The Houseplant Mystery


The elephantine cheese plant is dead, long live the cactus!  Janice Turner in her recent article in The Times commenting on interior design, stated that houseplants are only for ‘old ladies’ and that ‘anything beyond a pot of basil is naff’.  How easy it is to sneer, I know, as I can be sneery myself but in this case I think she is wrong, wrong, wrong.


You will be imagining now that I live with spider plants growing up between the cracks in the floorboards and their babies in miniature cots on the bookshelves; cacti occupying every surface in the front porch to warn thieves with their deadly prickles; and a rubber plant so large that it completely blocks the kitchen window but proudly bearing the name Mr Elastic on a pottery label I made at an evening class. Not quite.  But the humble houseplant does indeed occupy some space here at home and people do often comment on our plants.  I would venture that this is not because they are unfashionable, but because other folk have fewer or weedier plants in their homes.


Garden centres seem to sell every houseplant you could imagine and many are given as presents.  What happens though, once they are unwrapped and installed at home is that …you find a windowsill for them, give them some water and then water them again a week later, they lose a few leaves and the remaining leaves start to get little brown patches on.  Seeing this, you spring into action with some plant food and try to perk them up with a bit more attention, maybe even moving them to another windowsill.  Two weeks later they produce a single flower and next time you look at them, they have died… crispy, leafless, nothing but a stalk left!  You put the plant pot quietly by the back door and later that month buy another one from the garden centre.   This is due to the tyranny of the plant present giver, who may at any time return to your home and naively expect to see a healthy plant specimen.


I am lucky that my husband studied botany as part of his degree.  He spent many an hour looking at ferns and grasses and at the time I was, I have to admit, bewildered.  Now though, all that knowledge is a great and useful thing as he tends endlessly to our houseplants.  They are watered regularly, given a new spot if they look peaky, pruned occasionally and re-potted about once a year.  These key actions look simple but are more complex than they seem, as I know from the few plants I have tried to look after over the years; for details, see above.


We have inherited one plant which flourishes, tolerates both drought and over-watering and grows easily from cuttings.  From the original parent plant given to my daughter by her school biology teacher, there is now one plant here, one at my daughter’s house, one at my son’s London flat and one at my mother’s sheltered housing flat.  The strange thing about this plant is that we have never known its name.  It is the one pictured above, if you happen to know, please do let me know in the comment box below!


Fashionable, unfashionable, who cares?  Houseplants rule!



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