Here We Blow Again

Reading time 8 minutes

Oh, the inconvenience; first Ciara, now Dennis, putting paid to any plans we had to tend our allotment or work in the garden this weekend. We could have braved the elements, but it would have been no fun at all and terrible for the earth. Nothing for it other than to stay indoors and wait for calmer conditions. Could February’s weather be any more inconsiderate? Must it only be windy on Saturdays and Sundays? How long will it be before Storm Ellen whistles down our chimneys, saturates our soil and rocks our roses?

Don’t misunderstand me, I have dozens of pressing indoor jobs that need doing, but I am looking for any excuse not to do them. I’ve ordered seeds and summer bulbs (both have arrived and are awaiting planting time) and I’ve tidied the workshop; I’ve even read a few books, but what I really want to do is go outside and get my hands dirty.

Each winter the number of plants in the garden room increases. They seem happy grouped closely together.

On wet, wild weekends like these I have to entertain myself by tending to our houseplants. Since moving to The Watch House permanently almost three years ago their number has burgeoned. There must be over one hundred and fifty now, scattered over windowsills, shelves and floors across four storeys. They range from ferns to cacti and include several large specimens that came from Cornwall with The Beau last summer. Two new plants joined their ranks this weekend – Euphorbia trigona ‘Rubra’, the African milk tree, a Valentine’s gift from The Beau, and Aporocactus flagelliformis ‘Melanie’, the rat tail cactus, an indulgent gift to myself.

Indoors is our final frontier. The last piece of real estate that’s not already packed to the gunwales with plants. Good news is that there’s room for a few more.

The bathroom on the first floor is both light and warm. Hanging from the ceiling is my new rat tail cactus, Aporocactus flagelliformis ‘Melanie’.

At least once a fortnight I like to go around the house checking my houseplants for dead leaves, mould, pests and diseases. It’s easy to forget about them in the winter months, especially when it’s dark when one goes to work and comes home at night. In a centrally-heated house, pests such as scale insect, whitefly, greenfly and red spider mite can get out of hand incredibly quickly, so it’s worth keeping an eye out for tell-tale signs of trouble. In most cases pests can be wiped off with a damp cloth rather than using nasty chemicals. Plants that prefer a humid atmosphere – ferns, bromeliads and aroids – require regular misting to prevent them from dehydrating. Standing pots on trays of gravel also helps.

Plants that prefer humidity, such as Tillandsia usneoides (Spanish moss), will appreciate the mist created by a hot shower. Underfloor heating reminds Cyperus papyrus (Egyptian papyrus) of its home on the banks of the Nile.

I find the main cause of house plants looking sickly at this time of year is simply lack of light. When days are short and sunless, even those that would normally curl up and die on a bright windowsill need considerably more light to stay healthy. I know the feeling! I will start feeding towards the end of March to give them a boost before summer.

Draughts are the other winter menace, imperceptible at armchair level, but if I sit on the library floor or on the stairs I can feel them extending their icy sinews around the house. Plants such as calathea detest drafts and will quickly develop crisp-edged leaves unless moved out of harm’s way.

Dieffenbachia ‘Reflector’ is an excellent plant for this cool, west-facing bedroom populated by an army of plush toys. It requires minimal attention and always looks fabulous.

As with outdoor plants, I learn what works indoors through trial and error. Plants are easily moved if they start to look unhappy. I steer clear of most flowering plants, apart from the odd abutilon, streptocarpus or orchid, as these tend to be a lot more demanding than foliage plants. (Primulas are my nemesis – I love them, but they always die within days of coming indoors.)

A tall mirror helps to reflect light within another spare bedroom.

The Beau is in charge of watering. During the winter this is a once-a-week, hour-long task, except the garden room where a weekend refresh is appreciated by some of the pot-bound residents. Airplants are misted daily if we remember and succulents are kept on the dry side. As a rule under-watering is far easier to remedy than over-watering: during the winter a soggy potful can take an age to dry out, by which time the poor plant may have started to rot. We keep our spare bedrooms cool but not cold so that plants are not encouraged to grow too quickly towards the light and become ‘drawn’.

We try hard to harvest enough rainwater to keep lime-sensitive plants such as tillandsia and stag’s horn fern healthy: they detest our chalky tap water here in Thanet. If Dennis lives up to his reputation the washing-up bowls we put outside to catch the rain will be full by morning. As I write the wind is building and the woodburner is drawing beautifully. The dogs are prostrated before it, glad to be home after a wet walk. Time to down tools and pour myself a gin and tonic. I recommend you do the same. TFG.

Sparmannia africana ‘Flore Pleno’ is a beautiful, large-leaved house plant which can be placed outside during the summer months.

Categories: airplants, Bromelaids, Foliage, House Plants, Practical Advice, Weather

Posted by The Frustrated Gardener

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36 comments On "Here We Blow Again"

  1. Sorry to hear about your weather and not being able to get your hands dirty outside. It is good you have so many great windows inside for plants, though. I miss that here. Thanks for sharing!

    1. We’re very fortunate to have large Georgian sashes which date from around 1820, although I doubt they are the originals. The only drawback is that our windowsills are very narrow so only suitable for small pots.

  2. What a beautiful house – a great tip on using rainwater to water lime-sensitive houseplants. Up here in the Midlands, we have really hard water in the taps and an always-full water butt outside, so I’ll definitely try this 🙂

  3. Have you and The Beau had chance to see The Great Houseplant Takeover at Wisley? My sweetheart and I were there at the weekend. The second of your pictures reminded me of a real life version of it, although your home has a warm, contemporary feel.

    1. I’ve only seen pictures of Wisley. We are unexpectedly without car at the moment (don’t ask!) so will be staying local for a few weeks. Not such a bad thing. I’d like to see the Houseplant Takeover though.

      Thank you for your kind comments about the house. I didn’t include any pictures of the main reception rooms as they’ve been featured before. They are a bit more formal. I Iove my house, even when it leaks like billy-o thanks to these darn storms.

  4. If only our bathroom had a window so that plants could survive in it! Anyway, lovely to have a nosy at the plants around your home.

  5. As, it was so wild here today, no gardening at home, so I headed off to my new favourite shop – “Loam” here in shropshire, an incredible houseplant emporium, where they propagate on site, it is a fascinating and beautifully curated shop, and having now seen all your gorgeous images, it is time to start buying more house plants., for my home, which is north facing, and has small windows, I am sure there must be some that will fit the bill !

    1. Yes, there’s lots to choose from – spathiphyllum, aspidistra, sansevieria, ferns, bromeliads and so on.

      Now following LOAM on Instagram. Looks like they have my dieffenbachia – would heartily recommend if they have any left. Dan

  6. Here we go again… Sorry to hear that the weather isn’t cooperating with your choice of outdoor plans. I hope you don’t have any bad leaks. I love the light in your bathrooms. No windows in our bathrooms. They are like dark holes. That dieffenbachia made me drool. I have a dieffenbachia which is variegated but I don’t know what variety it is. Here it seems you are lucky if you get a tag that tells you what family your house plant belongs to. All of my house plants need more light. I do a fair job keeping them hydrated but it does seem to be a chore at this time of year. I am anxious to be able to put them back outside. It will be a couple more months before I will be able to do so. You have as tastefully curated house as is your garden, perfectly lovely. I really like that picture of harlequin ducks. I see that huge pitcher in your bathroom window is taking up a lot of space where you could place another plant. Just thought I would help. 😉

    1. Back in the day that pitcher used to sit there on its own, without any plants to keep it company. The pitcher has inspired the colour scheme for much of the The Watch House – I love soft, herbal greens.

      Dennis has blown over now. We are left with rain and lots of debris to sweep up. We came off reasonably well compared to Wales and the North of England which has experienced a lot of flooding. A few greenhouses were lost at the allotments.

      We are the same regarding plant labelling. The Dutch nurseries have decided that Latin names are not catchy enough so they have taken to giving plants odious, meaningless marketing names like ‘Beauflora’ or ‘Easyleaf’. The lady in our local plant shop has to ID them when they are delivered and write proper labels otherwise plant geeks like me complain 🙂

  7. Absolutely gorgeous photos of your space and your plants. They should be in a magazine. They complement each other so beautifully. Hope the weather improves so you can get back to enjoying the garden.

  8. Its looking like the Royal Botanic conservatory!!! I love your garden room so much Dan – its just stunning – the rawness with the greenery is so tranquil. How annoying not to be able to get cracking at the allotment. You must be busting to get there – I would be so frustrated and be getting very antsy that I couldn’t be there.’ So excited to see what you create in that great space. Hope you dont have too much damage from Denis. Keep dry xxx

    1. Dennis is a-blowing but John has been out and says it’s not as bad a Ciara. The wind is starting to drop now and rain is coming along behind. No calamities as yet. Plenty of spare time for tending those indoor plants!

  9. Love your garden room and how nice to have a tour of your elegant home. I used to have a lot of houseplants, but had to get rid of most of them when they succumbed to scale and I just could not get rid of it. Here we have more Velux windows so light, but no windowsills. Dennis seems to be passing now, but left a flood in my conservatory, we just cannot work out how the water is seeping in through the walls, but it is and does so every time there is a storm which has been all too frequent this winter. Your houseplants look very happy 😎

    1. What is it with roof leaks? We have two; one in the top bedroom and one in the garden room. Impossible to tell where either of them is coming from and expensive to get an expert out – they will simply tell us they don’t know either! It is extremely unusual for it to be so wet on this side of the country. There’s water coming in everywhere, but at least we are not flooded like some poor folk.

      Scale insects are a pain in the whatsits. I have them but I keep them under control with washing up liquid and a cotton bud. They love my ferns and my anthuriums.

      Hope you stay warm and dry!

  10. So nice to hear a man saying that he loves his home! As woman, I often say that I love my home (even though it’s only a little rented home from a Devon housing association). Of my four adult sons, only one will ever admit to liking being at home, the others would always say they loved travel, far flung destinations, winter sun etc! But I do love my home, my garden, my dogs and now partly thanks to you Dan I might take another look at the joy of houseplants too 😊

    1. I hope you do Julia. Start with one or two easy ones and steer clear of anything fussy. I think a lot of people are put off by supermarket bought flowering plants that are cheap but poor value in the long term.

      I used to be like your sons. I have travelled extensively and I would not deter anyone from travelling, despite the environmental impact. It is so important to understand different cultures, to have a proper break from routine and see new things. As I have got older I have come to love home in equal measure, so now I can be happy doing either. I think it’s incredibly important to have somewhere comforting and welcoming to return to. I am sure your sons appreciate your efforts more than they let on.

  11. Wow, you have even more houseplants than me!! I love your selection, and that you have plants in every room. I have to satisfy my urge to garden by caring for my houseplants and also by starting seeds and forcing bulbs…spring is a long way off for us here in the mountains of upstate NY.

    1. It will officially be spring here in about 2 weeks. The crocuses and irises are over, with the snowdrops hanging on. We have daffodils and primroses out now, but the weather could do anything. At this rate we could have our second frost-free year in a row.

  12. Absolutely loved reading this – we have done the same here in London. All my plans of going out into the garden and planting out some more tubers and bulbs have been destroyed by these two storms. Oh and love you plant room ! Absolutely gorgeous !

      1. Very true ! I have a west facing garden surrounded by mature trees and high walls but it’s somehow managed to take a bit of a bashing with both the storms. Even the daffodils are beaten to the ground !

  13. Weather is only nasty enough to keep me out of the garden a few times annually. I would have done without houseplants, but there were a few that I brought up from the Los Angeles region that did not want to be outside for winter here. My home in town had low 8′ ceilings, so some of the bigger trees spread out onto the ceilings. I suppose it was pretty excellent, but I would do with less next time. The bathroom was so jungly that birds nested in it.

  14. Love your DIffenbachia, Dan, never saw one with those colors. Now don’t taste it — I’ve tried it, it definitely made my tongue numb! xoxox from across the pond.

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