Retro houseplant revival.
One of my first plant collections was succulents, which I started around the age of 8-9. We had a greenhouse, which my father built from scratch, that was big enough to hold my collection. Living stones (Lithops) and all sort of other spiky globe shaped cacti were enjoying the heat of the greenhouse. I was quite intrigued with these fleshy plants as outside I had my own little rockery which consisted mainly of Sempervivum. I think this is where my plant collecting bug really set in. I would go to our local garden centre almost weekly to see if they had any new arrivals. Later I became obsessed with airplants. I can’t remember what happened to these plants, but I think most of them either got woolly aphids, or died in a cold spell.
Another thing I remember from my early childhood is that my mother always had quite a range of houseplants. We are talking 1980s now. We always had a Ficus of some sort (usually benjamina), Brunfelsia, Clivia and Maranta leuconeura. This last plant is called the Prayer plant here, but in The Netherlands the common name is ‘Ten Commandments’ plant. I remember counting the spots on the leaves, which usually ended up being nine… My mother also loved her Hoya bella and got it to flower several times. I think that during the 1990s the houseplants became more a part of the interior. Stylish Sanseviera cylindrica and Phlebodium aureum (blue star fern) suited the often chromatic grey/white coloured decoration.
As a plant nut I still collect plants now. I have a National Plant Collection of Hakonechloa, but this is only one of many obsessions. I recently started collecting a plant which has been in the UK since early Victorian times, but originates from Asia. Often grown as a houseplant, Aspidistra can also be grown outside, providing they have a dry, shady spot. The cast iron plant most people know has long, dark green leaves, but there are many more forms with variegation and spots, as well as forms with longer and more narrow leaves. In total there are at least 130 different species alone. The reason the Victorians loved this plant so much was that it was one of the few plants that could cope with the fumes of indoor Victorian heating. It was seen as a sign of middle class stature if you had one of these plants, and many Victorians can be seen in old photographs, posing next to an Aspidistra. The Aspidistra has played such a big part in the home life, that people even produced tall plant tables, especially for their beloved plant. As nice as the green cast iron plant is, I would recommend trying out a different cultivar. The spotted ones are quite unusual, and just as easy to care for. Watering is needed once a week at most, and I give them a liquid feed about once a month.
In the UK houseplants have not really played a big role in interiors for a while either, until recently. The style now is almost a cross between the mix of plants from the 1970s-1980s and the 1990s. You certainly see a lot of different plants combined, but they often have a certain theme. Many people like the succulents and have a combination of Echeveria, Gasteria and String of Pearl plant: Senecio rowleyanus. The shape of each plant is completely different, but the fact that they are all succulents makes it a good combination, which requires low maintenance.
What most people don’t know is that Aspidistra also produce flowers. The reason most people have not seen these flowers is that often Aspidistra are planted too deep for the flowers, which grow out of the rhizome, to get above soil level. Although they don’t look like what is usually considered to be a pretty flower, they are amazingly unusual. Often brown/pink/red, but sometimes cream/yellow. Because of the flowers being at ground level, the pollination of the flowers has long been surrounded by myths. Molluscs were thought to have pollinated the Aspidistra up until recently. Latest research led by Kenji Suetsugu at Kobe University has revealed that the flower evolved to resemble a mushroom, and that fungus gnats were the best pollinators.
In general I have a love for variegated plants. It gives the plants something unique as often the patterns are very varied. It also gives a point of interest and it brightens up a corner. My favourites so far are Sparrmannia africanus ‘Variegata’ (variegated African Hemp plant), Monstera deliciosa ‘Variegata’ (variegated Swiss cheese plant) and the variegated Chain of Hearts plant: Ceropegia woodii ‘Variegata’.
A variegated Clivia is still high on my wish list…