Interior Design with Plants

There's no shame in abandoning the garden a little during the sweltering heat of summer, and spending a little time gardening in the comfort of your air conditioned home. At least that's what I'm telling myself. So much attention has been given to the quest for an "outdoor room", blurring the lines of the home and garden, but why not bring a little of the outdoors inside too? Here are some ways that I've incorporated Rainforest Garden style into my own home.

1. Choose houseplants that stand out against your decor. Here I've placed a bright Dracaena "Limelight" atop a dark antique Chinese chest, and the chartreuse foliage looks superb amongst the dark stained furniture. The garden photos above the plant complete the ensemble.

2. Houseplants aren't the only way to bring the garden indoors. A carefully placed stem or seedpod from the garden is ephemeral, yet makes a powerful statement. Since the statement I want to make is tropical, a scattering of tillandsias and a bunch of apple bananas on a bamboo mat seemed appropriate.

3. Try placing houseplants behind the furniture to make your space appear larger and to give it more depth. An old toy chest brings a silk lamp and another Dracaena "Limelight" to a level where they can be viewed. The Ficus lyrica to the left sits on the floor, but will eventually tower over the couch, creating an indoor canopy.

4. Create groupings using plants and other decorative accents. This arrangement works because of the similar color palette and shapes, and even the sand is carried over into the terrarium. Since our living room was sculpted around the memories of our many trips to the beaches of South Florida, it's important that the plants work with the theme, not against it.

5. Bring in some cut flowers and foliage from the garden! The callas, Liatris spicata and Aechmea gamosepala were combined with a simple Alocasia "California" leaf to bring a little tropical flair into my mother's home. Don't want to sacrifice too many blooms from your garden? Simply buy some inexpensive flowers from the grocery store or florist and mix in your own flowers.

6. To give your houseplants some height, try taking advantage of books as a makeshift plant stand. The antique National Geographic books provide a dark mahogany backdrop for the chartreuse pot, and a copy of the beautifully designed (and written) Wicked Plants by Amy Stewart looks right at home.

7. Use tillandsias as living and portable pieces of art. If "Air Plants" bring to mind those tacky refrigerator magnets of yesteryear, think again. Tillandsias are now in vogue, seen at posh boutiques, ritzy weddings and admittedly, even fridge doors. To care for your tillies, simply give them good air circulation and immerse them in water every few days for the best growth.

8. The container is just as important as the plant. As a gardener, I'm no stranger to spending my entire paycheck on unusual plants, only to discover that I'm stuck with stacks of ugly plastic pots. Pick several nice containers that work well with your decor, and switch out the plants as needed.

If pothos and dracaena are a bit passe for your taste, you can still have a low maintenance houseplant with a little individuality! When I asked the folks at Costa Farms for their input, Melissa Arteaga Martí recommended succulents for their durability, textural interest and color. 

I can attest to their toughness myself, having seen them survive years of neglect at my sister's house. I gave her a beautiful succulent garden in a terra cotta container, which she promply abandoned on her patio. With humidity and dew as the succulent's only source of moisture, they crawled out of the dish and can now be seen growing along the patio's screen with a thin layer of dirt on the concrete. Succulents are tough alright. If you're growing succulents in your home, make sure to give them one of your brightest spots and let the container dry out before watering again.

If you're a plant collector, sometimes your treasures can quickly assemble into a mess. These photos of Mary Ellen Gambutti's plants (Remember her wardian case?) show us that a well organized and displayed collection can look beautiful in its own right, even one as extensive as Mary's. Of course those wonderful glazed containers certainly help, as does the uniform gravel topdressing.

Glazed containers like this one from My Sunny Balcony are great investments, putting a suit and tie on plants that would be at home in even the roughest patches of the garden. This Zamia furfacea Zamioculcas zamifolia (Thanks Mr. Subjunctive!) looks magical erupting out of the stout and primitive earthenware, and the stark combination is made even better by the backlighting and placement on a weathered table.

Whether you're trying to bring a little bit of garden flair into your home or finding a way to display your prized collection like Mary, a little planning and attention to detail can turn your houseplants from accents into a players in a cohesive environment.


  1. Are you sure that last one is a Zamia? I would have thought Zamioculcas.

  2. Oh you have some lovely ideas here, but no matter what happens I never quite get it right to have plants indoors. Our place is small with lots of glass doors opening up to the garden and so I have decided all plants will stay outside. You could sway me back though, with some of your ideas....

  3. Mr. Subjunctive
    Oh how embarassing. I knew it was Zamioculcas but it was early and I had Zamia on the brain. The coffee hadn't yet kicked in. :(

    Your house sounds perfect! I've always wanted a house like that... I'd have a solid groundcover of something and then repeat it indoors to make a seamless transition, but I guess the shortage on space would be an issue. Oh well.

  4. Great ideas! My fave is picture 2. Must try out the wooden crates too!

  5. love the shares wonderful creative living ideas

  6. Lovely ideas! Haven't had much luck with them indoors. Working on terrariums now.


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