Urban gardening:bring nature indoors with exotic houseplants, bottle gardens and living walls

Young city dwellers and indoor gardeners are bringing nature into homes with inexpensive houseplants, sculptured succulents and floor-to-ceiling living walls...

Where there's no space outdoors, enterprising young city dwellers are bringing the garden indoors.

Houseplants are suddenly hip, but the new indoor gardeners are more likely to dangle orchids from the ceiling or grow a fernery up the wall than merely plonk a yucca in the corner of the living room. 

Inspiration comes from a fresh crop of plant stores that showcase how to use greenery creatively, such as Dalston-based Prick, London's first cactus and succulent boutique.

"People love the flower-like formations of succulents," says owner and enthusiast Gynelle Leon, 30. "Cacti are like pieces of sculpture and have become a staple in defining interiors. They're also hardy, exotic and very low maintenance, so they're well suited to city living." 

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Flowering furniture: Matthew Pottage’s leafy living room with blooming chair (Mark Diacono)

Grace & Thorn displays plants in ceramic pots on industrial concrete shelving at its stores in Hackney, Brick Lane and Soho, and holds Macramé Monday workshops accompanied by hiphop music, so punters can hang their plants high in cradles of knotted rope. 

"A lot of Londoners have limited access to outside space, and plants are an easy, effective and inexpensive way to bring nature indoors," says owner Nik Southern — Instagram #greenupyourgaff

Many young people rent and they're not allowed to do anything to their rooms but they can design with plants, and take them with them when they move."

At Ro-Co, the Tufnell Park stop-off for tropical and rootless plants, the goods on offer are weightless air plants that need no soil to thrive, and are best displayed in simple geometric cages of copper tubing called himmeli, to hang from the ceiling. Just mist or soak the plant once a week, allow to dry, then return to its lofty home.

If you miss having a garden, you could have one under glass. Bottle gardens are big news, and all you need is a pickle jar, a few plants and a pointy stick. Learn how at Bermondsey-based London Terrarium's workshops, or simply order a corked Demijohn, £80, or Tinyjohn, £50, typically planted with moss, ivy and creeping fig; ferns extra.

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Stylist Amanda Russell creates a magical effect with kokedama, the Japanese art of wrapping plants’ roots in a moss ball (Mark Diacono)

All of these plant stores will be selling their wares — and showing new ways of decorating with indoor plants — at a festival this weekend dedicated to urban gardening and those of us with limited or no green space. Co-curated by City-Scapes, the first annual RHS London Urban Garden Show starts with a preview party this Friday evening, and is crammed with talks and workshops. 

You might try kokedama, the Japanese art of wrapping a plant's roots in a snug moss ball, tying with twine, and hanging it from the ceiling. Or Blueleaf Succulents can show you how to frame rosettes of sempervivums — houseleeks — to make a novel living picture for your wall.

You could even green up an entire wall. Leading living wall firm Treebox will explain how you can have a tapestry of floor-to-ceiling foliage indoors as well as outdoors, for a verdant vista and, it claims, a calming effect, noise absorption and cleaner air. 

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Shelf life: indoor gardeners are creating imaginative plant panoramas (Mark Diacono)

On display, too, will be The City Gardener, a faded gardening guide urging townies to green up grey spaces. It was written by Hoxton nurseryman Thomas Fairchild… three centuries ago.

If you can't get to the show, get hold of Lia Leendertz's inspirational book My Tiny Indoor Garden, featuring city houseplant hipsters such as Rob Stacewicz, who turned his south London sitting room into an urban jungle with palms, philodendron and a pair of miniature parrots, and designer Amanda Russell, who suspends moss-bound kokedama of grape hyacinth and narcissi above her dining table with fishing wire to charming effect.

You might not want to go as far as RHS Wisley's new curator, Matthew Pottage, 29, who, at his Fulham flat, disembowelled an antique chair and planted it with pink-flowered Medinilla magnifica. But it does show you how houseplants can take over your home in the most delightful way.

  • For more information on the RHS London Urban Garden Show and to buy advance tickets and book a workshop space, visit www.rhs.org.uk/londonshows 
  • My Tiny Indoor Garden costs £14.99, but readers can buy it for £11 incl p&p. Call 0844 576 8122 and quote code PAV01.
  • Gardening problems? Email our RHS expert at: expert gardeningadvice @gmail.com 

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