HOUSE PLANTS SPEND THEIR DAYS in the sun on Pacific Northwest windowsills. Ingrid Nokes is the indoor plant buyer for the West Seattle Nursery, a position she has held for almost 22 years. Each week, a veritable jungle of mostly tropical plants, as well as a fine collection of cacti and succulents, turn up at the nursery to be quickly purchased by an adoring public.
Nokes describes the growth (pun intended) in indoor plant sales in recent years as exponential. “I think people who have little or no garden space and restricted housing still want to stay in touch with the Earth in some way,” she says.
“But a plant is a living thing. You have to listen to their needs and wants,” continues Nokes. Even experienced gardeners often overlook this fact when we bring a plant indoors. And many in the booming houseplant market are new to cultivation and influenced by what they’ve seen online. But Instagram is not real life. Lately, Nokes has become something of a horticultural doula, supporting new plant parents in the care and feeding of their little botanicals.
Anyone can shell out big bucks for a fiddle leaf fig award (ficus lyrata) in a beautiful pot to instantly enliven an indoor space, but Nokes advises beginners to start small. “Choose a collection of small plants to go on the kitchen windowsill, where you can watch and learn what it takes to keep them happy.” (Note: you will need to water them.)
Snake Plant (Sansevieria trifasciata), ZZ factory (Zamioculcas zamiifolia) and bird’s nest fern (Asplenium Nest) are all good (read: hard as a doornail) choices for budding indoor gardeners. “And any kind of Dracaenaadds Nokes. “When someone is looking to buy a new houseplant, I always start by asking them how much light they have and what level of interaction (read: maintenance) they are willing to invest in.”
Just like in the outdoor garden, indoor plants have growing seasons followed by slower periods when they need to rest and recharge. Plant growth is sensitive to light levels and temperature. While houseplants are actively growing during the longer days in spring and summer, you will need to keep up with watering and feeding. But as the days get shorter in the fall and cloud cover robs the sky of little light, plant growth slows and may even go dormant. Adapt to these conditions by stopping watering and withholding feeding until new growth resumes in the spring. The surest way to kill a houseplant is to ignore this simple rhythm.
Once you have some growing experience, you can move on to any darling plant that takes your fancy. Few years ago, Pilea peperomioides, or the Chinese Silver Factory, was the “It” factory. From giant agaves to tiny living stones (Lithops) and orchids, the kingdom of indoor plants has something to interest us. Nokes is often asked about shandy Monstere, an illusory botanical unicorn that sells for a very high price online. As for orchids, Nokes recommends starting with a butterfly orchid (Phalaenopsis). “It’s easy to bloom again and it’s very rewarding,” she says.