I’m back at Interface's design showroom again this year during Clerkenwell Design Week. I’ve been holding workshops with them for the past 5 years and it's always a pleasure to brainstorm ideas that tie in with their abiding commitment to sustainability, biophilic design and their target to have zero impact on the environment by 2020.
This year we will be making kokedama with plants that are pretty nifty at absorbing nasty toxins from the interior spaces we inhabit, together with the carbon dioxide they need to survive. Through photosynthesis, they purify and transform common pollutants from the air we breathe into beautiful, clean oxygen.
Here are my four favourite air-purifying plants. HEDERA HELIX (ENGLISH IVY) NASA scientists ranked English Ivy as the best air filtering houseplant there is. It’s a champ at absorbing formaldehyde from the air. The English Ivy plant is an easy plant to grow. It’s incredibly adaptive and thrives in moderate temperatures along with medium sunlight. English Ivy
SANSEVERIA (SNAKE PLANT) Also known as ‘the mother-in-law’s tongue’, this plant is excellent at filtering out formaldehyde, which is common in cleaning products, hygiene, and personal care products. This incredibly low maintenance indoor plant is about as resilient as they come. Although they prefer dry and warm air, they can tolerate colder temperatures too.
SPATHIPHYLLUM (PEACE LILY) The Peace Lily boasts strong dark green leaves and a delightful, white bloom. It is easy to care for and helps to filter out harmful benzene, trichloroethylene, and formaldehyde toxins. The moisture given off by these striking flowers can boost a room’s humidity by up to 5%. Avoid if you have pets as this plant is poisonous to cats and dogs. Peace Lily
CHLOROPHYTUM (SPIDER PLANT) The well-known Spider Plant is also a champion cleanser of air. The NASA tests showed it to remove around 90% of the potentially cancer-causing chemical formaldehyde from the air. Since formaldehyde is found in common household products like adhesives, grout and fillers, it’s a good idea to keep one of these plants around your kitchen and bathrooms especially.
Plants wilt when they are over-watered and they wilt when they are under-watered, so it can be hard to tell what’s wrong. Overwatering is the surest way to kill a plant, causing root rot and a nasty pong, so try to use pots with drainage holes; no one wants to lie in a cold bath for weeks and roots need time to breathe and dry off in-between waterings.
City water is not good for plants and can slow down growth. If you have space, install a rain barrel and use the captured rainwater to water your plants. Another option is to let tap water sit in buckets for a couple of days before watering, leaving the water purer, as the chlorine evaporates, and a better temperature.
Watering at room temperature is a good rule of thumb as cold water can shock the system. If these options don’t appeal, you could consider investing in a water purification system for your home, such as a reverse osmosis water filter.
To decide whether your pot plants need a drink, touch the soil. If it feels sticky and looks dark, skip on the watering. If the soil feels dry, water plants with confidence ensuring the soil is soaked through.
Use saucers under pots whenever possible and allow excess water to drain out of pots before placing them back on their saucers On average, I water plants once a week in the summer and once a fortnight in the winter. Of course, each plant has different needs, so this is just a rough guide for plants in pots, not in terrariums. It’s tempting to stick to a schedule, but I’d advise observing your plants and feeling the soil instead.
Falling head over heels in love with a plant is easily done. It is tempting to purchase a plant based purely on its handsomeness, then proudly walk it home and position it in a spot that needs cheering. However, I recommend picking a plant based on your light levels.
Contemplate the position you have in mind for a plant; is it sunny or shady? Direct sunlight can cause sunburn and singed leaves; most plants need bright but indirect light, so should be positioned a few feet away from a south-facing window.
If your plant is looking a little limp, pale and shedding leaves it may need more light. Plants getting too much sun will have soil that is baked dry and their leaves may be crisp.
Do your homework, search online for, ‘plants that like a north facing, bathroom window’ for example. Figure out which direction your windows face using a compass and learn what will thrive there, then make a shortlist of suitable plants. From this list, you can make a decision based on what you find most aesthetically pleasing. Rotate plants monthly to stop them becoming lopsided as they will grow towards the light. I’ve included examples below of easy-to-grow shade lovers. ZZ Plant (Zamioculcas Zamiifolia) Rhino Grass (Sansevieria Deserti) Snake Plant Or Mother-In-Law's Tongue (Sansevieria Trifasciata) Ruffles (Anthurium Plowmanii)
And now for the sun worshippers Crown Of Thorns (Euphorbia Milii) Haworthia (Haworthia Sp.)
Fertilizer is a good idea, but if you are starting out and your main concern is simply keeping your plant alive, you don’t need to get worked up about it. Fertilizer can transform your houseplant from weedy to wonderful, but too much will cause your plant to overdose and die.
Simply put, fertilizer is a product you can add to the soil to top up nutrients that will be naturally replenished in the wild by decomposing stuff. If you decide to fertilize, most plants prefer a boost in warmer months when the plant is growing, however it is a good idea to google your plant’s prime fertilizing times to confirm this.
Dilute fertilizer with water and administer in small doses. It is comparable to vitamin supplements. Plants are good at producing their own food but most will need a boost from time to time. If your plant has been living in the same soil for a long time, another way to restore your plant’s nutrients is by repotting it with a batch of fresh soil. Check the compost packet and information how long its nutrients will last. Most plants live happily in multi-purpose soil except for cacti and succulents which benefit from cacti and succulents composts.
Know yourself and what sort of plant you are looking for. There’s a plant out there for everyone. Some plants can be needy, insisting that you cuddle up every night together; they will delight in your sweet nothings and pampering. Others like sansevieria (snake plant) or zamioculcas zamiifolia (ZZ plant) are low maintenance, happy to keep things casual, meeting up occasionally for a quick drink. What’s your schedule like? How often are you away? Research them beforehand, consider their profile against yours… how compatible would you really be together in the long run?