Indestructible Houseplants
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Indestructible Houseplants

Tovah Martin, the delightful “Queen of Green” horticulturalist and award-winning author, is as passionate about houseplants as she is her garden outside. In part II of a special series created for Greenwood Gardens, Tovah introduces us to three easy-to-care-for beauties featured in her book, The Indestructible Houseplant; 200 Beautiful Plants that Everyone Can Grow.

Part III

When you design a garden outdoors, you think about all the components — including color interplay and textural dialogues. Why not take the same concepts and translate them indoors? Whether you’re working with one plant, multiples, or a single stand-alone specimen, thoughtfully designing your indoor garden makes all the difference. And there’s no need to hunt up plants from a specialty nursery, especially now that travel is difficult or impossible. Go with what you’ve got to compose a scene such as this combination of Cordyline ‘Red Star’, Carex ‘Toffee Twist’, and Croton. A well-placed cat also comes in handy.

Multiples make a statement. You know that it’s true in the garden outside, why not try it indoors as well? I am immensely fond of ornamental grasses–especially Carex. So I couldn’t resist creating a little savanna inside over the winter. Not only does my waterfall of Carex ‘Frosted Curls’ flow like a soft waterfall, but Einstein the kitty (see previous pane) loves nothing more than to walk by and give the grass plumes a swat with his paw. Confession: I also cannot resist running my fingers through the Carex. When the weather warms up, I’ll use these as components in outdoor containers. Multiples make a statement. You know that it’s true in the garden outside, why not try it indoors as well? I am immensely fond of ornamental grasses–especially Carex. So I couldn’t resist creating a little savanna inside over the winter. Not only does my waterfall of Carex ‘Frosted Curls’ flow like a soft waterfall, but Einstein the kitty (see previous pane) loves nothing more than to walk by and give the grass plumes a swat with his paw. Confession: I also cannot resist running my fingers through the Carex. When the weather warms up, I’ll use these as components in outdoor containers.

From rugs to upholstery, texture is key to your environment and plants can be part of that statement. Tiny trees say so much indoors. They create a
sense of a park and remind you of hiking trails when you can’t go outside. One of the easiest evergreens to host indoors is the lemon cypress, Cupresses macrocarpa ‘Lemon Yellow’. No need to invest in a large plant–the smallest sprig will eventually gain size. And this is the epitome of an Indestructible Houseplant. It doesn’t pout even when you forget to water. Give it a great container, and you’ve got natural sculpture.

Part II

Are you lacking a sunny window? Brighten up! Even low-light locations can host some truly handsome houseplants. The trio of plants featured is dedicated to all those
indoor gardeners who have windows that are deficient in direct sunlight. No more groping in the dark for you! True, you probably won’t be able to host flowering plants, but there are plenty of other options. And we’re not talking about boring foliage plants. For example, try the bromeliad family. The Quesnelia marmorata crowning my plant stand here is a sterling example of a funky alternative to ho-hum houseplants. All it needs is watering once a week or so—and that’s it!

Ferns have a phenomenal range, from easy to challenging. If you prefer to take it easy, try one of the footed ferns like this White Rabbit’s Foot Fern, Humata tyermanni. This novelty has furry rhizomes that creep around, sprouting ferny
foliage as they romp. When happy, they often spill over the rim of the container. When totally blissful, the “feet” can even envelope their pot.

To make them feel at home, give footed ferns indirect light and water them every few days. Although sometimes it’s difficult to discern when the soil is dry because the rhizomes are covering ground, by watering every 3-4 days, you’ll be sure to keep this thirsty fern hydrated.

There’s something about growing moss that feels really fulfilling. And literally, you can walk by Selaginella kraussiana ‘Aurea’ and give it a little pat on the “head” and come away with the same tactile experience as patting a poodle. Plus, spike moss, as it’s called, has a certain architectural presence that makes a strong design statement in a room.

Pairing with the right container gives you the look you’re looking for. Spike moss works best with someone who tends to water plants generously. If you’re a nurturer, this is the plant for you. But keep your moss away from bright light—it can blanch easily.

Part I

I’ve always been an advocate for houseplants and needed no convincing that they are critical. But this year, houseplants literally became a lifesaver. Einstein (the Purrfessor) and I would be climbing the walls without something green and growing by our side. And this is not rocket science. You can do this at home. Take this Ctenanthe oppenheimiana ‘Tricolor’ for example, yes, it looks challenging to grow, but nothing could be easier. And the rewards…are infinite.

Orchids also have a reputation for being difficult–in truth, this Paphiopedilum maudiae (tropical lady’s slipper) is a cinch. And the rewards are immense—from early winter onwards through spring, P. maudiae holds its blossoms in pristine condition. Give it indirect light and water about once a week. Do not subject it to ice cubes (how did that get started?).

Before the bulbs burst outdoors, rhizomatous begonias are happening inside. Begonia ‘Palomar Prince’ is among the easiest and most rewarding. The secret to sublime begonias? Keep the roots confined to a small, shallow container and do not overwater—especially in winter.

In her constant, undying pursuit of all things garden-related, Tovah Martin gets her hands dirty both outside and indoors. She is a perennial, heirloom, vegetable and cottage gardener of fanatical proportions, award-winning author, and is accredited with NOFA as an Organic Land Care Professional. This passion for gardening led her to author over a dozen books, including her most recent, Gold Medal award-winning, The Garden in Every Sense and Season (Timber Press, 2018).

Photograph of Tovah by Kindra Clineff. Plant photographs by Tovah Martin.