Gardening: Colourful flatmates

By Meg Liptrot

Bring your bulbs indoors for a dose of colour therapy, suggests Meg Liptrot.

Hyacinths in bloom at the Wintergardens in Auckland Domain. Photo / Meg Liptrot
Hyacinths in bloom at the Wintergardens in Auckland Domain. Photo / Meg Liptrot

Feeling housebound and over winter? Get a head start on spring and bring your potted bulbs indoors for a burst of colour.

Although bought bunches of spring flowers have appeal, flowering bulbs in pots last longer. The promise of strong shoots emerging from the soil, as only bulbs do, brings enjoyment in itself.

Jonquils, daffodils and snowdrops are flowering now and will contribute a country vibe to the house, particularly if the bulbs are planted in earthy terracotta pots. The rich purples of hyacinths brings a regal feel to a formal interior, complete with heady perfume, too.

The team at the Auckland Domain Wintergardens has a striking display of hyacinths and orchids on right now. It doesn't matter whether it's raining outside, you can enjoy the verdant greens and floral tapestry in the Victorian glasshouses. They provide inspiration on how to bring themed pots inside each season. One of the glasshouses is heated for tropicals, so you can warm up in here while admiring giant tropical water lilies and lush greenery.

The glasshouses at Wellington's Botanic Garden are equally gorgeous, with orchids in hanging baskets, huge cycads, an air plant display, and another large internal pond with lotuses. The multitude of iridescent fish in these pools are wonderful to look at, too.

Taking a cue from these glasshouses, ferns, orchids, bromeliads and palms make happy house-fellows over winter. I even spotted my favorite houseplant of the moment, Maranta orbifolia, in the Wellington glasshouse, adding to the tropical foliage in a display with its textural, ribbed leaves. This plant, which hails from Bolivia, has been the best pot-plant performer I've had, even surpassing the Peace lily (Spathiphyllum) in its ease of care. Houseplants can be temperamental, but I've learned a few lessons over the years.

Overwatering often means death for houseplants, and this specimen is no exception. Maranta lets you know when it needs watering. A very slight droop in the leaves and it's in need of a soak. This has been fail-safe for this particular plant, and it takes pride of place in our bathroom. Some houseplants, such as ferns, need to be kept consistently moist, others such as orchids almost need to dry out before watering.

The rule of thumb is never leave your pot sitting in a saucer of water, as it's a sure way to rot their roots.

Some slow-release fertiliser every six months keeps many houseplants happy. I use worm castings and a little rock dust on my larger palm with good results. When I have time, wiping the leaves with a damp cloth removes pesky scale insects and dust. It does some indoor plants good to get outside every now and again on a rainy overcast day. I do this on occasion with hardy plants in spring or autumn to give them an invigorating rinse off. Never leave in full sun as they'll get burnt.

If you've neglected watering for a while, the potting mix will be too dry and repel water. If this happens, immerse the pot in a bucket of water until bubbles stop coming up. The water will soak into the soil from the bottom up via capillary action . Allow to drain off well before placing on a saucer.

Delicate plants such as African violets require watering from the bottom up. Stick to the specially designed self-watering pots which are fairly fail-safe. Watering African violets and cyclamen from the top will often cause their fleshy leaf stems to rot. They also suit a little liquid fertiliser to ensure flowering during growing season.

The colour green is associated with growth, balance and harmony. Green means life, nature, fertility and well-being and is supposed to be healing to the eyes. Whether you have permanent houseplants or temporary visitors, a bit of colour therapy does wonders on a grey day.

GET THE LOOK

Houseplants for an exotic, tropical theme

* Moth orchid (Phalaenopsis)

* Vriesea and bromeliad hybrids

* Japanese Peace Palm (Rapis excelsa)

* Hanging Pitcher Plant

* Peacock Plant (Calathea makoyana)

* Arrowhead Plant (Syrigonium podophyllum)

Classic old-school charm

* Boston and Maidenhair Ferns (great in the bathroom)

* African violet, Hyacinth bulbs

* Cymbidium orchid

* Begonia

Architectural plants

* Mother-in-Law's Tongue (Sansevieria trifasciata)

* Succulents and cacti for spots in direct sunlight

* Got plenty of space or want to green your office? Hire a green wall (or construct your own)

Some houseplants proven to clean the air

* Peace lily; Spider plant; Arrowhead plant; Philodendron spp.; Ficus benjamina; Syngonium; Dracaena

In the kitchen

* Potted Mediterranean herbs such as thyme, oregano and basil suit a sunny windowsill.

* Small-leafed Greek basil is nice nipped into shape. They look like mini topiary.

* A window box within view of the kitchen is well suited to Pelargonium (recognised as geranium) with its uplifting scent.

* Sprouting greens such as alfalfa, broccoli, wheatgrass and radish add some green interest to the kitchen, with the extra benefit of boosting sluggish winter metabolism.

- Herald on Sunday

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