Diarmuid Gavin: Top 10 hip house plants
Pot up your pick of fab ferns, cool cacti and glamorous palms
Last week, I charted the revival of houseplants. It seems like we've all fallen in love with the idea of creating indoor gardens or occasional green statements. But which plants have proved to be the most popular to cultivate indoors and how easy are they to look after? Here's my list of the top 10 remarkable houseplants.
1. Philodendron is a great plant for coping with low-light situations: its dark green leaves are rich in chlorophyll to photosynthesise more effectively. The classic form has beautiful heart-shaped leaves but there are new cultivars such as 'Xanadu', which has wonderful scalloped leaves for a funky, tropical appearance. Water once a week in summer and an occasional dusting will optimise available light. Keep warm (not less than 16°C at night) and misted.
2. Calathea, the peacock plant, is grown for its beautiful foliage - so perfect it can almost look fake! Keep this plant happy by being true to its tropical rainforest-floor origins: moist, shady and warm (16°C minimum). Humidity can be helped by siting in bathrooms, grouping plants together, standing on a tray of moistened pebbles or regular misting.
3. Monstera deliciosa, the Swiss cheese plant, is a 1970s plant undergoing a revival in popularity with the trend for bold leaf foliage in interior design. They're easy to grow in moderate brightness. No Swiss cheese holes in the leaves? Doesn't matter when leaves are juvenile but indicates a lack of warmth, food or water when mature. Feed once a month in spring/summer, and provide support such as a moss cane pole for them to climb.
4. Echinocactus, the golden barrel cactus - or mother-in-law's cushion! Its spherical shape, deep ribs and colourful spines make this one of the most popular cacti today and, like most cacti, it is low maintenance. Keep in a sunny position - a south-facing windowsill is ideal. Don't overwater; in summer, allow soil to dry out before watering again. In winter, water very little. Liquid feed once a month in summer. If repotting, use cacti compost or add grit/gravel to ordinary compost.
5. Vriesea 'Flaming Sword'. This bromeliad features wonderful mottled leaves and a dramatic red sword-like flower. You water the cup formed by the rosette of leaves and not the soil. About an inch of water is right but empty out completely every month or so and refresh with water. As with all houseplants, rainwater is best. Keep in bright but not direct sunlight. The flower will last for months, then the plant dies but the mother plant should have produced some "pups" - baby rosettes - which you can pot up, and these will eventually flower as well.
6. Palms like Howea forsteriana add an instant elegance to a room, harking back to the glamorous palm courts in Victorian hotels. If I were to choose the most easy-going, it would be this one, the Kentian palm. It'll do well in low-light situations and prefers some protection from direct sunlight. Stand under a tepid shower to refresh the leaves occasionally.
7. Sansevieria laurentii (mother-in-law tongue) is one of the most indestructible houseplants. Being a succulent, it will withstand periods of neglect and drought. Water only when compost is dry, and less in winter. Position in bright sun to light shade. As well as the classic version, there are also some architectural-looking cylindrical varieties.
8. Pilea peperomioides, the Chinese money plant (pictured left), is very "in", with its striking circular lotus-like leaves. It enjoys bright light or semi-shade, with protection from full sun. Water regularly in summer, but allow to dry out slightly between waterings, then only sparingly in winter. It likes being misted and you can pinch it out to maintain its bushy shape or if it gets very leggy, take cuttings.
9. Aglaonema or Chinese evergreen, is a really easy-going beautiful plant that will cope well in lower light, though medium light is optimal, especially for variegated versions such as 'Silver Queen'. Mist leaves regularly, and keep away from draughts and at a minimum of 15°C.
10. Adiantum, the maidenhair fern, is one the most beautiful ferns and one of the trickiest. Its dainty, trembling leaves dry up without adequate humidity so it needs lots of misting or a humid environment. Unlike most ferns that like to be continually moist, Adiantum grows naturally on rocks near waterfalls so it likes good drainage and loads of mist.