Litchfield County: Happening in the Hills
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Houseplants by Design

By Tovah Martin

You already know what houseplants can do for your psyche. Here’s what they can do for your décor.

Somewhere deep in your heart, you always knew houseplants were the answer. Every year, as the days shortened and the chill weather turned everything outdoors brown, you felt the yearnings for something green. You always suspected that the solution might lie in that little potted plant gracing the floral section in the supermarket. But then, your inner designer pushed back. You need to do something with an edge. For you, it has to be architectural, or skip it. 

So, your suspicions were spot on, because houseplants do come to the rescue. They literally breathe life into a room and turn a spotlight on nature. There are thrilling houseplants out there, but you might need to frequent some nurseries or specialty shops (consider stopping by Pergola in New Preston) to find them. No matter what your look—whether it’s mid-century modern or early Pompeii—there’s a houseplant out there to fit the mood. 

Agaves 

If it’s architecture you need, agaves can do the trick. Their long, sleek arms make a statement. Go to Michael Trapp’s website, and you’ll find them prominently portrayed. Can you think of a better endorsement? They come in a varied size range from small, spikey versions that look like swollen porcupines to majestic individuals with swooping, articulate appendages. The only issue is that they come equipped with some fairly impressive barbs at the tips of their succulent leaves. Some people see that artillery as ultra-cool, others fear puncture wounds. If you have children or bouncy pets, you might want to think twice. Or, you can clip the weaponry off without damaging the plant. 

And the beauty of agaves is that they’re truly easy to grow and take care of. Forget to water? Not a problem unless you do it repeatedly over a beastly prolonged span of time. They’re cool with cramped roots and, although they prefer a bright window, they’ll learn to live with less. 

Succulents

Expanding on the agave theme (but skipping the thorns), there are succulents galore out there and you can pretty much pick a favorite and run with it—they all work in a sunny window. If you like rosettes, go for an echeveria. If stark upright branches are your thing, try fire sticks (Euphorbia tirucalli). And if tongue-like leaves lined with dozens of tiny rose-like “babies” is a likable look, adopt a mother of millions (Kalanchoe hortagel). Size range can stretch from little nuggets to succulents that stage a major presence. As for cultivation, check out the advice for agaves.

Fiddle-leaf Fig

Fiddle-leaf figs are enjoying a major spike in popularity right now. Pay a visit to anyone, and you’re apt to meet one or more loitering in the living room. Green thumb or not, Ficus lyrata is the go-to roommate for wannabe indoor gardeners. And truly, these small trees with large, glove-like leaves on woody stems make a strong, intriguing statement. 

The trick to growing the fiddle-leaf fig lies in generous watering. They love to drink––and be generous with their container. Cramped roots are going to dry out frequently and become a nuisance factor. As far as light is concerned, they’re cool with indirect light. 

Ferns

Lacking light? Turn to a fern. They’ll do fine in a low-light situation. You’ll find incredible diversity in ferns and all those fronds groping around gives a room a cozy, earthy, woodsy ambiance. Most ferns commonly sold are easy to grow, although you might steer away from the Boston fern which looks like a bad hair day and drops fronds the moment you forget to water. And watering is a big issue for a fern, don’t repeatedly forget to serve drinks.

Crotons

The perfect foil for mid-century modern is a croton with large, carnival-colored leaves. We’re talking flaming orange and bright yellow with olive-green veins. This is a standout plant that brings the periphery of a room into focus. They’re tidy, but will drop leaves if their soil is parched. Usually sold potted as a threesome, you’ll want to be fairly generous with the container.

Ornamental Grasses

If you figured that grasses were only an outdoor garden thing, think again. Almost any sedge (carex) will add a sense of outside to your indoor scene and they’re sufficiently compact to grace a windowsill or wherever you find room. Their blades are striped with silver, gold, or tawny and they beg to be touched. Or try bringing in a fountain grass (Pennisetum setaceum ‘Rubrum’) for plumes that feel like bunny tails. Indirect light is fine, but all grasses are thirsty. 

No matter what your style, plants are going to improve your outlook inside. Compared to what isn’t happening in your garden outside at this time of year, houseplants are lifesavers. And you’ll be surprised at how easy they are to entertain once you get your mojo in gear. 

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    Karen Raines Davis
    Dumais Interior Design