Ask florist and nurseryman Paul Hyland for his recommendations for houseplants to grow in winter, and he mostly steers clear of the obvious. Plants like mother-in-law’s tongue and monstera don’t cross his lips.
Instead, the owner of Glasshaus opts for more seasonal offerings that will transport you to sunnier, showier, more flower-filled locales than is Victoria in the coldest months.
In winter, Paul Hyland likes houseplants that transport you to sunnier climesCredit:Luis Enrique Ascui
Mandevillas. These tropical beauties need warm temperatures to thrive and will enjoy a spell indoors in winter. While the climber won’t necessarily flower in your living quarters, you can still bask in its glossy leaves and luxurious growth. Keep the soil moderately dry to prevent the risk of rot and, when you do irrigate, use tepid rather than cold water so that you don’t shock the roots (something that applies to all indoor plants in winter).
Vireya rhododendrons. More associated with greenhouses in the Dandenongs than interiors in Melbourne, these tropical jewels bloom in a range of colours, some of which are fragrant to boot. They like a light spot – near a window is ideal – and high humidity, something that can be difficult to achieve indoors in winter thanks to the way heating dries out the air. Bathrooms are often suitably steamy or, alternatively, sit the pots on saucers or trays filled with water and pebbles.
Calathea lietzei. This doesn’t go by the common name of peacock plant for nothing. The leaves of this Latin American showstopper have white and green stripes and pink-purple undersides. Again, they will be at their head-turning best when there is high humidity.
Colocasia esculenta. While some Melburnians have taken to growing taro outside as an edible tuber, indoors is the only place it will look in peak form through the colder months. It likes moist soil, so much so that you can even place the pot in a fish tank (but keep the foliage above-water). To make the most of the beguiling elephant-ear leaves, dust them regularly. It not only looks better but also means they will photosynthesise more efficiently.
Cyclamen cultivars. Widely available and reliably showy, give these tuberous perennials a cool, bright spot and you will be rewarded with six weeks of flowers and an even longer period of ornamental foliage. When the plants start to flag at the end of winter, don’t throw them out but keep them to go dormant over summer. That way you will get a repeat performance next year.
Anthuriums. With about 1000 species, there’s really an anthurium to suit every taste. The well-known Anthurium andraeanum that unfurls large, waxy flower-like spathes is but one option. Anthurium veitchii, which sports dramatic furrowed leaves, is another, or there is the palm-like Anthurium polydactylum, which has more of a Victorian parlour mood.
Citrus. Take a cue from the northern Europeans and bring a lemon tree inside for winter. Hyland says if you opt for one that is small enough – a relatively young “Lemoniscious”, say – you can even make it the centrepiece of your dining table. You will need to make sure it gets enough light, water and humidity, and when the weather warms up, back outside it should go.
Agathis robusta. The Queensland kauri might reach heights of 30 metres in the wild but confine it to a container in a light spot indoors and its growth will be of a more domestic scale. While it can be kept inside year-round, it will need less watering in the winter months. If you’re unsure whether or not to water, the same goes for any plant: simply stick a finger in the soil to see how dry it feels.
The wiry form of some plants can create an effect that is as skeletal as a deciduous tree in winterCredit:Luis Enrique Ascui
Sophora prostata ‘little baby’. This New Zealand native has a wiry form that defies the lush, verdant look we often associate with indoor plants. Hyland says this sophora’s golden stems and tiny leaves can create an effect that is as skeletal as a deciduous tree in winter and, in the right light, casts great shadows. You could also opt for a corokia cotoneaster, another wiry Kiwi native.
Eprimemnum aureum. While devil’s ivy is a more generic, all-year-round plant than Hyland would usually pick for winter, he says the gold variety has a “nice showiness” that brightens up dull spots through the darkest months. Another great advantage is that it is dead easy to grow, even in relatively low-light, low-humidity situations.
And, whatever you choose, Hyland’s final piece of advice is to butt your houseplants up together: “In winter, we all get a little bit more snuggly with each other. It’s the same with plants. Cosy them up so they create their own microclimate.”
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