Should my jeans be high-waisted or hip huggers? Should my tops drape or cling? It seems that clothes go out of style the moment I finally break down and buy them. And it’s not just fashion—plants are trendy too. Houseplants are back in vogue. Recently, I’ve seen headlines like “The Trendy Gardener,” or this one from Sunset magazine: “9 Super-Chic Houseplants.” The Sunset article insists that spider plants are out, and fiddle leaf figs are in. But wait—another website reads, “The 13 Plants That Are Leading The Trends This Year: Say goodbye to the fiddle leaf fig (or at least give it a friend).” It appears that plant styles change just as often as hemlines.Outdoor plants go in and out of style as well. A few years ago, ornamental grasses were all the rage, tomatoes grew upside down, and plants were tucked into walls of pots to act as screens. More recently, succulents have taken center stage, both indoors and out. That’s not a huge surprise—they’re easy to grow, and their sculptured shapes compliment contemporary furniture.
I’m all for including plants in one’s home. I had over a hundred at our old house (the passive solar layout provided ample light). Our new house is more traditional and I had to downsize my collection, but I still have greenery massed at every available window. I consider my plants to be pets, and I do my best to help them thrive.
I’m appalled at the idea of tossing a plant just because some “expert” decides that it’s no longer fashionable. Instead, I look for plants that will survive me. I refuse to molly-coddle them. Just as I discard and replace perennials that don’t thrive in my yard, I restrict my houseplant choices to species that don’t need too much light, resist pests, cope with erratic watering, and handle dry winter air with aplomb.
That’s why I grow spider plants, no matter how passé they are. Spider plants have thick roots that store water. I can glance at the plant from across the room and know if it needs watering—the leaves take on a gray tinge that’s easily recognizable. Even better, I’ve never seen a mealy bug on a spider plant. Scale yes—and those plants went into the trash—but no mealy bugs. And mealy bugs are my worst indoor pest.
I also have an assortment of “holiday” cactus, with flowers in white, pink, red, and peach, and bloom times that range from Thanksgiving to spring. They’re tough. While they’re happier if I provide regular irrigation, they don’t seem to mind if I forget every so often. The stored water in their fleshy leaves pulls them through, and helps them deal with our low humidity as well.
Hoyas (aka wax plants) are another plant with leathery leaves and high drought tolerance. If kept too dry, they won’t grow, but neither will they up and die on you. They do get mealy bugs, and I’m constantly hunting through the foliage with my Q-tip dipped in alcohol. However, the pests haven’t killed them, so I persevere. I also isolate them from other susceptible plants.
I happen to have a special appreciation for begonias, and they seem to return the love. My dad rooted a strawberry begonia cutting for me back in the 1980s and the plant still flourishes. In turn, it has provided me with an assortment of offspring. Every year, pink flowers appear on long stems, and I’ve never spotted a single insect on the leaves. I’ve had good results from other begonia species as well. Succulent growth and waxy leaves reduce transpiration, and the plants are pretty forgiving. They also tolerate a shadier spot, although if your hand doesn’t cast a shadow, it’s too dark for pretty much anything.
My biggest success story is my cut-leaf philodendron. That plant is indestructible! It’s constantly putting out new shoots that unfurl into huge leaves. It handles erratic watering, partly because the pot is large and doesn’t dry out quickly. And best of all, it’s 100% pest-free. A friend gave it to me about ten years ago because it had outgrown her house. Now it has outgrown mine. Anyone want a philodendron?
I know that none of these plants are on any top ten lists. I don’t care. They thrive at my house, and that’s all that matters.