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Five favourite houseplants

Over the last few years houseplants have seen an upsurge in popularity and for good reason; having plants around us makes us feel good. Debi Holland takes us through her five favourite houseplants.

Lithops in flower

Over the last few years houseplants have seen an upsurge in popularity and for good reason; having plants around us makes us feel good. They are great for our wellbeing, can help purify and oxygenate the air and give us hours of enjoyment tinkering, watering, feeding and preening. Being a plant lover it is difficult to narrow down favourites but the following five are easy to grow and each bring their own botanical brilliance to the home.

Air Plants, Tillandsia

If you are looking for unusual houseplants but have little time to look after them then air plants could be for you. I am fascinated by these alien looking epiphytes. In the wild, air plants grow on trees or rocks; these soilless plants get all their water and nutrients from the air and rainfall so in your home air plants can be placed on quirky ornaments, suspended glass containers, gnarled wood or even draped down cabinets. 

Tillandsia in a shell
Tillandsia in a shell. Image: Debi Holland

Air plants love a warm home and bright indirect sunlight but don’t scorch them; a steamy bathroom is perfect, conservatory or a light lounge; if you have skylights even better. Once a week plunge your air plants in to a container of rainwater and let them soak for 30 minutes, then take them out and shake off the excess water before popping them back to be displayed. Our central heated homes can have really dry air so periodically mist to keep your air plants moist.

Spanish moss and monstera plant
Spanish moss cascading down Monstera delicious. Image: Debi Holland

Spanish moss, Tillandsia usneoides, looks fabulous cascading down a large houseplant or window sill or try the more compact T. capitata, T. argentea or T. juncifolia.

Living Stones, Lithops

Originating from South Africa, Lithops mimic stones to avoid being eaten by grazing cattle (see main image). In the wild these succulents are sun lovers; they need heat and light. If light levels are low your plant will let you know by stretching and elongating its stem. So, a light bright room is essential or a toasty windowsill.

Don’t be fooled into thinking these living stones are boring, far from it, in autumn they have stunning yellow, white or pink flowers and can really put on a show.

The main trick with Lithops is getting the watering right. Not enough water and they will shrivel but too much and they will turn to mush. Summer watering starts from May then wait until the pot has dried out until watering again. Stop watering from October and don’t be tempted to pick up the watering can again until the old leaves have withered away around May.

Prayer Plant, Maranta leuconura

I am a huge fan of the Prayer Plant and have a healthy tri-coloured M. leuconeura erythrophylla,  herringbone plant sprawling over a large table and a small, green M. leuconeura kerchoveana neatly contained in a terracotta pot. Their foliage fascinates me; each new arrival slowly unfurls from a long spike so the plant subtly increases, inching leaf by leaf as if it was crawling along a South American jungle floor. 

Maranta has a nightly nyctinasty ritual where it raises and closes its leaves vertically, then opens them again horizontally in the morning. This magical motion is a reaction to darkness by moving liquid in and out of cells at the base of leaves, causing the iconic prayer-like movement as if the plant is preparing for sleep.

Maranta leuconeura erythrophylla
Maranta leuconura erythrophylla. Image: Debi Holland

Maranta are easy to look after if the conditions are right. They like a warm spot with a consistent temperature, away from draughts with moist but not wet soil. Always use rainwater as they are sensitive to the chemicals in tap water.

Swiss cheese plant, Monstera deliciosa

Who can resist those huge holey dark glossy leaves? From many an hour spent painting Monstera in art classes, these giants have always held a special place in my heart so when I got the opportunity to buy a 20 year old plant at a charity event I jumped at the chance. Our Monstera has been happily living in our lounge for about five years now and is thriving.

Monstera need little attention but do need a sturdy structure to grow up, like a moss pole. These rainforest dwellers, in the wild, use other trees as supports to wind themselves round, hoisting themselves up towards the light though a crowded canopy. There are many theories as to why they sport their iconic holey foliage; one train of thought is that they would appear damaged or diseased to hungry predators or that these holes allow ferocious tropical wind and rain to effortlessly move through the plant without damage.

Monstera deliciosa
Monstera deliciosa. Image: Debi Holland

Monstera are hemi-epiphytes, with both aerial and soil bound roots, providing a firm anchor as well as a means of getting nutrients and moisture from rainwater and air.

Bird of Paradise, Strelitzia reginae

From the first time I saw this tantalising tropical plant, when aged 13 on a family holiday to Tenerife I have been mesmerized.

Its long stems host glossy evergreen leaves and when conditions are right the iconic architectural flowers bloom in winter through to spring in the UK. This plant is definitely a showstopper and just needs a bright spot with plenty of light like a conservatory but protection from blazing, scorching sun.

Strelitzia reginae. Image: Debi Holland

If you have a warm, humid, well lit spot to home this magical plant then Strelitzia will be an incredible addition to your houseplant collection. Just be warned it can reach 2m tall.


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