Hunting for Houseplants
I wonder if anyone has noticed that I never mention houseplants in this column. The reason for their non-appearance is simple: I don’t have, indeed can’t have, any. The house in which I have lived half my adult life has, curiously, no window ledges – apart from one in a south-facing window above a ferociously hot radiator, which I guess to be totally unsuitable unless you like your bromeliads done to a crisp. And, until very recently, my work office had French windows that were shuttered at night and at weekends, which hardly lent themselves to horticulture.
However, I have just relocated and now find myself working in a building dating from the 1930s with two immensely tall, magnificent windows. And the window ledges are deep and French polished. I love their uncluttered simplicity: no double-glazing, no blinds – just light. But I have yet to mention the view. Ah. I am faced with a vast courtyard of Portland stone and hard lines in all directions. The occasional plastic bag or brown leaf eddies in the wind-currents generated by a high quadrangle – but there is a total absence of life, of a sinuous curve, of birds or green leaves. The view, in a word, is barren. With this outlook, my capacious window-ledges demand plants. But not, please, any plant! On entering the office for the first time I don’t know what was more daunting – the prospect of unpacking crates of books and office paraphernalia, or the plant that a colleague had thought to provide to soften the blow. For this plant was, quite frankly, hideous, with large, thick, dark leaves and a wayward, straggly habit. It sat on the elegant ledge, looking demented and out of place. Pleading my inability to keep indoor plants alive for more than thirty-five minutes, I was able to usher the triffid out of the door in the direction of ‘Reception’ – but the need for an alternative, natural, wavy squiggle to blur the rigidity of straight lines, finds me floundering in my own ignorance.
A handbook on houseplants advises me to “forget about green fingers; anyone can grown houseplants” and then goes on to list their requirements: fresh air, light, water, warmth, humidity, food, rest, holiday care, cleaning and polishing, pruning and training. I’m only surprised they don’t need teachers or chauffeurs and am beginning to think I’m unequal to the task before I even dare glance at a podocarpus or a parlour palm. Surely it would be simpler to have another baby than take on a scindapsus, with its special problems of yellow, falling, curled, shrivelled or limp leaves, let alone its rotting stems? At least a baby smiles at you sometimes. A scindapsus evidently looks you in the eye and accuses you of under-or over-watering, of under-misting, or ignoring its fungal attack. Whilst any room is undoubtedly enhanced by thriving plants (and in the work-space they should surely be especially uplifting), an ailing specimen has the opposite effect in immediately depressing the mood. The hunt, then, is on for durable, long-suffering, care-free, gently-waving fronds. Monsteras need not apply.