Reader's indoor jungle with 450 houseplants

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“Because plants have so many different growth habits, there are myriad possibilities for styling them,” says Saffron. “I love trailing and climbing plants as they add levels of height that can be difficult to achieve with indoor plants.”
“Because plants have so many different growth habits, there are myriad possibilities for styling them,” says Saffron. “I love trailing and climbing plants as they add levels of height that can be difficult to achieve with indoor plants.”
This avid gardener discovered a new passion after filling her house with plants.

Photographs Henrique Wilding

Saffron and Niel de la Rouviere and their daughter Rose (3)
WHERE Hout Bay, Cape Town

“I’ve always loved plants,” says Saffron de la Rouviere who, at last count, had 450 plants in her house and greenhouse.

“My mother was an avid gardener and as a young kid I would watch her at work in the garden. I went through a succulent craze in my early twenties but during the drought in 2017 I decided to garden indoors rather than outdoors. I was battling to keep my garden alive and the few indoor plants I had gave me a wonderful sense of relief and calm. They were my sanctuary from the drought.”

Saffron’s first indoor plant was a small delicious monster. “When we moved into our new house, I noticed how it exploded with growth, turning into a statement piece. All it had needed was a change of light and scenery! The new house had a staircase and I realised how beautiful it looked when I draped plants all the way down the stairs. I was fascinated by all the possibilities of the various leaves, colours and shapes and couldn’t wait to fill my house with plants,” she says.

In addition to the plants in her house, she also has a greenhouse where she nurtures plants and keeps stock for her plant club. “During lockdown, I realised I wanted a more physical means of connecting with the indoor plant community that was so active on social media. I came up with the idea of ??a plant club that works almost like a book club. Each month, members receive a specific plant that we can discuss and learn more about together,” she explains.

Saffron now sends each member a monthly box that includes a plant, care instructions and a plant-related gift such as a plant pot, soil mixture or even a botanical artwork.

“The contents of the box are a surprise. It’s so much fun putting the box together and members are also introduced to businesses that provide plant accessories. Collecting plants is addictive. There are so many out there that it feels as if there’s always more to collect. The plant club allows me to share my passion with other people.”

Saffron and Rose busy in the greenhouse – formerly a courtyard. The greenhouse plants are watered three times a week as it gets much hotter in here than the house, and there’s much more light. The greenhouse has an irrigation system that uses rainwater from tanks.

Peperomia argyreia

[Saffron's favourite houseplants]

Monstera adansonii I’ve loved watching how quickly this plant has grown and each leaf is like a snowflake, completely unique. 

Calathea orbifolia This was my first Calathea and I was warned that they are very difficult plants to keep alive. I had some battles with it, like having a mealybug infestation or the edges drying out. But every time I’ve cut it back it’s bounced back more glorious than before.

Anthurium clarinervium I love the shape and texture of this plant. The heart-shaped leaves and deep veins are so pretty. It’s also a reasonably easy plant to look after, which is a joy. 

Monstera deliciosa‘Variegata’ This unusual plant is currently very popular and I love it too. With each leaf you never know what you’re going to get. The variegated stems intrigue me.

Peperomia argyreia With leaves that resemble little round watermelons, it’s easy to see why this plant’s common name is watermelon peperomia. I’m fascinated by how easy it is to propagate – all you have to do is stick half a leaf into the soil. 

Monstera adansonii

Calathea orbifolia

Anthurium clarinervium

Monstera deliciosa ‘Variegata’

Alocasia amazonica

Watering Wednesdays

Each Wednesday, Saffron goes around to each plant to see if it needs to be watered. It takes about an hour to water the indoor plants. Those that need water (usually about 70% of them) are irrigated with a watering can. Those that are still wet enough are left for the following Wednesday. The few that need lots of water are placed where Saffron sees them often and can monitor their moisture levels, like at her bathroom basin, above her bed and on her bedside table. 

Some people are amazed and awed when they come to visit, others ask me if I don’t have enough space in my garden. – Saffron

Get the best from your indoor plants

You will need: A watering can, spade, pretty containers for the plastic pots, preventative insecticides (preferably organic), string to tie climbing plants to poles and, of course, your choice of plants.

Plant choice: Every plant has individual needs in terms of light, water and maintenance – before you start, find out more about the plant to make sure it’s suited to your growing conditions. If you’re seldom at home, avoid a plant such as maidenhair fern that needs to be watered every second day; rather go for a waterwise plant such as indigenous asparagus fern (Asparagus densiflorus). Easy-to-grow plants for beginners include delicious monster (Monstera deliciosa), heartleaf philodendron (Philodendron scandens) and ZZ plant (Zamioculcas zamiifolia).

Soil: Tropical plants like soil that is ‘airy’ and ‘chunky’. This allows for space around the roots so that water doesn’t get trapped in the soil and lead to root rot. Make your own plant medium by mixing 50% potting soil, 20% bark or vermiculite, 20% perlite and 10% Leca (a clay aggregate). Over time, most gardeners adjust their soil mixture according to their individual needs. 

Position: Some plants need bright light, other prefer less light so keep your plant’s specific light requirements in mind when deciding where to place it in your home. “If your plant doesn’t get the right light, it won’t grow no matter how much fertiliser you give it!” says Saffron. The height of the plant and whether it creeps or climbs will also play a role in where it should be placed.

Water: Take care not to water indoor plants too much as moisture gets trapped in the soil and the plant will become overwatered. Check by putting a stick or your finger deep into the soil. The general rule is: compact soil needs less water, aerated soil needs more. You can aerate the soil by pushing in a chopstick and jiggling it around – you’re essentially creating more space in-between the soil particles for optimal water movement to and from the roots. Terracotta pots are a good choice as they absorb water from the soil. The amount of light the plant receives also affects watering: the more light, the more evaporation takes place. Plants in low-light conditions therefore often don’t need a lot of water. 

Care: When you purchase an indoor plant there is often fertiliser and organic matter in the soil already that breaks down over time and is taken up by the plant so you won’t need to feed it initially. After about a year, you can give it extra fertiliser. The best time to feed plants is during their growing season (summer in cold parts of the country; throughout the year in those parts that experience mild winters). Choose fertiliser that suits your plant’s needs. Indoor plants may need to be repotted into bigger pots when they have grown noticeably. Never go up by more than one pot size at a time – this ensures the roots don’t have too much growth space and prevents excess water from accumulating in the extra soil. 

Propagation: Most indoor plants grow from cuttings or from small offsets attached to the mother plant. Loosen these baby plants and plant them in a smaller pot. To make cuttings, cut off a 5cm piece of plant below a node. Before putting your cutting in water to make roots, let the ‘wound’ heal for about 12 hours so that it doesn’t rot in the water. Change the water every few days. Plant in a pot once the cutting has more than three roots about 5cm long.

On display: Make things easier by placing plants with similar needs together. A variety of ferns in one place works well as they need more or less the same amount of water and light. Use a combination of plants with contrasting leaves; for example, a variegated plant next to one with deep green leaves. Your choice of pots is also important. If the pots are complementary, it doesn’t really matter what type of plants you display together – they still create a beautiful visual. A collection of brightly coloured pots will create a totally different look. Or place a pot in a contrasting colour on a painted table or shelf – they will immediately draw the eye! 

On the bedside table: Chinese money plant (Pilea peperomioides)

Begonia corallina ‘Tamaya’

Ferns such as Davallia trichomanoides (at the back) and Asparagus densiflorus (foreground) love a good shower too! Saffron says the plants don’t get in the way as their shower is spacious.

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April 2023

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