House plants for all seasons

Once plants are plast their best-before date don't just ignore them - replace them with something new.
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© Gap Photos / Friedrich Strauss
A calamondin will produce baby orange fruits indoors, given a sunny windowsill
Bring only plants that you actually like into your home. This may seem an obvious piece of advice from America's queen of house plants, Tovah Martin, yet it's one that, taken to heart, might stop us installing drab, ugly greenery indoors that we then frequently neglect. Think about house plants as seasonal guests, rather than permanent residents, and the possibilities widen dramatically.

In her book, The Unexpected Houseplant, Martin's suggestions include the succulent Kalanchoe thyrsiflora, which resembles a massive pale green-and-red rosebud, unfussy Camellia sasanqua cultivar Fragrant Pink and aromatic spreading juniper Juniperus procumbens Nana, planted for contrast in a tall, slim pot.

If you have a sunny windowsill, Martin recommends growing the one citrus that remains relatively compact and produces fruit indoors: the calamondin orange. She calls ivy — the tiny-leaved varieties such as Oak Leaf — the golden retriever of the plant world, easy-going and affable: "Among vines, this one does yoga positions like you won't believe. Weave it into pretzels, and it holds that posture."

Sanseverias, she says, will grow where nothing but knick-knacks will survive. One has little impact, but several chunky specimens planted closely take on the look of a lush tropical jungle.

In winter, however, we yearn for flowers, and spring-flowering bulbs fulfil that longing. Show them to the max by concealing plastic holders within a glazed cachepot. One fat bulb of velvetred amaryllis will, when all trumpets are flaring, set a room on fire. Paperwhite narcissi look their best when the bulbs are planted in sand or pebbles layered into glass, and are a safe bet to grow, though a high, straight-sided vase will support any lanky stems.

© Gap Photos / Friedrich Strauss
Inventive wrapping boosts a dendrobium's appeal
Buy three pots of violet iris spears from the garden centre, set them in a wide bowl, conceal their surfaces beneath a blanket of flat ivory pebbles, and you have an exquisite centrepiece for the price of a dozen roses.

Orchids are not only drop-dead beautiful but surprisingly resilient and they bloom for a longer period than any other house plant. The colour range is now so varied — violet, apricot, raspberry, ochre — that you can co-ordinate them with your decor. See them in their splendour at Kew's Orchid Festival in the Princess of Wales conservatory, until March 3 2013; the Garden Centre Group have a stunning supply of outsize specimens in exotic colours and markings for under £30. Bypass the overplayed ploy of three in a row and, instead, group different kinds together for an eye-dazzling orchid forest that will benefit from its own micro-climate.

You don't need to be Constance Spry to create gorgeous cut flower displays; you just need the right containers. Bud vases are a thrifty and charming way to showcase flowers. Cut each stem to size, slip a solitary bloom in each holder and scatter several down a dining table; see for stained-glass ink bottle vases. Buy just one glazed straight-sided jug and you have the perfect showcase for a bunch of tulips in spring, sweet peas in summer and dahlias in autumn.

The florist's quick trick for a smart, simple display is to pack a cube glass vase with same-size stems of hyacinth or tulips so the flowers make a mini bulb field. Cut stems at an angle for maximum water uptake and strip off foliage below water level; keep glass vases clean with an overnight Steradent soak and change the water every couple of days. Aside from the neglected house plant, there is no sadder sight than rotting flower foliage sitting in a pool of grimy water.

The Unexpected Houseplant costs £14.99, but Homes & Property readers can buy it for £11.99 including p&p, by calling 01206 255800 and quoting offer code UH213. While stocks last.

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