Design: Potted plants at their best

Terrariums are the new must-have for on-trend homeowners, finds Ben Crawford

Annie Oxborough shop in the Department Store, Takapuna. Photo / Ben Crawford
Annie Oxborough shop in the Department Store, Takapuna. Photo / Ben Crawford

As far as words go, terrarium is one of the best I've come across. Luckily its physical manifestation lives up to the hype. Terrariums are the awesome little microclimate worlds you've undoubtedly seen popping up everywhere, from retail and homeware stores to hairdressers and cafés. You know, those glass containers filled with plants, soil, sticks, bones, toys - in fact anything that'll fit inside their confines. They're salivatingly sublime and a must-have for any on-trend homeowner.

If you've spotted one of these glass filled gems, chances are it was created by one of the best in the business, botanical stylist Annie Oxborough. I caught up with Annie this week to talk about her works of art and shock horror, bringing plants inside.

Photo / Ben Crawford
Photo / Ben Crawford

Annie is passionate about plants, with a capital P. She is a loveable character full of laughter and one of those people you immediately warm to. She believes New Zealand's national aversion to styling our homes with botanical brilliance is due to dated images formed during our childhoods. Memories created at nana's; one of beiges, shag-pile carpet and conservatories crammed to overflowing with odd-smelling pot plants, barely any space left to lift a club sandwich from a Royal Doulton saucer.

She's on a one-woman crusade to correct those misguided perceptions. Annie's space in The Department Store in Takapuna will blow your mind, redefining what a pot plant can be. Her array of seriously stylish displays are works of art that wouldn't be out of place in Milan or Paris and would add another dimension to any living room, office or bedroom, from Grey Lynn to Greymouth.


Become plant confident with Annie's top tips

1. Start with cacti or succulents because they're virtually impossible to kill, making them ideal if you're away a lot or don't know what you're doing. Think of these types of plants as your training wheels. Once you get the hang of it, begin to increase your plant portfolio.

2. More is best. There is strength in repetition, so don't be mean with your botanical displays. Plus, plants hate being alone. They prosper with the company of other plants around them.

Photo / Ben Crawford
Photo / Ben Crawford

3. A common myth is that potted plants need drainage holes. They don't, just don't over-water them. So get creative with wooden crates, old kettles, pots or teacups and bring your plants indoors.

4. Planting a terrarium isn't a lifetime investment. One of the main barriers preventing people from having house plants is they think they'll kill them, but once you have a little display sorted you'll be surprised at how easy they are to care for. And if something dies, replacing a $12 plant isn't a big deal, that's only a couple of coffees.

5. Don't be scared. Just get stuck in and have some fun.

Annie holds regular botantical styling workshops. Visit her website for details or to view more of her work.


A winner's thoughts

Let's be honest, laundries are boring, so the focus for this week was always going to be on the bathrooms. The fact each team finished is worth celebrating as delivering these complex spaces in a week is a miracle four times over.

Loz and Tom produced the stand-out bathroom. The black-and-white tiles in varying sizes combined with glass, timber and plants created lovely textures and detail in every corner.

Brothers and Block-larrikins Pete and Andy came last but they've obviously been learning because their design took a major step forward. Consistent high performers Alice and Caleb delivered another great space, exhibiting more subtlety and control.

We saw how problematic it can be maintaining traditional features while creating a home for modern-day living as Alisa and Koan made functional compromises to keep true to their heritage vision.

The teams have now graduated from DIY school, successfully delivering the most complex room in the house. I hope with that comes freedom and creativity that will translate through into next week's zone - the living room.

Ben Crawford won The Block NZ 2012 with sister Libby and runs creative advertising agency Libby & Ben.

- Herald on Sunday

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