The inside story

As the darkest months descend, use plants to add warmth and sophistication to your home all through winter.
White-flowered indoor plants such as stephanotis and hydrangea look their best in shiny metal containers
© GAP Photos/Friedrich Strauss
White-flowered indoor plants such as stephanotis and hydrangea look their best in shiny metal containers
Houseplants might be good for refreshing the air we breathe, but they are even better for raising our spirits. And now that there is less to look at outdoors, we can use plants to bring warmth and colour into our homes.

Don't dismiss the small potted houseplant, such as kalanchoe with its range of paintbox-bright flowers, cyclamen, in shades from pure white to ruby red, or African violets, spanning the pink to purple palette. Just one looks insignificant but several in different shades, grouped together in a pretty container, will have real impact. Hide the plastic pots beneath a layer of sphagnum moss - buy a bag from a florist or garden centre.

This month, plant bulbs indoors as well as outdoors. Amaryllis equal orchids for sheer glamour, and are a less predictable choice: you can buy them as cut stems, but it is more fun to grow them yourself either in clear glass or in terracotta pots - the bulbs peeking out of the compost - circled with moss.

The fabulous trumpet flowers of amaryllis or hippeastrum can be easily grown indoors from bulbs
© GAP Photos/Friedrich Strauss
The fabulous trumpet flowers of amaryllis or hippeastrum can be easily grown indoors from bulbs
The velvety scarlet and pure white varieties are sumptuous; for a daintier version, look for the bulbs of butterflylike Papillio. Paperwhite narcissus - ask for bulbs of Paperwhite Ziva - grow like weeds indoors and their sublime fragrance fills a whole room.

If you grow succulents outdoors, bring them indoors, not only to protect them but to display them, first checking, of course, you are not bringing plant pests with them. Their sculptural lines and rosette formations make them ideal for contemporary interiors.

Throw a linen runner down the dining table and add a line of several individually potted succulents such as green-and-white-striped haworthia or blue-grey echeveria, either identical or all different; shoehorn several into a wide bowl, mulch with cactus top dressing and use as an impressive central table display. A cowboy cactus in a machine-moulded terracotta pot, on a bare wooden floor, will provide an ambience of warm Santa Fe, as will the agave - cut off the spiny tips - that sat on the patio all summer.

Enjoy the scent and colour of citrus with a calamondin tree that can survive in low light
© GAP Photos/Friedrich Strauss
Enjoy the scent and colour of citrus with a calamondin tree that can survive in low light
Other garden plants that are doubtfully hardy - remember what happened last winter to even tough shrubs - might benefit from a house holiday, provided they look the part.

Forget the tree fern (stuff the funnel with straw before leaving it to its fate), but what about dwarf pomegranate, fatsia or yucca, the perfect plant to give the look of a verdant, tropical tree in the corner of the living room? Some classic indoor greenery that might not strike you as thrilling makes a strong statement when grouped together.

A solo sansevieria, for instance, looks a bit sad; a line-up of variegated sansevieria - mother-in-law's tongue - makes a striking tropical mini-plantation that will usefully thrive in low light levels.

"Dead" corners in a room can be brought to life with a plant. A parlour palm is an obvious choice, but try something subtler, too: fill a cylindrical pot or tubular vase with sand, and push in long stems of pussy willow to secure them. They will last far longer than a vase of flowers, and add an elegant note, especially in a minimalist setting.

With indoor plants, the container is as important as the plant it holds
© GAP Photos
With indoor plants, the container is as important as the plant it holds
Windowsills present another plant opportunity. Buy individual pots of scented-leaf geraniums for a fragrance library. The soft, tactile leaves vary as much as the different perfumes; greenest leaf and freshest fragrance is the peppermint-scented variety (there is also a chocolate peppermint version that makes you long for a box of After Eights).

Alternatively, buy a trio of garden-centre calamondins, the glossy green mini trees packed with baby oranges, to add a vibrant splash. Calamondin is the one citrus plant that doesn't, three cheers, need a light-filled conservatory to thrive.

Don't miss: Follow Pattie Barron's gardening blog at homesandproperty.co.uk/blogs.

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