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Combining house plants creates drama

Nancy Brachey
Nancy Brachey writes about gardening for The Charlotte Observer's weekly Home & Garden section.
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A moth orchid, available in several hues, makes a colorful addition indoors, whether you let it stand solo or combine it with foliage houseplants.

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  • Ask Nancy

    Q. What is the best time to plant a nice, large hedge across the property line behind my house?

    A. Now and into February is the best time to do this work. The plants will settle in and become acclimated to their new position. You will still have to count on watering them regularly this summer.


While interest in houseplants varies with the seasons, January is one of its high moments. Especially in a cold winter such as this, Piedmont gardeners tend to focus their attention indoors, rather than outside, where the latest deep freeze turned camellia blossoms brown.

Indoors, the temperature is, if not tropical, warm enough to keep most houseplants in good shape. With a reasonable amount of natural light, these plants can prosper and keep the gardener happy until the first daffodil blooms later this winter.

Sometimes the opportunity to make a dramatic show out of these plants gets overlooked. The gardener may think each plant must have a solo position in which to star. Or the plants may be relegated to a bathroom window with only an occasional foray into the living room.

The selection I see in garden centers and grocery store floral departments these days is quite good. Some are very dramatic, notably the exquisite moth orchids. These are very beautiful, long-lasting flowers that come in an amazing range of colors, from pure white through pinks, reds and into deepest purple. For the longest show, choose plants with as many unopened buds as possible. These plants can be quite tall, but other choices in orchids exist, some just 6 to 8 inches tall in a tiny pot.

While the moth orchids probably can’t be matched for sheer beauty, they are not your only choice to brighten up the house. A wintertime flowering plant named cineraria is bold but pretty, and a pot will enhance any room with its daisy-shaped flowers that are usually white, pink, blue or purple.

A third choice is the polyanthus primrose, a small potted plant that bears beautiful flowers. The color choices are huge, including white, blue, purple, pink, red and yellow. The flowers are quite long-lasting in a cool room.

Any of these flowering plants can make temporary companions for foliage house plants. That is because foliage plants look much better grouped together on a tray of small pebbles or planted in a low, wide pot. This creates contrast that enhances the individual shapes, heights and textures of the foliage and helps you notice the different tones of green each possesses.

It is tempting to want to disguise the pots with something like Spanish moss or green moss, but that is not really necessary, since green or terra-cotta ones look very natural, especially when set on a layer of clean, white pebbles.

When you combine, choose plants that require similar amounts of light and water. This is not difficult because most foliage house plants have about the same requirements, an exception being succulents and cactus plants. Those require much less water. Some ferns may require closer attention to watering to avoid wilting.

Include a trailing plant in your combination to spill over the side of the tray or pot. A potted flowering plant such as an orchid, small cineraria or the little primrose can be added to give a different color to the scene. This is where you can show the seasons by exchanging the flowering plant for something new when the older one blooms out.

Nancy Brachey: nbrachey@charlotteobserver.com
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