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Houseplants Take Center Stage

Houseplants are hot.

Peruse the pages of any interior design magazine or website and it is clear that the days of suspending from the ceiling a bushy Boston fern or prolific pothos plant cradled in a tacky macramé hanger are long gone.

Modern houseplants — and the pots they’re planted in — often boast bold colors and contemporary lines. Rather than being perched on a forgotten shelf and fading into a room’s design, they are meant to star like works of art and often serve to highlight a home’s architectural features.

“There’s a big push toward plants that have more colorful leaves. … The containers themselves, which really kind of drive the design, are much more contemporary than they were even just a few years ago, so the whole design has

changed. It’s much sleeker,” according to Kathy Fediw, a Texas-based interior plantscape consultant, author and speaker.

Fediw’s company, Johnson Fediw Associates, provides industry training and accreditation workshops, online courses and educational resources for indoor plantscaping businesses and professionals around the globe. It also publishes a pair of online interior plant magazines.

She attributes the current popularity of houseplants in the United States to changing national demographics.

“People in their 20s and 30s are becoming homeowners and home renters. They have disposable incomes available to them, and … I think they as a generation tend to be more environmentally conscious.”

Scientific research has proven that indoor plants can improve people’s physical and emotional well-being by boosting air quality, increasing productivity and reducing stress, among others.

Plants provide “a lot of different benefits, as well as just making us happy and looking pretty,” Fediw said. “They’re beautiful, they’re colorful. The new varieties that are out now are much easier to take care of.”

Back in the heyday of houseplants, during the ’70s and ’80s, “People had jungles of plants, and they were in wicker baskets and clay pots and macramé hangers, and it was all kind of hippy dippy,” said Fediw, whose latest book, “The Manual of Interior Plantscaping” (Timber Press, $49.95), is set to be published in December.

Contemporary rectangular-shaped containers are all the rage locally according to Helen Melendez, owner of Henderson-based Green Fingers, an indoor plantscaping company that designs and maintains plant displays for commercial and residential clients throughout the valley.

“They’re clean, they’re modern,” which is “the look that people are going for these days,” Melendez said. “You bring in some plants with a nice container … and you have a different ambience (in a room) immediately.”

Tropical plants, especially those from the dracaena family, are especially popular and tend to thrive indoors in Southern Nevada.

“These are very hearty plants for people that are not familiar with maintaining plants,” Melendez explained. “They don’t require a lot of light … so that is a very good plant for homeowners.”

She said she has recently begun receiving requests from clients who want their plants hung on walls in decorative sconces.

“People don’t want plants on the floor,” she explained. “They don’t want the clutter (of pots), but they don’t mind having it on the walls, and that becomes a focal point … as art.”

Such requests are reflective of the fact that houseplant design has evolved to what Fediw called its current “fresher” state. “There are fewer plants being used in a room, but they are being used in more innovative ways.”

Case in point: vertical gardens. These displays require intricate (and sometimes pricey) potting and watering systems to mask entire walls with various species of greenery.

“You can do so much with them design-wise just by using colored foliage … that you can really create some unusual designs that look really beautiful,” Fediw said.

She suggests that homeowners who are interested in experimenting with vertical gardens start by purchasing a pre-planted kit sold by online retailers as well as at home improvement stores.

“Some come as fiber pockets that you can place plants in pots (in) and just line them up. Others look like little gutters that you put on a trellis backing, and they’re completely waterproof,” she explained of the kits. “There’s just an explosion of models that are created specifically for the home. You can grow basically any type of plants of these.”

Desert-friendly succulents, which are suitable for vertical gardens, have surged in popularity according to Heather Rhoades, whose website, gardeningknowhow.com, receives millions of monthly visitors in search of answers to plant-related queries.

Besides being easy to maintain and difficult to kill, succulents also boast a cleaner, more “structural” look than most other houseplants, she said.

“Plants have shapes, and I think sometimes people forget that,” Rhoades said, despite it being an important factor when incorporating plants into a home’s interior design.

“If you have a lot of long, flowing lines (in a house), then you’re going to want to look for a plant that has long, flowing lines. If you have a lot of round shapes or a very modern room, you might want to look for something that has a round shape. The succulents would be very good for a modern design.”

The same goes for orchids, which remain an uber-trendy design choice due to their exotic appeal.

“Twenty years ago, nobody kept orchids in their house,” Rhoades said, “and now you’re seeing orchids sold at your (local) gas station. It’s just a matter of teaching people how to care for these particular plants.”

The practice of aquaponics — growing and maintaining plants and aquatic animals in the same container — has been around for centuries, but is making a comeback.

“Now you’re seeing some pretty interesting ways to do it within the home,” she said. “They’re basically fish tanks with plants on top, so you can either keep a houseplant in there, or an edible plant like herbs. They have a symbiotic relationship: The fish will eat the decayed roots, and the plants keep the water oxygenated for the fish.”

Options abound for those looking to innovatively display plants throughout a home. Old jars, for example, make ideal environments for moss gardens, she said. “You can head down to your local thrift store and just pick up a variety of glass containers and put your plants in there, and it looks beautiful.”

It’s also stylish to group various types of plants in multiple containers of the same color and shape — a professional look that can be trickier to achieve than it would seem, Fediw said.

“You want to have plants that will look right together. A succulent is not going to look right with a palm tree — it just doesn’t go,” she explained.

The plants should also have similar lighting requirements and their heights should be staggered, “so that you can visually see that it’s not just one mess of plants.”

Rhoades encourages people to swap out their houseplants seasonally to reflect design changes that occur in the home.

“If you find a houseplant that looks good with your spring pillows, don’t feel bad if at the end of spring … you say, ‘I don’t want it anymore,’” she said, especially “if it’s a plant you bought at your local hardware store for $5.99.”

She also advised that those lacking a green thumb should not be deterred from attempting to decorate with houseplants.

“Don’t be afraid of a plant,” Rhoades said. “The worst that’s going to happen is you’re going to kill it. And the best that’s going to happen is you’re going to have something really spectacular for your house.”

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