House Plant Heaven

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Terence Conran's Decorating With Plants, 1986
Terence Conran's Decorating With Plants, 1986© Susan Conder

Steven Holt on decorating decisions and why the wilted Pelargonium wasn't your fault

Nothing transforms a room like a living plant. A vibrant shock of green adds life and vitality to your home. Plants filter the air and promote health and well being. I love house plants, and at times my love borders on obsession. I talk to them, I pet them, I treat them like family.

Some people will say they have horrible luck with house plants. No matter what, they just can't keep them alive. A black thumb. They back this up with multiple accounts of plant failure – the fern that wilted, the ficus that lost all its leaves, or that cactus that turned to mush. No doubt there are many who've suffered a poor history with plants, but the misfortune is not cosmic or predestined. Plants, like any living thing, require a specific set of environmental factors to survive. You wouldn't bring home a cat, put it in an aquarium and feed her potato crisps. Of course not. And when the inevitable tragedy occurred, you certainly wouldn't lament about your bad luck with pets. It's the same for plants! They're a responsibility, and should be treated as such.

House plants should be the first decisions you make when decorating. Determine your lighting conditions, the type of plants you desire (that are compatible to your lighting conditions), and how large you want them to grow. Once this is established, you know exactly how much room needs to be allowed and where to allow it. Furniture can then be planned accordingly. For most, this may seem odd. But if you are certain you want plants as a focus in your environment, the space for these plants must be thought of without the bias or influence of existing furniture.

Before bringing a plant home, it's important to do your research. Is your flat sunny? What direction are the windows? How hot is the sill during the day? Does that corner get direct, or indirect light – and for how long? These are important factors, and will help inform whether you should get a sun loving Pelargonium, an Adiantum that thrives in open shade, or maybe a Monstera that likes bright but diffused light. A little investigation would show that the fern wilted because it was exposed to too much sun, the ficus lost its leaves after being moved, and the cactus was rotten from constant watering. The more you know about your plants, their native habitats, and natural growing conditions, the better.

Consider this a PSA promoting the health and well-being of house plants.  If you can't, just absolutely can not keep plants alive, I urge you to give your remaining plants to a friend that can. Next, print out one of these vintage interiors, frame it, and hang it on the wall. You can then live vicariously through the rooms of people who can keep care of plants. No need to water, no repotting, no responsibility. This isn't judgement, I'm only thinking about the plants and what's good for them. And these rooms were definitely designed for plants.