Grow An Unexpected Houseplant

Lynn Coulter
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Tovah Martin, author of The Unexpected Houseplant: 220 Extraordinary Choices for Every Spot in Your Home, loves growing plants indoors–which explains why she has 200 of them in her home. “Some people ask me why I have so many, and I say, ‘Because there’s a winter.’ They make winter bearable.” 

Photograph by Kindra Clineff, taken from The Unexpected Houseplant by Tovah Martin (c) Copyright 2012. Published by Timber Press, Portland, OR. Used by permission of the publisher. All rights reserved.

Martin doesn’t limit herself to traditional houseplants; there are no faded African violets on the table or dusty philodendrons in the corners. While she grows the familiar favorites, she advocates growing  unexpected plants indoors in fun, new ways.

“If you start thinking of plants as part of your decor,” she says, “They should be as beautiful as any other piece of art in your home. They really are art, and you’re the artist.”

One unexpected plant that beginners should try, Martin says, is a zonal geranium. “They’re just bright, cheerful flowers in the middle of winter. I also love plants in the begonia kingdom. The only thing they’ll really complain about is being overwatered.”

For a challenge, Martin recommends bringing evergreens indoors. She grew lemon cypress in pots until hers became too tall.

“It makes all the difference to have a little tree inside. A deep pot or container is very important, so they’ll have sufficient room for their root systems. Don’t let them dry out.”

If growing tiny trees, perennials, or flowering vines indoors sounds intimidating, Martin says, “Don’t worry about having a brown thumb. There’s no such thing. (Success with houseplants)  is really all about keeping an eye on them. Sometimes I talk to my plants, and when they’re looking good, I can’t help but walk by and wolf-whistle.”

Try our easy project below, which appears in Martin’s book and is used by permission. Martin says kalanchoes are great to grow in mid-winter.  Note: plant selections vary in Home Depot Garden Centers. If you can’t find the plant used here, be creative and use something else.

“If you can bond with a plant,” Martin says, “It’s going to be a happy ending.”

How To Grow a Kalanchoe, by Tovah Martin

Photograph by Kindra Clineff, taken from The Unexpected Houseplant by Tovah Martin (c) Copyright 2012. Published by Timber Press, Portland, OR. Used by permission of the publisher. All rights reserved.

Adopting a new houseplant is only the beginning—the trick lies in making that plant look fab in your home. And that’s when the fun (and the creativity) starts. Think about your décor, think about your personal style, and then pull together a package that is as personal as your paint choices. For example, when you purchase Kalanchoe thyrsiflora ‘Desert Rose’, go ahead and pick up a container that will make an intriguing plant into a stunner. If the container has no drainage hole, no problem. There are ways to compensate.

Ingredients:

Kalanchoe thyrsiflora ‘Desert Rose’ or substitute Kalanchoe blossfeldiana ‘Flaming Katy’, or any Echeveria

Pot or other container

Houseplant Potting Soil

3/8 inch pebbles, if your pot or container doesn’t have a drainage hole

Horticultural charcoal (aquarium charcoal is a substitute; look for it at pet or fish stores)

The Steps:

•    Find a container that is at least 3 inches wider and deeper than the width of the original pot.

•    Remove the plant from its original container and tease some of the roots free from the rootball.

•    If the container does not have a drainage hole, put an inch deep layer of 3/8 inch pebbles on the bottom of the container.

•    Add a tablespoon of horticultural charcoal and mix it together with the pebbles (this keeps any water that trickles down from going “sour”).

•    Add a layer of potting soil.

•    Put the plant on the bed of soil so that the top is an inch below the rim.

•    Fill soil around the sides, making sure that no air holes remain.

•    Water the plant lightly.

•    Place your kalanchoe (or succulent) in a bright window.

•    Water it when the soil is slightly dry—don’t overwater.

•    Congratulations! You’ve created a masterpiece that you made yourself!

Images: Kindra Clineff, taken from The Unexpected Houseplant by Tovah Martin (c) Copyright 2012. Published by Timber Press, Portland, OR. Used by permission of the publisher. All rights reserved.

 

 

 

 

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