Britain is a nation of gardeners, and even those that don’t have an outdoor space to grow things find a way to bring greenery into their lives. Step forward the houseplant.
Houseplants have been used for centuries to adorn grand houses and act as status symbols for the rich and powerful of the past, but it was the good old Victorians who drove the surge in variety and availability of house plants. Throughout the 1800’s explorers and plant hunters brought back exotic plant species from distant lands. The problem with plants from other climes is that most of them are not adapted to our climate, and will soon perish if subjected to British weather. Horticulturalists of the era, determined to keep these plants, built heated glasshouses to house them. One of the most famous of these is the Palm House at Kew Gardens.
Over time, as gardeners perfected the art of growing tropical plants indoors, tougher species became available to buy. Aspidistra was the most popular houseplant during the 19th century as it was one of the few pot plants able to survive the terrible air pollution.
These days our houses are warmer, cleaner and better lit, and with a plethora of house plants available, there is something for any situation in the house. Some of the most common house plants include cacti, succulents, orchids, pelargoniums, African violets, palms and ferns, all of which create great displays inside.
The key to success with houseplants is to give them their preferred growing conditions and find the optimum place for them in the house. Orchids for example are very easy to grow on a bathroom or kitchen windowsill that doesn’t get a lot of direct sun. This is because orchids naturally grow in the canopy of trees in tropical rainforests, where they live in humid, dappled shade, with warm temperatures and plenty of water that never waterlogs them.
Cacti and succulents are at the other end of the environmental scale, hailing from arid, sun-scorched places. They thrive in low humidity on windowsills that receive a lot of direct sun and requiring infrequent watering.
The most fascinating group of house plants (in my opinion) is carnivorous plants. They are really easy to grow and so interesting to watch. They have adapted to feed on insects, luring them into tubular traps or snapping jaws, the most famous example being the Venus Fly Trap (Dionea muscipula). They come from bogs, so grow best permanently sat in a tray of rainwater on a sunny windowsill. If they are happy, they will gobble any flies that are buzzing around and you’ll never need a fly swat again!
Houseplants are very rewarding to grow, brightening up any spot in the house and can help anyone develop greener fingers. What’s not to like?