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Using Plants Indoors — an introduction

There is an almost limitless choice of plants for indoor use. What the individual gardener selects must be partly governed, of course, by the conditions he or she can provide. But since most plants are surprisingly adaptable, there remains a large choice for almost any type of environment.

There are no rules for the kinds of plant that can be used to decorate a home.

There are no rules for the kinds of plant that can be used to decorate a home.

There are no rules for the kinds of plant that can be used to decorate a home. The selection is largely a matter of personal taste, but certain guidelines can prove useful. First of all, it is obviously sensible to select plants that suit normal home conditions rather than try to make either the plants or the home satisfy difficult requirements. To a certain degree, every house plant needs daily attention. If you spend too much time and effort on nursing frail specimens, routine care becomes a burden instead of the pleasure it can be. As a first step, then, assess your home environment, and choose plants to suit it. There is no need to turn every room into an indoor jungle. On the other hand, there are few rooms that will not benefit from the presence of a plant as long as it enhances or purposefully contrasts with the rest of the furnishings.

Scale and proportion also play an important role. Here, too, there can be no firm rules. For instance, although big plants are not generally recommended for small rooms, an attractive large plant can be used to round off a sharp angle or an awkward corner or to conceal ugly permanent fixtures. In general, though, large plants or massive displays on different levels belong in spacious areas, where a small specimen might look puny and lost. In a big, high‑ceilinged room tall climbers and baskets of spreading, trailing plants help to tie the dimensions together. In a small room such vigorous plants can seem merely fussy and crowded.

The colour scheme and type of furnishings should certainly be considered when you are choosing plants for a given position. A dark wall can make a poor background for richly colored or plain green foliage. But the darkness of the wall may well set off to dramatic effect the delicate tracery of pale green ferns or the sharply defined outline of a sansevieria. Light‑colored walls — which, incidentally, benefit plants by reflecting light — are natural backdrops for almost any kind of plant, whether green, variegated, highly coloured, or flowering. Concealed spotlights can add further emphasis at night to such sculptured plants as palms, cordylines, and large‑leaved fig trees. Busily patterned and embossed wallpapers or chairs and sofas covered with richly designed fabric can be given a calming touch by a nearly plain‑leaved plant, such as a Schefflera actinophylla or an Asplenium nidus.

One important consideration for some plants is the height and structure of the objects on which they are displayed. Table tops are ideal situations for small and medium‑size group arrangements. Shelves and ledges provide perfect spots for single specimens placed at or below eye level. Above this height it is preferable to use plants that cascade over the edges of pots or baskets. judiciously chosen ornamental containers can improve the decorative effect. If too ornamental, however, they are likely to weaken the impact of the plants themselves, especially in group displays.

The final selection must inevitably be a matter of personal judgment along with due consideration of plant needs. Move a plant or group of plants around until it appears to create a natural harmony or satisfying contrast with its surroundings. Try out the effects of plants in conjunction with mirrors and other hangings, with ornaments of metal, pottery, glass, and china, and with various lighting arrangements. Note changes in impact between day and evening hours. Often you will find the right plant for the right situation only after several experiments.

This is an introduction to a new Houseplants section on to which I will be adding numerous profiles of plants that can be used to enhance the beauty of your home. Enjoy!