Behind closed doors


My indoor jungle (so far)

I have one colleague who, whenever she’s going into a very important meeting, places a small potted plant on the center of the table. She says it has a really calming effect on everyone around,” says De Young.

That would probably freak me out. (Actually I am afraid it would just give us something more to talk about, thus—shudder—prolonging the meeting.) But I do get the plants in the office=good part, and so does Kim Mickenberg, who wrote the syndicated article on a healthy office atmosphere that I quote from above and that appeared in yesterday’s Buffalo News.

The article also states:

Research shows that the more plants in an office, the happier the employees. Adding plants to the office does more than promote goodwill; it also promotes health. Plants in the office help reduce complaints of cough, hoarse throat and fatigue.

Pet plants can elicit the same kind of emotional connection that a pet animal does—lowering stress and feelings of loneliness, and extending longevity … Plants thrive in areas with large windows and lots of natural light, so keeping a plant happy and healthy means ensuring your own proximity to a window and sunlight.

My indoor plants are not my “pets;” I don’t anthropomorphize them in any way. Tough love is the rule; if I give them the proper treatment I expect them to thrive, and if they won’t thrive, then out they go.


At the office, we have a company, Botanicus, that takes care of all the plants, including some very attractive six-foot-tall dracaena marginata, as well as all our various epipremnum and ficus. Office plants will always be … office plants. They’re just not that exciting, though when the company has a large area it places them on masse, giving the illusion of an indoor planting. But I believe their absence would be noticeable, and no matter how boring they look, the fact that they’re green and alive makes them welcome.

At home, I can afford to have a bit more variety, including a large number of plants that I bring in from outside before frost (gardenia, jasmines, alocasia, musa). I’ve grown quite fond of many of the year-round houseplants, including some that have been with me way longer than most of the plants in my perennial garden, including some cyclamen, saintpaulias (African violets), and schlumbergera bridgesii (Christmas cactus).

And recently, orchids have been creeping into the mix. I’ve killed one, but I have had another rebloom, so the jury is still out. Does all of the above, plus the (many) bulbs I force every year add up to gardening? Not quite. If I added a seed plantation, I’d be close!

What are you growing indoors this winter? I’ll be drawing from comments for 2 lovely orchid books from Timber Press, and I’ll announce the winners tomorrow (Thursday) at 4 p.m. EST. So let’s hear it! Maybe I’ll get some ideas.

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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 regular 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. In my past life as an HR manager, I always made sure to have plants in the office. I brought my extra tomatoes too, and left them in a huge bowl on the counter in the reception area for all to help themselves. Many employees asked for cuttings and divisions of some of the plants, and coworkers brought their plants for me to babysit while they were on vacation, adding to the greening of the office. I’m sure it had a positive effect.

    When my job was eliminated two years ago, I left the plants, and they are still well cared for.

    I have tons of stuff indoors in sunny windows and in the basement greenhouse. I overwinter and propagate lots of tender stuff including begonias, brugmansias, daturas, abutilons, double impatiens, diamond frost euphorbias, caladiums, sweet potato vines, heliotropes, jasmine, ivies and vincas. . . and on and on.

    I also propage some perennials. This year I’m focusing on shrubs – Japanese willow, red twig dogwood, and hydrangeas. lots of hydrangeas.

  2. Knock me over with a feather! You keep a GARDENIA alive indoors?

    To me, that falls into the category of impossible–a plant that wants tons of moisture and coolish temperatures.

    If I could get gardenias to bloom in my window, I might reconsider my grudging stance towards houseplants.

  3. During the summer I tend to neglect my year-round house plants in favor of the garden but during the winter I can’t do without them. One of my favorites is Cuban Oregano. I move it outdoors during the summer and the in the fall I take cuttings to start fresh plants (it can get leggy). It’s wonderfully variegated and has a nice fragrance when bumped (and I try to place it where I will bump it frequently).

    My other favorite houseplant is a bit of a pet because of how I acquired it. I was living in an apartment building in LA and noticed a leaf on the floor. I went to work, came home, the leaf was still there. I got up the next morning, the leaf was still there. That’s when I decided to try rooting it. Amazingly after spending a day on the floor I was still able to root it and now have a nice African violet that blooms quite reliably and nearly non-stop. It’s hard not to like a plant that has that sort of a beginning.

  4. Michele:

    cool temps=drafty Victorian with thermostat never over 63. Almost unbearable for humans but nice for most plants.

    humidity=humidifier in plant room and humidity gauge

  5. Right. I have a variety of ferns in the living room, including but not limited to an Asplenium nidus, a Nephrolepis exaltata, a Platycerium alcicorne and some that are only known as “Pteris mix” in our garden centre. I’m also overwintering two divisions of my Colocasia esculenta “Mammoth” and a Norfolk Island Pine, which is still fortunately small enough to be carried around and put on a window seat.

    In the bathroom, more ferns and a Fatsia japonica, which will likely be moved outside permanently next year, but is a bit young for my comfort.

    Coming in by the end of the week (as we’re set for our first big frosts here in London) will be a Brainea insignis and an Agave tequilana. I have no clue where the latter is going to go, but it needs to come in, so we shall just have to stick corks over the spikes and deal with it!

    And this is a one-bedroom apartment…

  6. Every year my husband and I have the same discussion about whether or not to bring in the gargantuan philodendron. Every year it ends up in the house, usually just in the nick of time before a killing frost. One day it will be too big to get through the door, but somehow it will still end up hogging the best spot in front of the best window. Again. Oh, and about a hundred aloe vera.

  7. Year-round indoor residents are two ficus trees and a random palm left by the former home owner, some tropical sundews and a host of well-planted aquariums. Brought in for the winter are a number of sensitive cacti, peace lilies and my citrus trees, and an ant colony that seems to move from one potted plant to another each night, not matter what I do. Grrr.

    At work we have the same sort of corporately maintained plants and while they’re nice, I find them kind of boring. I find the orchids and things that people have in their individual spaces much more interesting. I’m considering a carnivore terrarium for my desktop.

  8. I am not tolerant enough to bring things indoors in the fall, this is a survivalist region and my plants all need to either survive outside or be indoors year-round. That said, my conditions sound not that different from yours (drafty, thermostat stays at 65) other than the humidity. We are talking ridiculously low humidity here. The only humidifier that I can remember to keep refilling is the one by MY bed. Houseplants must cope. Thus far, it’s predominantly pothos, with one big philodendron and one big dracaena, and a variety of miscellaneous small spider plants that are doing various degrees of mediocre (this post might be the thing that sends me to buy a couple of supplemental house plants to perk things up). So thanks for the motivation! And if you’ve got any good houseplant suggestions that can deal with low humidity, let me know! Thanks!

  9. Elizabeth, you’ve confirmed for me that gardenias require extreme measures. I’m better off with my unkillable pot of callas, which I take out of my pond in early November and cram unceremoniously into potting soil. They reward this treatment by blooming beautifully.

  10. The only house plants that I have in my modest sized office are watercolor paintings of plants.
    There is not enough space between the overflowing bookshelves, reams and rolls of drafting vellum, computers, printers, stone tile samples and other such necessary crap.
    I have one large tillandsia in my tiny bathroom and a parade of bromeliads and orchids make their debut in the living room before they lose their flowers and then are banished off into the outdoor garden .
    The orchids and bromeliads will migrate back into the house if they were lucky enough to have been fed a bit of fertilizer while living the good life outdoors.
    But otherwise, it’s mostly 2 dimensional framed plants that survive the hostile growing environment at my home and office.

  11. North of the border, in the mountains, we get a lot of very low light in winter and, usually, lots of snow so a south-facing window and growlight florescents are essential for plants (and me). My sitting room temperature doesn’t go much above 15C/60F, another Victorian house and an inefficient heating system.

    So my jungle consists of a coffee bean plant, calamondin orange bush, streptocarpuses, Christmas cacti, camellia with a small variagated holly in the pot and recently joined by clematis cartmanaii ‘Joe’ which barely survived outdoors for several winters. Rosemary comes in for the winter, along with geraniums. An orchid which has bloomed non-stop since April, and an assortment of coloured-leafed tropicals and some tiny leafed vines.
    A lot of these are in hanging pots as my cat will nibble where she shouldn’t. Colour is essential. My ‘office’ is the local arts centre pottery studio where I spend the winter making garden pots!

  12. This year I am going to try my hand at one of those small hydroponic kitchen counter contraptions and see if they live up to the hype of fresh tomatoes in January.

    Here in Southern California all of my plants are pretty content to stay outside all winter.

  13. Like Elizabeth, I’m not interested in pampering indoor plants (or outdoor plants either). Orchids come inside between Sept 15 and Oct 1 and get put under growlights in the laundry room. I water them sporadically and never fertilize them, but almost all of them don’t mind the neglect and will push out a spike of buds over the winter. Once they’re about to flower, they come into our sun room which is not very bright but cool, and many will stay in bloom for months. The bonsais (mostly ficus) get a bit of time under the growlights but usually I just stick them in a south-facing window and vacuum up the leaves. My plants seem to know that I don’t put up with complainers or malingerers — they must tell each other scary stories about the compost pile at night!

  14. Confessions of a plant hoarder:
    The back area of the kitchen of my 666 square foot home(Satan’s bungalow) is completely filled with plants large and small. There is no room left for humans, although I have an armchair at the back that I wade through the foliage to visit on occasion. The list includes Fishtail Palm, Norfolk Island Pine, large Ficus(rescued from office dumpster), Strelitzia Reginae, Jasmine, Pelargonium, Hibiscus, 4′ x 4″ Ming Fern, and my beloved collection of Sempervivum, as well as some culinary herbs.

  15. I agree that indoor plants will never be able to live up to those outdoors. However, I do enjoy houseplants like the pothos in my office that drapes and creeps along the windowsill and over the edge of my desk. It makes me feels a little more ‘outside’ than I really am. ORCHID books!!! I would love get my hands on one (or twenty) to chase away the winter blues. I am a devout orchid grower and while some of my (146) plants can stay in the unheated greenhouse year round, this is the time of year I’m having to cram in the sensitive ones (mostly Phals). I just can’t justify the energy use (or afford) to heat the greenhouse during winter, so some must come inside as I struggle to find a good spot for each. By the way, I live in coastal central CA, which is why I can have some cold-tolerant orchid species outside during winter. Thanks to GardenRant for keeping me engaged in the more interesting aspects of gardening!

  16. I must have it backwards! As a lifelong apartment dweller, the indoor jungle IS the regular garden. Now that we have a small balony, everything goes outside in the spring, and now after buying more and more new plants, it all has to fit back inside. The 6′ fiddlewood tree, the sweet olive, the citruses, the jasmines, the hoyas, the passiflora vine, the brunfelsia, the firebush, the dwarf plumeria, and 100+ orchids of unusual type . . .yeah, I started with “just one creeping into the mix,” too. Good luck keeping it that way, orchids are the crystal meth of indoor plants! But really, it’s not a problem, except certain family members have this weird thing about not being able to walk around inside. Whiners.

    Why is it so surprising that adding some natural life to the biological moonscapes that so many offices and homes are, relative to the average field, woods or even dessert, would make us feel more at home?

    Even Disney, the ultimate fabricator of plastic, artificial worlds, figured it out in Enchanted: when they wanted to make the sad bachelor’s pad look alive once the princess decides to stay, all they did was stuff it with potted azaleas. We can do better than that, especially these days when so many exotic species are readily available, so we bring it all indoors. Gardening is life, people, and if you don’t have an outdoors to garden in, you make your home your garden. ‘Nuff said.


    P.S. Would a top ten list of favorite houseplants for providing winter solace be too cheesy to ask for?

  17. Go visualchemist!


    I think indoor plants live up to the ones outdoors just fine, personally, but whatever.

    Anne (in Reno):

    Besides more of what you already have (and if you don’t have Dracaena deremensis ‘Lemon-Lime,’ you should), there’s:

    Yucca elephantipes
    Zamioculcas zamiifolia (ZZ plant)
    Tradescantia pallida (purple heart)
    Tradescantia zebrina (wandering Jew)
    Aspidistra lurida or A. elatior (cast-iron plant)
    Plectranthus nummularius (Swedish ivy)
    Monstera deliciosa (split-leaf philodendron, swiss cheese plant)
    Chlorophytum ‘Fire Flash’
    most of the Euphorbias
    Pedilanthus tithymaloides (devil’s backbone)
    Synadenium grantii (African milk bush)
    Hatiora salicornioides (drunkard’s dream)
    Sansevieria trifasciata (snake plant, mother-in-law’s tongue)
    Hoya carnosa
    Aglaonema spp. (Chinese evergreen)
    Haworthia, Gasteria, other succulents
    Pachypodium geayi or P. lamerei (Madagascar palm)

    and so on. They can all be grown indoors more or less indefinitely, and they’re all tolerant of low humidity. Some are, of course, easier than others.

  18. You’ve got it, Jim. I love top ten lists; that’s how cheesy I am! Expect one next week.

    100 orchids!!!! OMG.

    One more word on the gardenia; it is actually in bloom right now and has many promising buds. Stopping in and sniffing that fragrance is a morning and evening ritual for me.

  19. Gardenias difficult? May I tell you about my 15 year old 3 ft. high x 4 ft. wide gardenia, which produced more than 100 blooms last summer? It was a rescue from the grocery store, and lives in a 14″ pot, although it would like to move up to a larger one but I can’t lift anything larger, gets root-pruned and top-pruned in late summer, and fertilized from mid-February till it comes inside. It goes out into the garden in late April and comes in in late October. It is currently about to open a couple of flowers, although its main bloom time is in May. There’s a lot of sun in the sunporch where it resides and we shut off the heat at night so the temperature falls to about 55, around 70 during the day. Somewhere I have a picture of it in full glorious bloom.

    Otherwise, I have very few houseplants — a leftover ruby-coloured geranium, a big pot of basil, my pet acacia baileyana (Australia’s national flower), and the aforementioned gardenia. Otherwise, the colocasia come out of their pots and are stored bareroot in the garage, the brugmansias and gingers are dormant in pots ditto, and now there ain’t no more.

    I went through orchidmania some years ago and now confine myself to the occasional phalenopsis. I would dearly love to have more cymbidiums but they are large and must be inside for the winter in my zone

  20. Probably well over 100 plants that go out in the spring and back in in the fall. Populating every window and space that is somewhat bright! They just look too good in the fall not to bring them in. The biggest problem is when they get too big and heavy to carry and I have to divide them. Oh, my, it just means I have 10 little pots instead of the one giant one! This year it was the Clivia’s turn. I could no longer lift and carry the pot so now they are nicely divided into many, many smaller pots! Of course, I can’t give them away until I know they have withstood the transplant. I have had that plant for about 20 years and it always blooms in February, which is an appropriate month for blooms in Minnesota! Next year I might tackle the rabbit’s foot ferns or the orchid cactus’. Are you seeing a trend of procrastination here? Luckily, they don’t seem to mind all that much!

  21. I have a large greenhouse window in my kitchen with low-E glass. Half of the greenhouse is filled with a massive crocodile fern (Microsorum musifolium) growing in a very large pot. Such an unusual fern! The arching, textured leaves are very interesting. Easy care. For those who have the room, give this one a try.

  22. My newly found gardening addiction, which is fed by frequent visits to the folks at Garden Rant, has slowly been taking over my interior spaces.

    Currently being grown inside our upper-story apartment in San Francisco’s Noe Valley:
    – two Dracena warnecki (used to be one, bought at Home Depot, but I split it to spread the love). One is in the hall and one in the bathroom, and it’s too soon to say which is doing better.
    – a Nematanthus fornix in the west window. I am waiting for its beguiling red flowers to emerge again, since they were so prominent in the nursery.
    – a Burrageara kilauea ‘Volcano Queen’ orchid, which was a mail order gift that bloomed immediately and promptly lost all its flowers. Friends tell me that indoor orchids should be thrown away after one bloom, but I keep misting and feeding and watering and hoping…
    – the table of succulents, also in the west window where they can be happy in the not-hot-enough SF summers. These are a thriving Euphorbia millii, a tiny Euphorbia beharensis and a wish-it-would-grow Agave victoriae-reginae. As long as the guests don’t prick themselves on these spiny things when reaching for a cocktail (hasn’t happened yet), everyone’s happy.

  23. I was going to grow a lawn indoors this winter but decided not to.

    I am growing a continuous crop of micro greens under lights. They germinate in 24 hours on a damp sponge placed in a tray with a pool of water in the bottom.

    Folks at the photo show reception I participated in this past weekend could not believe I actually harvested fresh mesculin that morning.

    The (no snow on the lawn yet) TROLL

  24. I used to have beautiful houseplants until I had kids. Then, for some reason, I just ran out of time to care for them and the plants died. Now my children are a bit older, and I want to get a couple of house plants this winter to improve our air quality. We live in zone 4 and keep our house at 60 degrees over night. Any suggestions for what hardy, cold-loving plants I could get? Thank you!

  25. I realize I’m in good company here. I too take part in the semi-annual moving of plants outdoors and back in.

    In more late Augusts than I care to remember, I’ve wrestled enormous beefsteak begonias to get them to part with a division, potted up rosemary layerings snipped from parent plants, rooted geranium cuttings (instead of jamming big plants into small pots, 1970s Victory Garden host Jim Crockett’s words), combined peculiar pairings of succulents and cacti into shallow clay pots (Agave Mr. Ripple meet cactus Fairy Castle), uprooted and hauled in lush bananas, plucked baby elephant ears pups, took fast-rooting cuttings like Persian Shield, coleus and begonias for the propagator.

    The only pampering this collection of “houseplants” gets is a couple of jury-rigged plant lights (shop lights from my husband’s workshop in the basement) and one or two plastic saucers of water and stones for a little extra humidity which don’t do much in our drafty Connecticut Victorian. I water once or twice a week depending on how much sun comes in the south facing windows and I feed them once a month if I remember.

    With little consistency in temperature from one room to the next, most of them do tolerably well in the cooler indoor climate though. The camellias are budded and ready to burst. The oleander, lavender and bay laurel are hanging in there. Leaves picked from the catnip stuck out of reach between ivies and a mandevilla are keeping the six cats amused. Three woody brugmansia cuttings are leafing out. The low maintenance Ifafa lily will be blooming shortly. Three bamboos are sending up new shoots. And even the 7+ foot banana sports glossy gray-green leaves.

    As much as my family has groaned over the years about the house becoming a jungle each fall, one daughter finally admitted that she loved the plants closing in the house at the closing in of the year. And the other daughter made me promise as she was getting in the car to head back to school late August that the Dwarf Cavendish banana in the side yard would be brought indoors. Or it would have to be crammed into the packed car right then and there to go live with her in the dorm.

  26. When I was working, our office plants belonged to me & coworkers. Aside from a ginormous Spider Plant that bloomed regularly, we also had Clivia, Cyclamens, Orchids & Cacti. It helped that all our windows were south or east facing.
    This year I’ve more than doubled my number of house plants. Beside the 2 above-mentioned Cacti, I have a huge Pelargonium, 2 cutting grown Impomeas and a Colocasia I’m trying to overwinter.

  27. Since 1972 — wherever I have lived, 4 apartments and now my house for 28 years — I have always had a plant room or area — glass shelves in front of windows. Currently, 10 shelves in a room with 3 east and 3 north windows in a room that started as a porch. And some of those plants have been with me from the beginning. My new adventure is orchids which seem to love the new West window in my kitchen, Low emission which allows lots of light and no heat. I have had all 4 rebloom without much care. Though I will have to be careful not to overindulge and use up too much of the counter space.

  28. I’m not a houseplant fan because I tend to kill my potted plants. Instead, I plant a ton of evergreen plants & winter-flowering bulbs & annuals right outside the windows where I can see them when the weather’s too nasty to go out. That said, it’s my first winter with citrus, and I’ll be trying not to kill my lime, lemon, and orange trees in their winter home in the sunroom.

  29. Ooh… these pictures make me feel better about my own indoor jungle!!! 🙂

    And I definitely am moving the stupid bay laurel and cordyline upstairs into the attic. I swear. Well, maybe not the bay laurel, I do cook with that. And the cordyline sure is pretty with that red/purple color… hmm. lol.

  30. I think everyone should have a plant room…I read someplace that you should have 7-9 plants in each room of your house to keep the air clean. I don’t know if it’s true but I’ve always strived to do so…I picked up your link from Art of Gardening in Buffalo…Love your blog!

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