Decorating with plants "kind of fell out of vogue" for a time, says California-based interior designer Molly Luetkemeyer. "It was such a '70s thing, or I think people associated it with the '70s," but it's become popular again in recent years.
Today, "designer spaces pretty much always include some element of life," says interior designer Brian Patrick Flynn, founder of decordemon.com. "While that can be anything from coral to tortoise shells, pressed leaves or even a tiny bowl with a goldfish, the most common way to add life is with potted plants and trees."
We've asked Flynn, Luetkemeyer and Betsy Burnham of Burnham Design in Los Angeles for advice on choosing the right plants, potting them perfectly and keeping them blooming with minimal effort.
WHERE TO START?
"Talking to someone at a nursery is a really good idea," says Burnham, because employees at garden stores and plant nurseries are usually glad to answer questions about choosing and caring for plants.
You can choose plants based on the spot in your home where you'd like to keep them (sundrenched windowsills, shady corners or in-between spaces that get a mix of sun and shade). Or you can select a plant you love and then ask for advice on where to place it.
If you have pets or small children, ask whether a plant you're considering is poisonous. And if you want plants that need very little attention, don't be shy about saying so.
"While I'm a fan of making a big statement with greenery," Flynn says, "I'm only interested in plants and trees that are low-maintenance. Give me something that requires daily care and/or delicate grooming, and it's most likely to go from green to brown or black in less than 72 hours."
All three designers like ferns, such as the maidenhair. "They're so delicate and soft," says Luetkemeyer. "They're fresh, and they're that pale green that's the beginning green of spring."
Maidenhairs are fairly easy to care for: "They need to be watered," she says, "but if you water them, they hang around."
Consider grouping several together in small pots or buying just one large fern.
"They can ground a space grouped together in odd numbers in pots of varied heights on the floor," Flynn says. Or "you can use them to add life high up in a room with hanging basket planters. And then they also look excellent potted and placed on a pedestal, coffee table or console table."
If you want something larger and bolder than the delicate maidenhair, Flynn suggests the staghorn fern. Just remember that all ferns do best in shade rather than direct sunlight.
"I love plants that flower in the spring," says Luetkemeyer, who recommends daffodils, narcissus and hyacinth.
She also loves gardenia plants for their heady fragrance and shiny leaves. But they do require a bit of effort.
"Any plant that's a woody plant, with a wood that's exposed, is going to be a little bit trickier," she says. Consider researching gardenias online to learn how much water and how much light your plant will need.
And with all potted plants, Luetkemeyer suggests placing a dish underneath the pot to catch and maintain the water, then placing a coaster underneath the dish to protect the furniture or floor.
"A statement tree," says Burnham, "adds height to your room, and plays with the light at a window."
Her clients in southern California often opt for the colour and fragrance of small citrus trees in their homes or at the entrance to a patio or yard.
"They require light and require water," Burnham says, "but they have fabulous floral blooms in addition to the colour of the fruit.
Flynn also suggests fig trees: "Fiddle leaf fig trees are, hands down, my favourite," he says. "They're super architectural and almost kind of minimalist. Since these grow straight upwards, they're perfect for corners or flanking a fireplace or focal point without growing out and over it."
"I also use fiddle leaf fig trees in unexpected places," he says, "just to add a big burst of life into an otherwise utilitarian space such as a bathroom or even offices. The key to using them successfully is ensuring they don't come into contact with direct light, and that they're not exposed to dry heat."
"This might be a great time to put some herbs in your kitchen," Luetkemeyer says.
Many grocery stores and nurseries sell herb plants such as mint or basil that are already blooming in small plastic pots. You can re-pot them into more attractive containers, then cluster several together on a countertop.
"What you plant something in makes just as much of a statement as the tree or plant itself," says Burnham.
Take time shopping for exactly what you want. "Add a little extra effort," she says, "and you get a really chic little addition to your room."
One simple approach is to "put the plant into a fabulous low basket and cover it with reindeer moss," Burnham says. "You don't see the soil, and don't see the plastic container inside."
Luetkemeyer agrees that it's worth taking time to choose the right pots: "You can take the same plant and pot it four different ways and it creates four different vibes," she says. A pot is "sort of like the frame on the piece of art. It sets the tone."
If you don't wish to commit to even a low-maintenance plant, Flynn suggests you "work in fruits in decorative ways."
"Oranges, clementines, apples and limes ... look excellent grouped in vessels," he says. "The key to getting it right is to separate them, and not have different types of fruit within the same grouping. My favourite way to use fruit decoratively is by placing them in apothecary jars in different heights and sizes."
Whatever kind you choose, Flynn is sure you'll be happier if you add some kind of greenery to your home.
"Whether you've got all the time in the world to care for something or just want to be able to squirt a water bottle on your way out the door," he says, "there's definitely something out there for you."