While a lick of paint, some wall art and new light fittings can do wonders to improve a rental house, some leases do not allow for even the most basic changes. This shouldn't stop you from having a beautiful, trendy space to call home. Indoor plants are one of the quickest, easiest ways to upgrade your home without affecting your lease.
Kim Bougaardt shows you how to inject a breath of fresh air into your home and bring your décor to life with pretty plants and lush foliage.
Photographs Francois Oberholster
Graphic, decorative, sculptural and colourful, indoor plants can instantly transform your living space into a green oasis. Decorating with greenery is also good for the soul – not only is nurturing one’s plants a rewarding exercise but indoor plants also create a healthy environment by improving air quality.
Choose the right plants to suit your style and space, and these living décor accessories will give you a lifetime of pleasure.
• Peace lily (Spathiphyllum): Peace lilies are one of the best plants for improving air quality indoors. They prefer bright light, but not direct sun, in relatively humid rooms. They will tolerate low light, but may bloom poorly. Caution! This plant is poisonous, so keep it away from children and pets that might chew on it. Wash your hands well after handling.
• Begonia: This plant requires a humid environment; place in bright, filtered light and keep the soil moist.
• Umbrella tree (Schefflera arboricola): This hardy, drought-tolerant plant requires bright but indirect sunlight.
• Tickey creeper (Ficus pumila): This is a hardy plant that grows easily but needs to be pruned to keep it a suitable size for indoors. It prefers a bright room but not direct sunlight. It can tolerate low-light conditions, although this will mean slower growth.
The number of plants you introduce into your space depends on you, but bear in mind that the larger the room, the more plants you’ll need to fill the area – and the bigger they’ll have to be. Plan your display carefully to get the best effect. Play around with plants and planters in different sizes to create depth and variations in height, and experiment with interesting foliage and textures.
Attractive planters will also accentuate the beauty of the plants. Large plants such as the umbrella tree (Schefflera arboricola) work well as statement pieces and add interest when arranged in a basket. Add textured ceramic or glass pots, or even leather pot-holders, to create a unique setting
Group plants with similar light and care requirements together to make looking after them easier. Succulents, cacti, moss and most tropical plants grow well in terrariums, or even a dish garden. Their interesting shapes make them fun to use in small spaces, and they’re perfect for people who don’t have green fingers.
Take a stand
Decorative plant stands offer a creative and practical way to display your greenery. Metal, plastic or wooden, choose plant stands that work with your décor and arrange them in groups at varying heights to create depth. Taller plants should be positioned in the background with smaller plants in front.
Introduce pops of colour with flowering plants; take into account the colours of the leaves and flowers, making sure that they complement the rest of your décor scheme. Here, a splash of red from the Anthurium andreanum and the bright pink of the bromeliad (Aechmea fasciata) create a striking focal feature. The yellow pot adds warmth and energy to this contemporary dining room.
• Indoor plants look better set against a simple background.
• When selecting plants, go for those that will work well in the light and temperature conditions that exist in the designated area.
• Don’t position plants close to heaters or fireplaces; hot, dry air sucks water from the leaves and they will perish.
Air plants don’t need much attention – a good soak in water for 15–20 minutes once a week should keep them hydrated. Display them simply in a decorative basket.
• Bromeliad (Aechmea fasciata): Technically an air plant that uses its roots for support, this eye-catching beauty will thrive in shade or indirect sunlight.
• Anthurium andreanum: They need a good source of light and a reasonable level of humidity to thrive, but avoid direct sunlight or their leaves will turn brown.
• Areca palm (Chrysalidocarpus lutescens): Easy to care for, bold and attractive, this striking palm will work wonders in a drab corner. It does well in bright spots with no direct sunlight but needs a fairly humid environment.
Form and function
Display your plants in a collection of terracotta pots; the uniformity of the pots allows the plants to stand out and take centre stage. Use floating shelves to exhibit your natural décor and combine plants that complement each other for greater visual effect.
When decorating a kitchen with plants, take the humidity into account and select those that will thrive in a warm environment.
Use plants to create a spa-like environment in your bathroom; those that work well in areas with high humidity include orchids, ferns, snake plants and Monstera deliciosa. Let your greenery take pride of place on a countertop; if space is limited, display your favourites on the windowsill or install brackets and hang them up!
• Chinese evergreen (Aglaonema ‘Silver Queen’) is easy to care for and can be maintained at lower light levels, but should be kept away from cold spots in winter.
• Variegated snake plant (Sansevieria trifasciata ‘Laurentii’): Also known as mother-in-law’s tongue, it thrives in low light and humid conditions and is perfect for a bathroom or bedroom as it helps filter out air pollutants.
• Moth orchid (Phalaenopsis) is the most common orchid and it does particularly well as a houseplant. It prefers low light in a warm, humid room.
Play around with height and scale in the bedroom. Ficus benjamina, with its tree-like shape, creates interest in a drab corner – and filters out pollutants in the air. Similarly, aloes purify the atmosphere and display healing properties when used on skin. Aloes grow best in sunny spots, making this light-filled bedroom the ideal location.
Attractive hanging plants draw the eye upward and create character in otherwise sparse spaces such as this reading nook. Macramé in all sorts of knotty designs and colours is popular once again and offers a trendy solution for DIY hanging planters.
• Weeping fig (Ficus benjamina): These plants maintain their tree-like shape regardless of size, making them the perfect choice for large indoor spaces. They enjoy bright indirect or filtered sunlight and high humidity; avoid cold, draughty rooms.
• Monstera deliciosa: They do well in rooms with high humidity. This plant will need to be cut back after about three years but it can be replanted in a bigger pot.
• Sword fern (Nephrolepis exaltata): It emits large quantities of water vapour so it will increase humidity in a room. Place it in a spot with plenty of light but avoid harsh sunlight and draughty areas. Note Sword fern is a declared invasive plant that must not be grown in gardens.
• Aloe: This sun-loving succulent is best kept in a pot placed near a window where it will get plenty of sun.
1. Water your indoor plants carefully; too much water is worse than too little.
2. Do the finger check: if the soil is dry, make sure the water penetrates to the roots to provide sufficient oxygen. Also ensure that the pot has at least
one drainage hole for excess water.
3. Never let the roots sit in water; discard any excess water sitting at the bottom of the pot.
4. Fertilise twice a month with a good water-soluble fertiliser. Do so less in winter when plants grow slower, and more during the warmer months.
5. Prune your plants regularly; this helps to maintain their size and shape.
6. Do pest control: wipe and clean the leaves regularly to eradicate pests which can become problematic if left untreated.