If you’re the all or nothing type, bothering with houseplants might not seem worthwhile. There is a dowdiness, a fussiness, to indoor gardening. (I mean indoor gardening in an average house, unequipped with a greenhouse.) The plants struggle in dry, overheated winter environments, pests attack, leaves turn yellow or brown—quick euthanasia begins to look tempting. It’s tough to compare tending a few plants indoors to the glories of the outdoor gardening season, where—no matter how badly your plants are doing—you’re at least surrounded by nature.
Houseplants and seasonal bulbs do have their rewards, however, and that’s why I’ve always had a plant or two or three in almost every room. Here are a few reasons I remain a houseplant enthusiast:
1. Some plants are really better as houseplants The small, delicate blooms of an African violet, a jasmine, or even an orchid could get lost in the shuffle outside—and the plant would have to be brought in anyway. These flowering standbys have a long history of house culture and there’s plenty of advice and trouble-shooting wisdom out there. Chances are, you could keep the easiest of these alive, and they’re very pretty. I particularly like the new self-watering ceramic pots for African violets, which frame the plant much better than green plastic.
2. Lush foliage behind closed doors is not just cool-looking but is also good for you, as we’ve been reminded before on this site. A NASA study found that plants in sufficient quantity could remove up to 87% of air toxins. Sufficient quantity isn’t that many, either; my 3 to a room would be plenty, using their 15 plants to an 1800-foot-house rule. There are lots of other claims for the psychological and physiological benefits of houseplants, but I don’t want to dwell on them, as I don’t know which are properly researched. (Some of this may connect with Amy’s earlier post.)
3. Getting plants to thrive inside is a challenge, a project, another way to test our horticultural chops. And the companies that cater to indoor gardeners make that more fun, with all kinds of gadgetry and devices to raise light and humidity levels. I would like them to work a little harder on the lights though. Not all of us enjoy lighting that looks more appropriate for a 50s-era factory cafeteria.
4. The best flowering plants for indoors flower during the winter: narcissus, hippeastrum, hyacinths, and if managed correctly, they provide similar enjoyment to watching early, mid, and late tulips succeed each other in the spring or Asiatic, trumpet and oriental hybrid lilies follow one another in the summer. I start with paperwhites, first the easy and fast Inbal, then the more difficult and spectacular Grand Soleil d’Or, and then—this year for the first time—some Zone 8 tazettas that actually require a chilling period. That’s January; in February, hyacinths and hippeastrum (the 4 I’ve had for years), and then in March forced tulips. (Of course, most of the bulbs can’t remain as houseplants, but some can be reused outside.) Finally, in late April, a burst of fragrance from the room where the jasmine lives reminds me it’s almost time to bring plants outside.
5. Not that this is a clinching argument, but thanks to my indoor plants, I do have blooms to show off on Bloom Day, even though winter has finally come to Buffalo. Here you see narcissus Inbal, saintpaulia (African violets of unknown varieties), cyclamen (some common variety) and schlumbergera (Christmas cactus of unknown variety).
Here is Susan’s Bloom Day post, and one last image from me: my office paperwhites. You can see the scene outside. This weekend, we’re supposed to have 16-20″ more of it. Bring it on!Elizabeth Licata on December 15, 2007 at 5:00 am, in the category It's the Plants, Darling.