How to Spruce up Your Space with Houseplants
Our guide to picking and placing indoor plants according to your commitment, decor needs and space considerations
Houseplants have become synonymous with other design quick-fixes and seem to be on every designer’s list of necessities for a balanced space. However, interior plant selection requires a bit more forethought than you would put into picking a new set of throw pillows. Don’t leave anything to chance, carefully consider the space you have, your level of commitment as a plant parent, what type of container works with the rest of your home’s vibe and where it should live to best serve the plant and continue your existing aesthetic.
“What I love about plants in a design sense is that they are the perfect finishing touch to a room,” says Maggie Boyd, owner of Landmark Plant Co., a boutique nursery in Encinitas that also offers plant-based design services. “They fill in awkward corners and spaces while also providing oxygen, better sleep quality and other beneficial elements.”
When setting out to choose the touches of greenery that would be the best fit for you and your spaces, Maggie notes that it is important to consider the area you have available in which a plant can thrive and the amount of care and level of skill necessary to maintain it.
“For people looking for larger plants, a tried and true favorite is the fiddle-leaf fig,” Maggie says. “But a lot of people get discouraged with fiddles because their watering can be tricky so they can be challenging to keep alive for beginners. At my shop, we like to recommend a yucca cane as a great alternative corner statement plant that is easier to care for.
“We also love another structural plant called Sansevieria (better known as mother-in-law’s tongue) as a beginner plant that also vastly improves air quality. Or a rubber plant is another hardy plant that is easy to care for and comes in many sizes.”
For those who strive to be as on-trend as possible, Maggie names bird-of-paradise as a plant she has noticed everywhere lately. “I’m seeing a trend in tropical foliage coming inside to go with all the rattan and the #jungalow look that is so popular right now,” she says. “Other plants that fit this look are Monstera, cool and bright bird’s nest ferns and alocasia, which have big statement leaves.”
Small But Mighty
“If you are seeking smaller plants to sprinkle throughout a space then air plants are an awesome choice,” Maggie says. “They are perfect for a little pop of life that doesn’t require any mess or soil. They are great conversation pieces—you can stick them on your coffee table next to a crystal or plop them on a shelf to add interest.”
Of course, succulents and little cacti also top Maggie’s list of “apocalypse” plants that love neglect and are ideal for someone with a busy life who might forget to water their plants. Another plus: Both varieties can live happily in a small container for years as they are so slow growing that they don’t need to be repotted often.
If you’re looking for a small option that feels more jungle than desert, Maggie advises lush, leafy philodendron. “There are tons of variations to choose from, but one of my favorites is a heartleaf philodendron—or a pothos plant. Both are vining plants that do very well indoors, require little maintenance and love high humidity—perfect additions to a kitchen shelf. I have a heartleaf that’s probably 20-feet long. You can get a lot of length out of one plant without having to have a larger planter in the room.”
If you’re mainly in the market for a truly Insta-worthy plant with graceful tendrils and exotically patterned leaves galore, Maggie suggests the maranta lemon lime (which she swears is a plant and not a soda flavor). “The maranta is one of our staples at the shop and definitely a best seller. They have a really striking, graphic print on their leaves and require beginning to intermediate level care.”
For other showy options, Maggie recommends the plant commonly known as a string of hearts or rosary vine with purple-and-green, heart-shaped leaves; polka-dot begonias with spotted leaves; and multiple varieties of Calathea with multihued, striped leaves. “[Calathea are] in the prayer-plant variety, which means they close up at night and you see the pretty purple color on the underside of the leaves,” Maggie shares.
Decorating with Plants
Maggie styles all sorts of interior spaces—in her own home and in the homes of clients—with lots of leafy glory. She shares her tips for the best ways to display and utilize your fashionable flora:
Create a big statement.
Utilize large plants to frame a space—such as flanking a fireplace with a pair of fiddle-leaf figs. Or create personality in an otherwise empty corner.
Make a multilevel move.
Intermingle large and small plants for a nice visual variety that creates a more interesting moment. “I like having a tall plant that is the big statement piece and then I love to fill in bookshelves with smaller plants and have plants trailing off of shelving too,” Maggie explains.
Try a grouping of wall planters filled with trailing greenery as a backdrop to an area that you would like to highlight. “WallyGro has wall planters (below) in a range of shades made out of recycled milk jugs. Plus, they’re self-contained so there is no mess.”
Use a variety of small plants with a similar vibe—such as a medley of cacti—to create vignettes in hard-to-fill spaces like a kitchen windowsill. Or try a nice arranged bowl of smaller plants on a coffee or kitchen table. “An arrangement is a nice way of getting a lot of look in a little space and it appears more refined than a casual grouping.”
Artificial Life: The Easiest-Care Plant Walls
For those who want to be green but absolutely don’t want the maintenance, there’s Alicia Noll, founder of the interior landscaping business Bloom Bloom Design. She’s cornering the market on artificial plant life installations in San Diego. “What’s really up and coming are the artificial moss decor walls,” she says. “People are loving those because they are zero maintenance and completely customizable.”
Alicia started out creating and maintaining living walls and arrangements for her customers, but when she saw their frustration with the plants not looking eternally perfect and the expense of constant upkeep she sought to create long-lasting, evergreen plant installations that resulted in her business today.
“My pieces are simple, timeless works that can fit into any interior style,” Alicia explains. “They are primarily preserved moss with high-end fake plants. People want those specialty plants (things like succulents and staghorn ferns are great for this) but the real ones take a long time to reach a large size so people love that you can instantly get the look of a much older plant.
“My pieces are backed on plywood so they are light and easily maneuverable if people want to rearrange them or break them up or add to them. They are just another form of wall art and can fit in any space. I love finding the perfect frame to match the existing decor in people’s homes!”