It’s easy to give your home an exotic vibe with lush houseplants and bright blooms, says Adrienne Wild
Houseplants make a home healthier, cleaning the air from airborne contaminants and allowing you to breathe more easily.
They also make a room feel cosier and with a bit of clever styling will instantly give a boring space a chic and exotic jungle look that’s oozing with personality.
Plants soften and add texture to a room, so when choosing think about them as you would a piece of furniture or ornament.
To create a jungle effect you’ll need at least one monster plant to make the room appear lush.
For sheer size and impact you can’t beat the Swiss cheese plant (Monstera deliciosa), which has large heart-shaped leaves that develop large cuts and holes.
Curiously, it also produces aerial roots that in the wild help the plant scale trees, so you will need to give it a moss-covered support to cling to.
Find this plant the brightest spot where it can reach its potential and selectively prune it to maintain its size.
Easier to home are the stately fiddle fig (Ficus lyrata), weeping benjamina fig and the slim-fit rubber plant, which can be ‘limbed up’ by pruning to make a bushy tree.
They can all be divas, underperforming when there’s a draught or if over-watered, but are mostly forgiving of neglect.
Nothing says jungle like palm trees, which also tend to be hardy and comparatively undemanding, provided they are kept moist.
Be mindful that Cycas revoluta, Phoenix canariensis and Chamaerops humilis require bright light even in winter.
The pygmy date palm (Phoenix roebelenii) will grow to not much more than 90cm, so is a good choice if space is limited.
If your preferred decor is bright walls and furnishings then you might prefer to grow plants with funky flowers and foliage.
Two of the most attractive are the zebra plant, Aphelandra squarrosa, that has stripy leaves and yellow flowers, and Jacob’s coat or Codiaeum ‘Pictum’, which makes a bold shrub with yellow, green, pink, yellow and orange patterned leaves.
Both need a minimum temperature of 13°C.
The tropical blooms of red, pink or white flamingo flowers of anthuriums will also make a statement. They resemble a painter’s pallet and the brightly coloured, heart-shaped leafy spathe has a curled or straight pencil-like spadix poking out curiously from its centre.
However, orchids are the ultimate jungle housemates.
Phalaenopsis, which are inexpensive and can be bought in flower at any time of year, have striking flat-faced flowers, which are usually pale and intense pinks, deep red, white or yellow, balance precariously on slim waving stems up to 90cm long, giving the plant the common name of moth orchid.
These plants thrive in a warm, shady spot and with a bit of attention and regular watering the flowers can last for months and return year after year.
Other easy plants that will give your room a botanical burst are old school favourites like aspidistra, which is also known as the cast-iron plant as it thrives on little attention.
Dracaena is also undemanding and has dramatic strap-like leaves, often with red and yellow variegation on stems that can reach up to 1.8m tall.
A relative newcomer to the easy-care indoor plant world is the interesting Zanzibar gem (Zamioculcas zamiifolia), which is often called ZZ plant. It has thick, fleshy, naturally glossy leaves. and thrives in living- room conditions but hates too much water.
Bromeliads won’t ask for much in return either – simply keep their vases of cupped leaves filled and forget about them.
Mimic a tropical rainforest with a collection of jungle bromeliads that includes Guzmania, Neoregelia carolinae ‘Tricolor’ and Schlumbergera truncata, the Christmas cactus, which produces arching, segmented stems with pink or dark red crab-like flowers on their tips, making it an excellent choice for a hanging basket, too.
Hefty hanging plants are useful if you have limited space.
Basket plants that will fill the air with billowing foliage are the foxtail fern (Asparagus densiflorus), spider plant (Chlorophytum comosum) and the Boston fern (Nephrolepis exaltata).
Group the baskets in threes or fives for impact and hang your plants from the ceiling at different levels.
Mix plants that grow high and wide, such as ferns, with plants that grow over the edge and hang freely, such as the almost indestructible sweetheart plant (Philodendron scandens) and Tradescantia fluminensis or the wandering Jew. Varieties to collect are ‘Quicksilver, which is green and white striped and the green, white and purple striped ‘Tricolor’.
Plant stands are another great way to add multiple specimens without taking up too much floor space, or use tabletops and windowsills if space is precious too.
Small pots filled with mind-your-own-business, Soleirolia soleirolii, will make a sumptuous cushion of tiny leaves as does the coral bead plant, Nertera granadensis, which also produces long-lasting orange berries.
Make a ritual of watering, and in spring and summer feed with a slow-release houseplant fertiliser according to label directions.
When the plant begins to outgrow its pot, move it into a container that’s about 5cm wider or if you’d rather keep it in the same pot, prune the roots, shaving roughly 3cm off the outsides of the rootball. Refill the gap between the shaved rootball and the pot sides with fresh potting soil.
Healthy plants that get proper care are generally pest-free but fungus gnats might appear around soil that’s over-watered. Mealy bugs, red spider mites, and scale may also occur in a hot, dry atmosphere, so check plants regularly and control infestations by washing them with soapy water.
Periodically dust off leaves with a damp cloth, or rinse smaller plants in the shower and don’t forget to groom.