A houseplant whisperer by Elizabeth Licata

9781604695014l-1Once again, writer Tovah Martin, author of The New Terrarium (reviewed here in 2009), goes where many gardeners fear to tread—within the confines of the average centrally heated American home. This is the threshold that—for many gardeners—forms an impenetrable barrier. “Plant cultivation stops here” may as well be on the welcome mat for many otherwise fervent gardeners. But I’ve never given up on indoor plants and I know I have countless comrades. Martin takes it further, though. For her, it’s not just enough to keep houseplants alive—she knows how to make them look awesome and she shares her wisdom on styling the common houseplant within the pages of her latest book, The Indestructible Houseplant, with photographs by Kindra Clineff.

Photo by Kindra Clineff

Detail of photo by Kindra Clineff

I have to admit that although I’ve managed to keep a lot of indoor plants going over the years—and I rock it out with bulb forcing once a year—I don’t always make them work as décor. I don’t give enough thought to containers and I rarely combine plants in interesting ways. I’m happy just to keep them alive, but Martin reminds me that I can do better.

Detail of photo by Kindra Clineff

Detail of photo by Kindra Clineff

Consider the African violet (Saintpaulia). Martin suggests cement cubes and zinc containers for them, and I must admit the contrast between the dainty flowers/foliage and the rough texture of the cement works great. That’s what’s best about this book; Martin talks about plants that have long been taken for granted—Dracaena, Aspidistra, Ficus (yes, I can hear you snickering)—introducing unusual containers, lesser-known cultivars, and the best ways to display the plants. For Ficus, she suggests creeping and variegated varieties. For Dracaena, she praises the brilliant chartreuse, white, and green stripes of the ‘Lemon Lime’ cultivar.  She suggests using old colanders as containers for aloes; you can tuck a few varieties in the wide-mouthed opening and they love the extra drainage.

An interesting way to grow Iresine (detail of photo by Kindra Clineff)

An interesting way to grow Iresine (photo by Kindra Clineff)

There is plenty of down-and-dirty basic advice that is great for the beginner (though most of us could use a refresher), but what shines  throughout is her love and respect for these oft-insulted denizens of the botanical world. I don’t do many book reviews here, but I couldn’t overlook this title. I’ll be making good use of it as I prepare for the Northeast winter gardening season. Thanks, Tovah!

A houseplant whisperer originally appeared on Garden Rant on October 26, 2015.

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