Indoor gardening for London urbanites

Indoor gardening is the latest buzz for urbanites with no outside space. Isabelle Palmer's new book, the House Gardener, shows how it's done.
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Bury those dusty houseplants — indoor gardening is the cool way to bring flowers and foliage into the urban home. While looking out on her two tiny, plant-packed balconies in West Hampstead, Isabelle Palmer thought: What if you wanted that little bit of green, but didn't have any outside space at all? This thought prompted Palmer, who founded The Balcony Gardener, the online merchandise shop for small outdoor spaces, to dream up imaginative ways of bringing the outside indoors, so that you both enhance your home and connect with nature.

"Glass vessels allow you to watch, as well as house, living worlds," says Palmer, and her search for glass containers led her to antique terrariums, the protective glass-panelled cases that were used to house an entire smallscale garden.

Easier to source are several wine and brandy goblets, each given a growing medium of moist moss that is topped with rosettes of succulents. For a spectacular centrepiece, Palmer favours a long-stemmed giant cocktail glass displaying the tall, plum-and-green funnels of pitcher plants, set off by plum-coloured violas, growing in soilless compost that is mulched with bark chips.


(Left) Group orchids in bright jungle colours together to create an exotic tableau; A disused fireplace becomes a green corner with mosses and ferns

Using a cylindrical glass bowl as you would a layered dessert, with moss and stones, planted with barrel cactus and topped with pebbles and fake ammonites, allows you to view the landscape's strata as well as the surface. A glass hurricane lamp has a sandy base from which a blackbean sprouts, like a palm tree on a beach. To show off a single stem of, say, a lilac or rose bloom, Palmer had a light bulb moment, and used old light bulbs of different sizes, upending them, filling each with a little water and propping them at an angle on a plumbing ring, glued to the base, for stability.

Pull containers together for impact, is Palmer's mantra. Instead of the tired display of three white orchids all in a row, she suggests creating a tropical forest by grouping together four phalaenopsis orchids, each a different vibrant colour, unified by the same grey ceramic pots.

She uses glass milk bottles to hold sprays of wildflowers and crams them into an aged milk crate as a summer table centrepiece, while several pots of garden plants — phlox, saxifrage, osteospermum — make a country garden bouquet more special than any florist's offering.

If you have an unused fireplace, bring it to life, suggests Palmer, who was inspired by a woodland scene set up in a shop window. She turned her Victorian fireplace into a Victorian fernery — and laid a carpet of velvety mosses, interspersed with driftwood, on the hearth.

Containers are as important as the plants. Palmer stocks up on regulation terracotta pots and paints them dark slate so they chime with contemporary interiors, and enlivens simple zinc pots with a band of cerise craft paint around their rims, thus jazzing up the simplest foliage.

In the kitchen, a French wine crate makes the perfect package for provençal herb plants; in the office, a Kentia palm looks dynamic set off by an industrial-style metal container.

If you don't have floor or table space, be inventive and create a hanging garden, says Palmer. Where you might expect to see two lamps hanging above a dining table, she has suspended two slatted wooden boxes, holding trails of ivy and flower-scattered periwinkle. A trio of green-glass wine bottles, their cavities filled with compost and moss, hang along the kitchen window, foliage cascading from their sliced-off bases, while beyond the kitchen doors, small raspberry and kiwi bushes hang outside, right side up, their roots bound Japanese-style with sheet moss and garden twine — the hanging fruit gardens of Hampstead.

Isabelle Palmer's new book, the House Gardener (CICO Books) costs £25, but Homes & Property readers can buy it for £18 incl p&p by calling 01256 302699 and quoting code GLR 9OA.

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