A zanzibar gem.
A zanzibar gem.

Gardening: Greening up the home this winter

THIS cold weather means that we spend a bit more time inside, and so it's time to think about indoor plants. They look great, and research clearly confirms that they can help to improve air quality in homes, offices and workplaces.

Plants, in conjunction with micro-organisms in the potting mix, remove impurities from the air, creating a cleaner, healthier environment and reducing the incidence of minor ailments such as coughs and colds, headaches, skin irritation and fatigue.

If you look at any interior design magazine, you'll see plants in gorgeous containers adding life and interest to every indoor space. Plants dangle from ceilings and cling to walls, as well as sitting on floors and furniture. Right now, foliage tends to be dominate over flower, although orchids in spectacular bloom still feature prominently.

Lots of plants will grow well indoors. Generally, most shade-loving plants will work for extended periods, and some others are good for shorter term indoor sojourns.

For big, dramatic foliage, ficus lyrata (fiddle leaf fig) is still very popular, along with strelitzia nicolai (giant strelitzia), monstera deliciosa and philodendron selloum. All are tough and easy to grow.

The best palms for indoors are rhaphis palms, kentia palms, parlour palms and bamboo palms.

Sanseveria (sometimes called snake plant or mother-in-law's tongue), zanzibar gem and aspidistra (cast iron plant) will tolerate serious levels of neglect while still looking very smart. Succulents and ferns are great if you want something smaller.

Probably the most popular flowering indoor plant is the peace lily (spathyphyllum). With lush green leaves and elegant white flowers, it will survive indoors for years. Anthuriums (flamingo flower) have similar flowers in shades of red, pink, white and purple.

For hanging baskets, trailing succulents like string of pearls and chain of hearts work well, as do ferns, ivy and Tahitian bridal veil.

Be aware that some of the plants mentioned here can become invasive if planted in a garden. Keep them safely confined to a pot so that they can't escape, and be sure to dispose of them carefully when the time comes.

Complement your indoor plant with an attractive pot or other vessel. You can plant directly into your chosen container, or you can leave the plant in its plastic pot and place that inside the nice one. This makes it a bit easier if you need to move or replace the plant.

Basic indoor plant care is simple - make sure they get enough water, but not too much. This is especially important if you are using a container without a drainage hole. Fertilise every now and then, following the directions on the packet.

If possible, rotate your indoor plants so they get a holiday outside in the shade every now and then. Remove the dust from the leaves every few weeks by wiping with a clean, damp cloth, or putting the plant outside in the rain, or giving it a brief shower.

Remember that nothing looks quite as shabby as a neglected indoor plant, so if it doesn't look good, replace it.