By Daithí Turner
The list of reasons to keep and tend to houseplants grows every time you open a magazine or talk to a garden enthusiast. We are all familiar with the most popular reasons. They clean the air by actively removing toxins as they supply fresh oxygen. They aid relaxation, improve concentration and productivity, reduce stress, boost serotonin and let us not forget, they have an innate beauty and, occasionally, inspire wonder.
So really, the only question is which plants to choose! I like the outdoors and the garden, so the primary allure of houseplants, for me, is how they bring that into my home. Add in the sights and smells, as well as the nurturing and tending, and I am blissfully happy.
My choice of plants below is a combination of these personal predilections. Still, I also think they have a general appeal. I’m a traditionalist, so my list of plants for 2021 could be from any year.
For me, ferns are a must-have plant to fulfil the bringing of the outdoors inside. These are ancient plants that inhabit forests all across the globe. They are, as a family, relatively low maintenance, have a wonderful tropical look and, coming as they do from around the world, vary in size and shape greatly. There is probably one to tick most of the boxes you require for a houseplant.
The 90cm Staghorn Fern (Platycerium bifurcatum) is a personal favourite, but the more modestly sized and hardy Pellaea is a more suitable fern for the novice with it’s tougher, durable leathery leaves and resistance to drier conditions.
The cactus family is another genus that contains a wide variety, and despite being mainly a desert plant, they are suited to many indoor environments. Their physical uniqueness creates an intriguing and evocative atmosphere.
My personal favourite is a member of the Prickly Pear variety; the Angel Wings Cactus (Opuntia albispina) is a pretty cactus that grows quite large in its natural habitat, reaching almost 200 cm with a similar spread. However, it will remain healthy at a size of about 50 cm if kept indoors and restricted by a pot. It is a familiar shape to many, growing as a series of pads, speckled with white hairs that will fruit given the right conditions.
The Aloes, again a family with a desert connection, provide us with an ancient link to plants, health and medicine. The aloes are mainly trouble-free plants and can have a stunning appearance.
The most well known, Aloe Vera, is not only a remarkably beautiful succulent but has excellent medicinal qualities, with the gel in the leaves being an ideal salve for burns, especially for aftersun care. These succulents have an inner store of liquid, so they are pretty forgiving towards forgetful waterers! This family will thrive in a moisture absorbing terra cotta pot with a bottom designed for draining.
Florals, Foods And Ficus
Indoor plants providing us with stress-relieving greenery and exotic escapism is all very well. Still, you can’t beat a dash of colour to catch the eye!
The Peace Lily (Spathiphyllum) is a hardy beauty with its white blooms and dark, lush foliage. Like all good indoor plants, they can thrive in medium or even low light levels.
The other significant relationship we have with plants is food. This literal nourishment might be part of the reason that plants give us so much emotional and psychological wellbeing. There are a variety of edible or fruit-producing plants we can keep indoors to enhance this connection. Many window sills are home to various leafy herbs, which add a wonderful inviting freshness to a kitchen. One of my favourite fruit-producing plants to keep and grow from seed is a hot chilli plant.
My favourite indoor plant is the Apache Chilli (Capsicum annum ‘Apache’) which produces such bountiful fruits that occasionally you have to remove some to ensure the branches don’t buckle under the abundance! The white flowers, followed by the fruits, bring great colour. Chilli plants like a good pruning after harvest, so they are particularly well suited to those who enjoy the hands-on approach to growing plants.
Finally, my list concludes on a personal note. My mother had a huge Rubber Plant (Ficus elastica) in our home, and it’s scale always impressed me. I think the 1970s was a high point in the popularity of these, easy to keep, giants. Still, for me, they are as beautiful and wondrous today as they were when a much shorter version of me looked up at it’s waxy shining leaves as it bent its head to accommodate the ceiling! So while the Rubber Plant is easy to care for, be careful about giving it a pot that’s too big unless you want to share more than one corner of your room with it!
Happy indoor gardening!