Indoor gardening: once more into the breach (a Bloom Day post)



If you’re the all or nothing type, bothering with houseplants might not seem worthwhile. There is a dowdiness, a fussiness, to indoor gardening. (I mean indoor gardening in an average house, unequipped with a greenhouse.) The plants struggle in dry, overheated winter environments, pests attack, leaves turn yellow or brown—quick euthanasia begins to look tempting. It’s tough to compare tending a few plants indoors to the glories of the outdoor gardening season, where—no matter how badly your plants are doing—you’re at least surrounded by nature.

Houseplants and seasonal bulbs do have their rewards, however, and that’s why I’ve always had a plant or two or three in almost every room. Here are a few reasons I remain a houseplant enthusiast:


1. Some plants are really better as houseplants The small, delicate blooms of an African violet, a jasmine, or even an orchid could get lost in the shuffle outside—and the plant would have to be brought in anyway. These flowering standbys have a long history of house culture and there’s plenty of advice and trouble-shooting wisdom out there. Chances are, you could keep the easiest of these alive, and they’re very pretty. I particularly like the new self-watering ceramic pots for African violets, which frame the plant much better than green plastic.

2. Lush foliage behind closed doors is not just cool-looking but is also good for you, as we’ve been reminded before on this site. A NASA study found that plants in sufficient quantity could remove up to 87% of air toxins. Sufficient quantity isn’t that many, either; my 3 to a room would be plenty, using their 15 plants to an 1800-foot-house rule. There are lots of other claims for the psychological and physiological benefits of houseplants, but I don’t want to dwell on them, as I don’t know which are properly researched. (Some of this may connect with Amy’s earlier post.)


3. Getting plants to thrive inside is a challenge, a project, another way to test our horticultural chops. And the companies that cater to indoor gardeners make that more fun, with all kinds of gadgetry and devices to raise light and humidity levels. I would like them to work a little harder on the lights though. Not all of us enjoy lighting that looks more appropriate for a 50s-era factory cafeteria.

4. The best flowering plants for indoors flower during the winter: narcissus, hippeastrum, hyacinths, and if managed correctly, they provide similar enjoyment to watching early, mid, and late tulips succeed each other in the spring or Asiatic, trumpet and oriental hybrid lilies follow one another in the summer. I start with paperwhites, first the easy and fast Inbal, then the more difficult and spectacular Grand Soleil d’Or, and then—this year for the first time—some Zone 8 tazettas that actually require a chilling period. That’s January; in February, hyacinths and hippeastrum (the 4 I’ve had for years), and then in March forced tulips. (Of course, most of the bulbs can’t remain as houseplants, but some can be reused outside.) Finally, in late April, a burst of fragrance from the room where the jasmine lives reminds me it’s almost time to bring plants outside.


5. Not that this is a clinching argument, but thanks to my indoor plants, I do have blooms to show off on Bloom Day, even though winter has finally come to Buffalo. Here you see narcissus Inbal, saintpaulia (African violets of unknown varieties), cyclamen (some common variety) and schlumbergera (Christmas cactus of unknown variety).

Here is Susan’s Bloom Day post, and one last image from me: my office paperwhites. You can see the scene outside. This weekend, we’re supposed to have 16-20″ more of it. Bring it on!


Previous articleMid-December Thrills: A Few Nights In Bed With This Guy
Next articleBlooms for your computer
Elizabeth Licata

Elizabeth Licata has been a regular writer for  Garden Rant since 2007, after contributing a guest rant about the overuse of American flags in front gardens. She lives and gardens in Buffalo, N.Y., which, far from the frozen wasteland many assume it to be, is a lush paradise of gardens, historic architecture, galleries, museums, theaters, and fun. As editor of Buffalo Spree magazine,  Licata helps keep Western New Yorkers apprised about what is happening in their region. She is also a freelance writer and art curator, who’s been published in Fine Gardening, Horticulture, ArtNews, Art in America, the Village Voice, and many other publications. She does regularly radio segments for the local NPR affiliate, WBFO.

Licata is involved with Garden Walk Buffalo, the largest free garden tour in the US and possibly the world,and has written the text for a book about Garden Walk. She has also written and edited several art-related books. Contact Elizabeth: ealicata at


  1. Agreed, right down the line, with a link, an addition and one caution.

    Reminds me of Charles Lewis’s work in the 1980s – just found this interesting looking site as I searched for a way to link to his work (you all probably know this one already):

    University of Hawaii International Plant-People Resource Center

    Anyway, Lewis is there, and others. At first glance, I like what I’m seeing.

    They reference an interesting looking book that may touch on some recent GR discussions about the nature of nature in the garden. Here’s a snip:

    “With People in Mind: Design And Management Of Everyday Nature”, by Rachel Kaplan, Stephen Kaplan & Robert Ryan, explores how to design and manage areas of “everyday nature”-parks and open spaces, corporate grounds, vacant lots and backyard gardens, fields and forests-in ways that are beneficial to and appreciated by humans.”


    Meanwhile, winter and early spring bulbs also make ideal forcing projects for schools and kids. The bulbs are big and easy to handle, and the payoff lovely to behold.

    But, beware of the fragrance factor. Hyacinths can be especially potent, but paperwhites are pretty overwhelming too.

    Once, back in my teaching days, my class did a big indoor bulb project, lining an elementary school hallway beside a big glass window with planters filled with bulbs. The whole school watched as we decorated the planters, planted our bulbs, kept them in a dark chilly outdoor broom closet for several weeks, then paraded them in with drums and kazoos to grow and bloom. Nice bulbs, too, donated by a local Smith and Hawkin before they got bought out. When those daffies bloomed, wow!, it was something to behold. But simultaneously things got wildly odorous in that hall. Between the flowers and the scent, no more well behaved lines. “Hey, are they real?” “What stinks, man?”. Within 24 hours, accompanied by much huffing, the asst. principal and a couple of offended aides had evicted all the planters and stuck them outside by the bus lot, and I was in trouble again with the principal (they also didn’t appreciate my class tracking mud into the school from our garden outings).

    Now, don’t let this discourage you from growing indoors – just remember the scent factor.

  2. Yes, Don, you do have to watch out. I’ve been avoiding the common Ziva paperwhites, as I find them the most pungent. But some people just can’t take the smell, no matter what. That’s too bad because indoor bulbs are a great way to get kids into growing things.

    Thanks for the Lewis info!

  3. I agree, there are a lot of good reasons to grow indoor plants. I think it is just good for the mental health of any gardener to have some indoor plants to tide them over through the winter.

    16 – 20 inches of snow? Now that’s how we think of Buffalo!

  4. Aloes and Agaves do well indoors in winter–at least for me. They seem to thrive in the low (but higher than outside in my climate) humidity. I drag all my Aloe and Agave plants in once temperatures are forecast to drop below 29 degrees, place them on the floor (in a giant plastic tray thing sold as an “under-bed storage box”) in front of my south-facing patio sliding doors, and water them about once a month. They usually indulge in an extravagant December growth spurt, then just hum along until spring, when I drag them all back outside.

  5. Kathy, when I fix my lighting problems in the new plant room, I plan to buy more and more unusual plants. At the moment I mainly have stuff (pothos, dracaena) you really have to try to kill.I had one African violet that didn’t get watered for over a month and it revived!

    Though I’ve also had a gardenia for 5 years and some find that a difficult plant to maintain.

  6. White Flower Farm used to feature them as one of their gift plants at the holidays, and I got a collection one year. They are a relative of African violets, and not any harder to grow. I actually had better luck with them. I was just wondering if you had ever tried them. Logees used to carry them, so look them up when you go shopping.

Comments are closed.