Your proximity to nature has been proven to make everything better – from increased general wellbeing to physical health and long life expectancy. Now, it’s time to apply this to your home and bring the outside in (yes, even if you live in a poky flat in the city – no excuses).
Founder of florist and plant shop chain Grace & Thorn, Nik Southern, used to work in IT recruitment, until she took a floristry class four years ago on a whim and found her calling.
After moving back to London, she realised that something had been missing, and that thing was a close relationship with nature. Her book, ‘How Not To Kill Your Plants’ (Hodder) perfectly sums up her playful “green up your gaff” mantra.
Gardening bloggers Igor Josifovic and Judith de Graaf co-run Urban Jungle Bloggers, a site dedicated to advising mere mortals who are clueless as to how to keep their urban garden alive.
Not to be outdone, their first book ‘Urban Jungle: Living and Styling With Plants’ (Callwey) was published in September last year.
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We had a chat with these green-fingered grafters to get the low-down on the easiest way to keep an urban jungle.
Be honest with yourself about your lifestyle and what level of commitment you can handle
There are so many factors that can affect your ability to nurture your urban jungle. The amount of time that you spend at home is a crucial one, as are whether you have any pets and the levels of both light and humidity in your home.
“Adapt the choice of your new plants accordingly to these big questions,” says Judith. “For instance, If you are a frequent traveler or not at home very often, choose plants that require minimal care and water like cacti and succulents or even a large Monstera deliciosa.
“The gorgeous Calathea and most ferns for example like some regular misting and a humid air. Lush plants like Philodendron or Pothos look amazing, but can be toxic to furry friends.”
Bear in mind where your plants have come from
Nik stresses that you must think about your new plant’s backstory, “Don’t put succulent plants in the bathroom, because they like a dry environment. Put plants from woodland or rainforest in the bathroom, they want that damper kind of environment. Ferns are a great plant to put in the bathroom, also.”
Don’t put succulents in a basement area either, there isn’t enough light down there. Find your sunniest windowsill or the brightest place in your house and put them there.
Don’t play it safe
It is very likely that you underestimate your gardening abilities, according to Nik. Strike out, experiment, buy a plant that you’ve never heard of, or one that you’ve always wanted but considered too decadent or high maintenance.
Nik says. “So many people come into the shop and buy the tiniest little plant for their flat. Buy a big one that goes on the floor, and then a few little ones, mix it up!” And she should know, what with being an absolute expert at displaying her plants in the most obscure areas of wherever she is living.
“There’s always room, no matter where you live. I used to live in a tiny flat above my shop and I honestly had about a hundred plants. I’d have them on top of the kitchen units, on top of the fridge, on window sills, on the radiators in the summer, on the coffee table. I had loads hanging off my curtain rails. You name it!”
Get a few, don’t just pick one. Experiment.
Variety is key when designing and arranging your urban jungle, according to Nik.
“Don’t go for all the same textures - big leaves, small leaves, prickly, not prickly, mix around with the height and texture. Play around with your pots: copper, terracotta, there’s so much to choose from and have fun with.” When you’re choosing pots, check out eBay and local charity shops for some rare gems.
“Make it personal,” Judith says, “think of old tea cups or vintage plant pots that you can find on Etsy, or customise your own pots with paint.”nAlso, try displaying your plants at varying levels. You can use rope hangers and plant stands to open up different places for your green bundles of joy to be displayed, no matter the size of your digs.
“You can also try one giant plant instead of lots of small ones, a big statement plan can transform an entire space and make it look jungle-ish but not cluttered,” says Judith.
Keep calm, and don’t overwater
You’re better off under watering than over watering. According to all of our experts, this is a gardener’s biggest mistake. “People obsess over it. It’s not actually that hard,” laughs Nik.
“Plants don’t die in a week, test your soil with your finger. If it’s dry, water it. If it isn’t, don’t.”
Know your low maintenance plants
According to Igor, if you’re looking to keep the relationship with your urban jungle pretty casual you should opt for plants that can live with lots of sunlight, such as cacti and other succulents.
Nik is currently in a staring contest with her philodendron plant, testing how long it can survive without being watered, and it’s proving pretty sturdy. “I honestly haven’t watered mine in months and somehow it’s still going!”
Judith suggests Euphorbia triangularis or aloe as great low maintenance plants for bright locations, and for a darker location, try Sansevieria, which is a great air purifier too.
Try a class and find your green fingers, you’ll never look back
At Grace & Thorn, Nik and her team pull together Terrarium Tuesday workshops twice a month, giving you the chance to try your hand at gardening, whether or not you actually have a garden.
“You can actually create your own mini indoor garden and watch it grow in its glass vessel, which becomes a mini eco-system,” says Nik.
So get your hands dirty and reap (geddit?) the spiritual and domestic rewards.