Indoor gardening? Just add flowers

James Wong
Photograph: Leo Malsam/Alamy

It’s fascinating that in recent years the cultures of indoor and outdoor gardening have evolved along different lines, not just in terms of aesthetics, but in horticultural practice, too. As a new generation gets into gardening, inspired by recreating the indoor paradises on Instagram, many traditions of outdoor gardening are being bypassed – leading to a sort of parallel horticulture. This diversity is all part of the fun, but there are approaches one side can learn from the other – and two big tips indoor growers can pick up from outdoor ones.

One of the biggest trends you see on social media is collections of dozens of plants all in individual pots, shot against the obligatory white industrial wall. I can only imagine this is because indoor plant collections tend to start with a cautious one or two specimens, and quickly spin out of control when the horticultural bug bites. But there are downsides to this. Small pots have a larger surface area to volume ratio, so they dry out far more quickly. This means loads more watering effort, and a far higher risk of plant failure. Then there’s the nightmare of dusting and cleaning in the nooks and crannies between containers and, let’s face it, the cost of all those individual pots can add up.

Simply grouping plants into larger containers, such as windowboxes, means they will not only be easier to care for but will create naturalistic communities, like miniature garden borders all of their own. This creates a less cluttered look and will ultimately save you money as one or two big planters are generally cheaper than lots of small ones. Finally, if one of your collection does fail, in community plantings, other residents will quickly fill the space, so you will barely notice.

The second thing is to not forget about flowers. I feel western outdoor garden design can be over-reliant on masses of floral colour for interest – to me it’s the horticultural equivalent of chucking lots of salt and sugar into any recipe. But in the world of indoor gardening, there is such a strong trend for foliage at the moment that flowers are almost forgotten. Yet, even amidst a jungle of giant leaves and architectural forms, a few floral accents add complexity, drawing the eye and making the viewer pause to consider subtler details.

I am currently in love with the Vietnamese violet Chirita tamiana. This is a more elegant and wild looking African violet that pops out never ending successions of white flowers with delicately painted violet throats. The smaller orchids, like paphiopedilums and dwarf phalaenopsis, will pop out a flower from an undergrowth of tropical leaves when you least expect it. The jewel orchids, such as macodes and ludisia are the best of both worlds. Their incredible leaves look like they are embroidered with gold thread, then every once in a while they will throw up a spike of tiny white blooms. Indoor gardeners shouldn’t miss out on some outdoor joys.

Follow James on Twitter @Botanygeek