Houseplants bring life to the indoor environment, and they’re good for us, absorbing toxins and producing oxygen. And they’re currently more popular than at any time since the 1970s. But there are some more interesting indoor cultivation alternatives to the traditional spider plant in a terracotta pot…
Top of the style stakes are cacti such as rebutia or mammilaria, and succulents like sedums and echeveria. Tolerant of tiny containers, they’re robust enough to withstand forgetful watering, and small enough to stand on the narrowest shelf or corner of a desk or mantelpiece. And as they’re so trendy, you can pick them up at garden centres and even supermarkets very cheaply.
It seems like any contemporary interior isn’t complete without a plant enclosed in glass. Terrariums were developed by botanist Nathaniel Bagshaw Ward in 1842, when a fern spore grew in a jar where he was studying insects. He then apparently had glass cases built to transport British plants to Australia, which were known as Wardian cases.
Terrariums can be open or closed. Mosses, orchids and ferns are best in closed containers but you need to open them once a week to regulate humidity. Cacti and succulents do best in open containers. You can buy terrariums in many retailers, and there are also make-your-own kits and courses.
To make a ‘jarden’, place small rocks in the bottom of a jar, add activated charcoal which helps prevent mould growth and remove toxins, then a layer of soil. Pop in small plants – moisture-lovers like ferns are best – replace the lid. Take the lid off once a week to regulate humidity.
Visit Saga Garden Centre for a special offer on autumn bedding plants and choose between wallflowers, pansies or a mixture. Get 55 plug plants for £8.99 or 165 for £12.99 with free P&P. Shop now.
If horizontal surfaces are hard to find, your ceiling can be a home for hanging plants. Hanging baskets are not just for outdoors, and hanging macramé pot holders – also big in the 1970s – are achingly hip, and the perfect space-saving way to show off a houseplant.
Sky Planters from Boskke are upside-down hanging flowerpots. In three sizes and three colours, in ceramic or recycled, from £16.95, they have an inbuilt irrigation system. And no, neither plants nor soil fall out!
Find out how to make a macramé pot holder
Eat your microgreens
Not just a pretty garnish at a fancy restaurant, microgreens such as red cabbage, coriander and radish contain up to 40 times the levels of micronutrients as their full-grown relatives. Some supermarkets sell trays of growing microgreens, to keep on your desk or a windowsill, snip some for your lunch, and leave the rest for another day.
You can, of course, sow your own mini salad garden, using mixed salad leaves seeds in a shallow tray. You can reuse food packaging to do this, or use a seed sowing tray, or any shallow container, perhaps something decorative. Good old-fashioned mustard and cress is also satisfying, and speedy, to sow and grow, on damp cotton wool, or see ‘Egg plants’ below.
How about an indoor herb garden? For an instant crop, buy potted herbs from supermarkets or garden centres, stand on a saucer– beautiful enough not just to keep in the kitchen. While you’re about it, add a pot of chillies, which will also do well on a sunny windowsill.
Tiny Japanese trees
Bonsai could be the next big indoor gardening trend. You could grow one from a seed, but it’s quicker – by decades! – to buy one. Bear in mind, though, that unless you buy a tropical species, you need to put it outside regularly, and make sure its indoor conditions aren’t too warm and dry.
Find out how plants can transform your home
Up in the air
Self-sufficient airplants, such as Tillandsia, are supreme space-savers. They need no soil, and can be glued or wired onto anything attractive, such as a piece of wood, a shell or a crevice in a rock. Place them in bright light, and dunk them in water occasionally, as they absorb water from special cells on their leaves, which give them their silvery appearance. Found in South America, so they’re happy indoors in the British autumn and winter, but like to be outside for the increased light and warmth of the summer. The beauty of these non-pot-needing plants is that you can put them almost anywhere.
Growing egg plants
No, not aubergines, but planting in eggshells. Remove the top of the eggshell. Pack the bottom with damp kitchen roll, then damp cotton wool. Sprinkle with cress or chive seeds and gently push in. Stick or draw on eyes, and add a smile. Place the eggs in eggcups or an eggbox on a warm, light windowsill. Keep moist and the seeds will sprout in around seven days.
You can buy Egglings, ceramic eggs ready-sown with varieties including basil, cactus and wild strawberry. Crack the top, water and place in a sunny spot. After five months, transplant to a larger pot.
And there you have it: a garden you can enjoy, whatever the weather!