Houseplants get gardeners through the winter
Stepping out of the cold and into the lush greenery at Chapon’s Greenhouse in Baldwin is like walking into a tropical forest. Deep green, thick-leaved indoor plants are stacked on shelves everywhere. Tree like specimens tower over the more diminutive houseplants.
Danielle Chapon is one of the owners/managers here and enjoys growing them at home, even though she spends long days here taking care of all of these plants.
Houseplants were all the rage in the 1970s and have become popular again, especially foliage plants with color.
“I think it has a lot to do with wanting to be close to nature and of course not everyone has a backyard,” says Tovah Martin, author of “The Indestructible Houseplant: 200 Beautiful Plants that Everyone Can Grow” (Timber Press; $22.95). And she says, “It’s winter, what else do you have to do?”
She lovingly cares for more than 200 houseplants at her Roxbury, Conn. home.
“It’s a sickness. I am a total addict, it’s shameful,” she says with a laugh. “I could put a kid through college for a year at least on what I spent.”
Like most plant lovers her indoor garden is an oasis providing many wonderful things. “It’s therapeutic. I don’t know how people make it through winter without houseplants,” Martin says. “When that little geranium flower opens up, it just gives you a smile.”
One of the most popular houseplants is aglaonema or Chinese evergreen. The one at Chapon’s has pretty red and green variegated leaves, is often sold as a holiday plant and is tough.
Spider plants and pothos an be grown by anyone and have been staples on windowsills for decades. Newer varieties offer more than just green leaves. “There’s marbled foliage, chartreuse and green,” Chapon says of the pothos. The spider plant has thin white edging on its leaves.
There’s another version of it here called an orange spider plant. It shares the same toughness with its cousin, but with Mandarin orange stems. “It doesn’t need a lot of light,” she says, “(and) likes to dry out between waterings.”
In a large pot, a coconut with iridescent yellow stems and fan-like leaves has sprouted, “it’s one of my favorites, it’s a coconut palm.” They need as much window light as possible, can be grown like most houseplants but can take a little bit more water. Dracena or dumb cane is a tropical-looking, tree-like plant. ‘Tropical Snow’ puts on white flowers that resemble a peace lily, she says.
There’s a Christmas cactus in full bloom with bright red flowers. It’s one of the most popular holiday gifts and even though it’s really not a cactus, it benefits from being a little dry. The plant will bloom again when ready and can sometimes turn into a Thanksgiving or Easter cactus.
When thinking about adding plants to the indoor landscape, Tovah Martin lives by this motto: “Anything can be beautiful.”
Find a gorgeous container that merges with your decor and you have something that can be visually stunning. “You put it out in that leprechaun green plastic pot and it’s going to look awful,” she says.
Some of her favorites include succulents, chosen for their toughness and also because they bloom in the winter.
“The blossoms last for a really long time. Kalanchoes, echeverias that sort of thing are very fulfilling, very easy,” she says.
To kill one of these plants, “you’d have to work at it. You can only kill them with kindness,” Martin says.
Hoyas don’t need a lot of light, have beautiful foliage and pretty star-like flowers in many colors. “They are the diet ruiners, they smell just like milk chocolate,” she says.
Zonal geraniums like the ones most of us grow out in the garden are one of her favorites and they can go back outside after Memorial Day. Her plants are in full bloom right now.
Bromeliads work really well too, she says, especially the air plants that don’t even need soil. “I dunk them once a week in water and they are outlandishly beautiful,” she says.
Martin is also in love with begonias, mostly varieties which are referred to as rhizomatous as they grow from a bulb-like rhizome. “The foliage is really exciting, they are very beautiful in the later part of the winter,” she says. “They start developing these wonderful sprays of flowers that arch up.”
Last on her list are African violets.
The plants have pretty flowers and don’t take up a lot of room.
“The whole idea of the indestructible houseplant doesn’t mean the neglected or forgotten houseplant,” she says. That’s why Martin keeps an eye on her plants, making sure they look happy. She enjoys walking around the house watering her plants every week or so. After caring for the plants all these years, she has a good feel for when they need a drink. It’s all about the weather too, she says.
“This week the furnace has been blasting and things have dried out twice as fast as they did two weeks ago. You want to plant a kiss on each one of those plants, all 200 of them,” she says.
Doug Oster is the Tribune-Review home and garden editor. Reach him at 412-965-3278 or firstname.lastname@example.org. See other stories, blogs, videos and more at everybodygardens.com.