Expert advice: The Best Plants for an Indoor Garden

The Guardian’s former gardening editor, Jane Perrone, has been offering her expertise to some of our favourite publications for over a decade and here she provides us with some useful advice on the best plants to choose for making your own indoor garden.

According to a recent study, a third of all homes in the UK don’t have an outdoor garden. But, did you know that you can instead create a stunning indoor garden? 

An indoor garden can really bring something special to the interior of a property and can of course help satisfy the needs of the gardenless green fingered.

So, for a little help and inspiration, we spoke to indoor gardening expert, Jane Perrone - a regular features writer for publications including The Guardian, Gardens Illustrated and Garden Design Journal.

Jane’s wealth of experience with gardening both inside and outdoors – and the fact she has a podcast dedicated to houseplants – meant that we couldn’t think of anyone better to advise us on how to create and maintain an indoor garden. Read on to discover her top tips.

Why Are Houseplants Important to a Home?

Personally, I love growing plants and having them around me. I really get a kick out of seeing things flower and flourish. 

When I go into a home without any plants, I always feel like there's something missing. That said, when I go into a home where the houseplants are badly neglected, it makes me really sad!

Could You Pick a Favourite Houseplant?

A member of the Gesneriad family, Streptocarpus (Cape Primrose)

That's like trying to pick a favourite child! I love them all, but I do have a soft spot for the Gesneriad family.

These plants include Streptocarpus (otherwise known as Cape Primrose), Petrocosmeas and Smithianthas (also called Temple Bells). The Hoya (wax plant) plant family is also beautiful and will thrive indoors, and succulents are a great pick too.

What Are the Health Benefits of Houseplants?

Well, there is evidence that houseplants can help clean the air, but to be honest, unless you have an awful lot of plants, it’s not going to make a huge difference.

However, there's lots of evidence that plants improve our mood, and we are drawn to them.

A hypothesis known as biophilia, which was introduced by Edward O. Wilson, is now something that many individuals and even businesses now factor in when creating their own interiors and living spaces. 

Described by Mr Wilson as ‘the urge to affiliate with other forms of life’, biophilia essentially suggests that we possess an innate tendency to seek connections with nature. 

This idea of 'biophilia' suggests that a few plants on your windowsill can be beneficial to your mood and wellbeing. Which is particularly relevant if you have mobility issues and as you can essentially bring nature indoors. 

How Should a Beginner Introduce Houseplants to Their Home?

Moth Orchid

Firstly, do your research - don't just go and buy the first houseplant you like the look of. Plants have different needs, so what might thrive in one environment may struggle to do so in your home.

Then, you should start slowly with one or two plants and get the knack of looking after them before you expand your collection. 

If you’re looking for low maintenance plants, or houseplants to suit those with mobility issues, ideally you want something that doesn't need a lot of fuss or regular repotting. Moth orchids are a good choice as they don't often need repotting, and only need watering once a week. When you do water them, simply run them under a tap from about 60 seconds

Can You Grow Your Own Food Indoors?

You can have an element of ‘grow your own’, even if you don’t own a garden. In fact, you can successfully grow things like pea shoots and microgreens on your windowsill, or even compact varieties of chillies and tomatoes during the summer. 

If you’re looking to create an indoor herb or edible garden, make sure to start small and only grow what you like to eat! I’d suggest that you buy some herbs in pots from a good garden centre and place them in a bright spot where you can keep an eye on them daily. The best spot to do this is usually on your kitchen windowsill. 

What’s a Commonly Overlooked Houseplant Which You’d Always Recommend?

African Violet (part of the Gesneriad family)

I don't think people truly appreciate how great the Gesneriads (which includes African violets) are. 

As well as being easy to grow, they’re beautiful and they flower too. Of this plant family, I’d suggest trying a Primulina or a Petrocosmea.

What if You Want Houseplants and Have a Pet?

Many houseplants are poisonous to both cats and dogs, but it all depends if your pet is interested in eating your plants. If you have a pet that likes to nibble, check whether plants are toxic to them before buying - I recommend using this website to do your research. 

McCarthy Stone’s Additional Indoor Garden Top Tips:

To create a striking indoor garden, simply find a nook or cranny with good natural light and fill it with plants. 

A dedicated area for your houseplants will feel more like a garden and look more appealing. Use different stands and multi-level stools or side tables to display your plants, as this will add interest and depth. It’s also another great way to showcase your own style.

With many of our properties, our prime locations often offer stunning window views of the surrounding area. So why not consider adorning such windows with a beautiful array of plants? Not only can it keep drawing your attention to these views, it will create a new element to your interior and add a personal stamp to your home. 

You can read up on more of our indoor and balcony gardening tips and you can also listen to Jane’s podcast ‘On The Ledge’ to find out more tips and tricks for growing plants indoors.

Header image: 'Jane at her home.' Image by Cat Lane.