor ponds, desert bowls and more…
Walking on air
If you prefer low maintenance gardening without the dirty fingernails then airplants are for you. Also known as Tillandsias, they don’t require soil or masses of watering, and instead get most of what they require from the air. The doyen of small space and indoor gardening Isabelle Palmer – city garden designer and founder of The Balcony Gardener – displays them beautifully by mounting on to boards and tiles or displaying in hanging glass globe planters. Try: “They can be anchored or perched on another plant or structure. To mount them, simply use glue or wire,” says Isabelle. “They like bright, indirect light and misting with water 2-3 times a week. It needs to be filtered water or bottled water as tap water contains too much chlorine.” Buy: Crafty Plants.
Cacti have undergone a renaissance in the last few years and gone are the Mexican inspired terracotta and 1970s prickly pears. Now urban indoor gardeners are recreating miniature deserts in chic glass vases and open-ended terrariums. Cacti is cool. Try: “Cacti gardens require minimum attention for maximum effect,” says Isabelle, author of House Plants. “Place grit in the bottom of your pot, roughly about 1-2 inches deep (this is for drainage if you overwater), then put a layer of cacti compost over the top about 1/3 of the size of the pot. To pick up cacti, fold up a piece of paper into a long rectangle to protect you from the spines and arrange your plants (succulents do well with cacti too). Fill in any gaps with compost and cover the bare compost with the small pebbles to finish off the look. Water sparingly once a month.” Buy: Crocus.
Closed terrariums (with lids) or open terrariums (mason jars, bottles and bowls) allow you to create tiny worlds indoors – you could even plant up a repurposed light bulb! Try: Each type of terrarium has its own special needs and plants. “Sun loving plants such as succulents and cacti yearn for natural light so use an open terrarium for them. They can tolerate some direct sunlight, but too much sun may burn the leaves as it will be magnified by the glass,” advises Isabelle. “Plants that need high humidity such as ivy, mosses and ferns can grow in a closed terrarium. They like bright light but no direct sunlight (too much and the plants will cook!).”
“Add an inch of pebbles for drainage at the bottom and some activated charcoal to keep the eco-system sweet and avoid any fungus. Place the largest plants first and then position the smaller ones, filling in any gaps with soil, and use enough compost to cover the root ball of your biggest plant. Top dress with stones or decorative wood and water so the soil is moist.” Buy: Urban Botanist. Check out Isabelle’s video tutorial.
This knotty 1970s throwback is undergoing a huge revival especially for city dwellers as it’s the perfect way to garden vertically in a small flat or balcony. Try: All you need is some macrame cord in the same or contrasting colour of your pot. Cut four lengths of the same size – around 70 inches or approximately 180cm is a good place to start. Fold the cords in half and tie a knot at the top, using all the cords. Taking two cords at a time, tie them into a knot and repeat for the next three pairs, ensuring all four knots are at the same height. Then take two adjacent knots, and one cord from each of these and tie them together. Repeat four times with all the knots at the same level. Finally, make sure your pot fits, adjust accordingly, and tie a knot underneath to keep it stable. Buy: Cord from Hobbycraft.
Living works of art
If you’re feeling a bit more adventurous, you could make a picture frame planter to hang on the wall! Baby succulents are the perfect plants for this display. Try: Take the backing and glass out of a frame and cut a rectangle of stiff wire the same size as your backing. Press into the frame and secure with a staple gun. Make or buy a wooden box or shallow tray to house your plants and superglue this to the picture frame. Wait for it to dry, then add your hooks and wire. Fill with compost mixed with a little grit, then cut holes into the wire where you want to place a plant and pop it in, firming in with compost. Repeat until the whole frame is full and tightly packed. Take down and water every seven-10 days when the soil feels dry. Buy: Cheat at buy ready made from Urban Botanist.
Succulents are also fantastic for kokedama or ‘moss balls’ and look beautiful suspended from cords around the house. This Japanese-inspired craft wraps the roots of plants in a mud cake of compost and akadama (clay particles) before binding into a ball. Try: “The art of Kokedama literally translates from “koke” meaning moss and “dama” meaning ball,” says Isabelle, who has used ferns, ivy and even raspberry bushes in kokedama. “Mould the soil clay mixture around the base of the root ball and make sure it’s compact. Press the moss around the form until all the surfaces are covered. Use twine or string to wrap the moss onto the ball with at least two passes around the surface. You can dunk the plant into a bucket of water every week to ensure the plant is fully watered.” Buy: Kits, supplies and ready-made kokedame from Etsy.
If you never remember to water your houseplants, aquatic plants are a forgetful gardener’s best friend. Moss balls, sword plants and a whole host of aquarium plants look fabulous displayed in tall glass jars with shells and pebbles. Just add a layer of clean pebbles to the base of your pot, drop the plant in and add more stones and shells on top. You’ll need to refresh the water and clean the jar every two weeks or so. A tiny drop of water cleaner is useful too. Buy: Aquatic plants from Amazon.
Front room forest
Trees don’t just flourish outdoors; you can get the woodland feel (and their air-cleaning properties) in the comfort of your sitting room. Try: While both Bonsais and citrus trees can be finicky, more robust Dragon Trees (Dracaena marginata), Yucca or Palour Palms can be happy in a bright room with some TLC. “My favourites are Fiddle Leaf Fig Tree (Ficus Robusta) with its big, bold leaves,” says Isabelle. “Or Rubber Plants (Ficus Elastica), with its dark, luscious green leaves, which need very little looking after. Water them every seven days (less in winter and more in summer) and place in an indirect but sunny position. Fertilise every three months in the growing season with half the dilution stated on the bottle, wipe the leaves with a damp cloth to remove dust and spray with leaf shine.” Buy: A selection of taller specimens from Waitrose Garden.
Hydroponics might sound like something better suited to intensive agriculture but the process of growing veg and fruit in nutrient-rich water rather than soil has recently downsized, with kits you can use at home. The best bit is the plants are said to grow 30 per cent faster than crops grown conventionally, and it’s possible to grow things like strawberries and tomatoes all year round. Try: A hydroponics workshop at Rootlabs. Buy: A Grow Pod at Seed Pantry.
Pass it on plants
What better way to impress guests than a plant they can take home and grow themselves! Pilea peperomioides – or pancake plant – has gorgeous rounded leaves and is very easy to care for. Plus, it produces lots of babies, which you can snip off and share. Try: The plants like bright but indirect light, a constant temperature and good drainage. Water only when dry and feed once a month with an all-purpose liquid feed. Baby plants will grow from the soil and from the stems. If they grow from the soil, feel for the stem under the soil and cut with a sharp knife so you take some little roots too. Plant straight away in moist soil. If they grow from the stem, root in water for 1-2 weeks and plant up once the shoot has roots. Buy: Etsy
This article was first published in Vegetarian Living in 2018.
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