DESIGNING with Houseplants

These days millennials are filling their homes with houseplants. If you're on Instagram, check out the hashtags #urbanjungle, #junaglow or #plantgang. The only thing these urban gardeners love more than their plants is taking pictures of them. This Washington Post article interviews the city-dwelling, houseplant-nurturing millennial enthusiasts. 

We, at BB Barns, already know that filling our homes with houseplants is not just quick decor, but an instant happy, and a whole lot of health perks. Besides the list of bonuses below, check out our blog on houseplants absorbing indoor toxins

Studies (here's the link) have shown that houseplants can: 

  • Lower blood pressure (systolic)
  • Improve reaction times
  • Increase attentiveness
  • Improve attendance (at work and school)
  • Raise productivity (at work)
  • Improve well-being
  • Improve perceptions of the space
  • Lower levels of anxiety during recovery from surgery
  • Raise job satisfaction

So, with all the big pluses in mind, let's talk design with houseplants. (Maybe creating an urban jungle? Warning: It's addictive.) Another perk: getting creative indoors while winter winds blow. 

Create Vignettes

Creating vignettes of houseplants indoors is as fun as outdoors, and the same design rules apply, only instead of the great outdoors for a backdrop, your furniture, walls, and artwork are the frame. Yes, you must pay attention to the plant's needs, but in winter, when the sun is lower and less harsh, you can switch it up a bit.

EX: In the picture above,  'Limelight' Dracena prefers a low-light, shaded spot or that fabulous color will fade. In winter, this window gets direct sunlight until 11:30 a.m. and the dracena doesn't seem to mind because winter's sun isn't as harsh. The blinds are the backup. If the fading starts to happen, they can be pulled and tilted open for a more indirect light. In summer, it's back to the very shady, screened-in porch. The heating vent in this corner stays closed as this eastern window is perfect for creating vignettes year round. 

When using containers, be sure to choose pots that do not have drainage holes. Use the pot-in-a-pot method which helps keep furniture clean. Don't plant the houseplant into the container, just drop it into the cachepot, then remove to the kitchen sink for watering. Allow draining overnight before putting them back.  Use corkboard under all containers for extra protection on furniture.

Not all houseplants are equal. 

We get into a rut when shopping for houseplants. We head toward the tried-n-true or the ubiquitous. Try adding a few new-to-you plants and dress up a simple coffee table or corner. 

Ex: Below is a myrtle topiary, which thrives outdoors in full sun. Indoors, topiaries look great on mantles, coffee tables, as a dining room table centerpiece, but don't typically get much sunlight in these spots. Solution? Every week or so, move the myrtle to a sunnier spot and give it a little water. 

Bromeliads are also a great color addition in winter. They thrive in bright, indirect light to shade, and need little water.  And, don't forget plants that bloom, like Christmas cactus, amaryllis or paperwhites. They'll bloom for six weeks or longer, a true winter bonus.

Try a few different plants in your groupings this year. You may discover new favorites. 

Vertical Plants.

Indoor vertical planters are a trendy item these days because they bring the site line of the plants up, and add space in indoor settings. Often, many of our houseplants end up on the floor next to a window or door, or shoved to the back of a small table, barely noticeable. Bringing the site line up not only gives a better visual of the plants, but it also adds softness to our indoor walls. If vertical planters aren't an option, try bookshelves, dining room cabinets, corner cabinets, anything tall where plants would soften spaces.

EX: Trailing plants like philodendron and rex begonia vine add interest to the bookshelf below, but let's not forget smaller plants like peperomia that can be tucked into a bookshelf easily. The tiered planting allows for mixing plants that wouldn't usually fit into the same light setting. 

How does that work? The philodendron and the rex begonia prefer indirect, bright light to low light, while the cactus likes full sun. This room has an eastern and western exposure, so the sunlight pours into it all day, but the cactus is the only plant to soak up all that sunlight. The rex and philodendron aren't getting the direct sunlight, but are getting an indirect, bright light by being up high. Moving a plant a few feet away from a window--up or down--can make a big difference in lighting and open up more opportunities for different houseplants. 

A bookshelf is a perfect place for vine or trailing plants. Just be sure never to water there, always remove to the kitchen or bathroom for watering and allow to drain overnight before putting it back. And, keep corkboard under the plant. 

Keep it simple.

Urban jungles are cool, but if you don't have hours to water, fertilize, and check for insects, you can still enjoy houseplants without the time-consuming work. One plant in the right space makes an instant difference.    

Ex: The sansevieria (snake plant or mother-in-law) plant in the picture below keeps the writer company while working. Sansevieria is the brown-thumb gardener's dream. It can adapt to bright sunlight or no light. Its watering requirements are minimal, and it can live in the same pot for years. It is that plant you can't kill, and it works in tight places because of it's towering habit. When using houseplants, be sure to consider the space. This sansevieria fits into this tiny spot, adding a bit of color and cheer. 

In an eastern window, this sansevieria is easy to grow, and is listed as one of the top ten plants to absorb indoor toxins. It also  converts carbon dioxide into oxygen during the night, making it a perfect bedroom plant.  

We are maxed out with Christmas decorations right now (here's the link for that blog), but don't forget your urban jungle friends when buying. Most of them will want houseplants for Christmas.

Hear those sleigh bells ring!

Written by Cinthia Milner, garden coach, and blog writer.

BB Barns Garden Center serves all of Western North Carolina, upstate South Carolina and Tennessee.