Talking

I did a talk last night to a horticultural society. They were great, very active and engaged, very little napping in the dark.

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They asked some interesting questions after the talk; some of which were familiar, some I had never heard before.

Which plants can I grow in a thatched cottage?

This is one I have come across a couple of times. The combination of building methods and roofing materials looks cute on the outside but can lead to dinginess indoors.

The windows have a tendency to be small, and mostly overshadowed by the thatch, cutting off some of the daylight that might have been available. Older cottages often have only tiny windowsills if they have any at all.

So two of the main needs of a houseplant (space and light) are dramatically reduced. In that situation I would put shelves, tables etc under the window, to act as a windowsill. Another possibility is a hanging plant in the window (attach it to the curtain rail or window frame). Once you have your space in the light, you can grow plants adapted to make the most of low light: spotty begonias, ferns, aspidistra. You can also experiment with plants like tradescantias, Fittonia, Ficus pumila, to see how they deal with the conditions. It is worth spending a little on small pots of dark green, and pattern-leaved plants (often just £2-3 a pot) to see which ones thrive.

Alternatively, this is a great situation for the darker leaved airplants, such as Tillandsia butzii. Tillandsia can be hung very easily in windows, and don’t require much in the way of DIY skills because they are so very light. Often a hair clip or a piece of thread and some blu-tack will do the job.

Which plants would grow in a wet room?

This will depend on the light available and the space for plants. If it is well-lit with good windowsills or standing space then there is a vast array of plants that will be happy. If there is no natural light - the room is effectively a tiled box with fan ventilation - not a lot will live there.

When do I repot my plant?

If you have just bought or been given a plant and you are not sure about repotting it, my advice is to wait till April. While a lot of garden plants are best moved when they are dormant in the winter, houseplants tend to do a little better when they are in active growth.

Part of this has to do with their odd seasonality. Many of the plants we grow are tropical, and naturally don’t have a proper dormant season. In our homes their growth slows in the winter in response to the lower levels/shorter hours of light. But homes are often warm in the winter, which when coupled with copious supplies of water and nutrients can encourage growth when there isn’t enough light to sustain it. You want your plant to expand its roots into the new compost, and settle in the pot without damage, and it is less likely to do this in the autumn and winter.

 The answer to ‘when do I repot this agapanthus?’ is ‘before I had to use a breadknife to get it out of the pot’.

The answer to ‘when do I repot this agapanthus?’ is ‘before I had to use a breadknife to get it out of the pot’.

Therefore, if you repot your plant when it has started to grow strongly, normally around April, it will be able to respond with good root growth, and any damage it may suffer during the process will quickly callous over rather than rot.

How light is it?

This was my question in response to the query about the wet room. And I got two answers: ‘Good’ from one partner; ‘Bad’ from the other. Clearly a glass half full situation here. So a bit more of an objective approach was required. ‘Which way do the windows face?’, ‘North and east.’. Aha. The sun won’t often shine directly into windows that face north and east; so the light will be indirect and won’t support plants like cacti and succulents. ‘And there’s patterned glass.’ Another aha. Patterned or obscured glass scatters the light and makes it less strong, as do net curtains.

There are a lot of things to think about in terms of light, so if you are starting out with houseplants, go and stand in the spot you want the plant to go and really have a look at what is going on there.


It is always interesting to hear people’s questions, it often forces me to really think about why I think people should do what I recommend. I do things because I know from experience that is the best thing to do; but experience is just a record of success or failure, it isn’t an answer to the question ‘Why?’.