"Let’s talk about House Plants," by the Whistling Gardener

Steve Smith is owner of Sunnyside Nursery in Marysville. Photo courtesy of Sunnyside Nursery.
Steve Smith is owner of Sunnyside Nursery in Marysville. Photo courtesy of Sunnyside Nursery.

This column is being reproduced with the permission of Steve Smith, The Whistling Gardener, and owner of Sunnyside Nursery in Marysville.

House plants are all the rage (again). That’s right, back in the late 60’s and early 70’s everyone was decorating their homes and apartments with all sorts of foliage plants and even making macramé hangers (myself included).

Society was in turmoil then with the Vietnam War and racial tensions, surrounding ourselves with plants had the effect, either consciously or unconsciously, of calming things down.

Well guess what, society is once again in turmoil and people, especially millennials, are doing like many of us boomers did back in the 70’s and surrounding themselves with plant life.

About four years ago I wrote about some of the benefits of having plants in our homes and at work, such as their ability to clean the air. There is actually something called the “sick building syndrome” where people get headaches, virus infections or develop allergies from all the compounds they are breathing in. House plants can clean these toxins out of the air of our homes.

In addition to the physical benefits of house plants, there is also the beneficial effect plants have on our mental health, or dare I say our “soul.” As human beings, I firmly believe that we are connected to all forms of life and that there is a spirit that runs through all creation, that on rare occasions we actually get to experience.

Building “relationships” with our houseplants helps to make us whole and feel fulfilled, in what otherwise is becoming an increasingly impersonal world.

Actually “growing” plants in our homes or office can be tricky. My wife (aka “The Missus”) does an amazing job with hers despite what I consider to be gross neglect. She waters them infrequently, rarely feeds them, and only on occasion gives them any grooming.

While this may sound abusive to some, it is most probably what keeps them from crapping out. The reason is simply that like most houses, light conditions are less than optimal, so the plants grow very slowly and consequently don’t need much water or food. This is especially true during our long and dark winters.

Even if you have big windows, supplemental lights and keep your house in the mid 70’s during our winters, most house plants don’t need to be fed. Once we move into spring and summer it is a different story.

If you have caught the houseplant bug but don’t feel like you are an expert, a simple internet search will reveal several lists of easy to grow houseplants. I asked my houseplant manager for her opinion and she recommended the following plants for beginners.

Snake Plant (Sanseveria) and its many cultivars is a bulletproof plant for anyone. Its thick leathery leaves never dry out and it rarely gets any bugs. If you forget to water it, it won’t wilt and it has a strong architectural quality that makes for a nice accent in the house.

Split-leaf Philodendron (Monstera) is another bold upright plant that makes a nice specimen and will grow up a pole if you train it. Its large “Swiss cheese-like” leaves are very dramatic.

Succulents and cactus are perfect if you have good light and are a negligent waterer, as these plants only need water once a month.

Whether you are a geezer like me, a millennial (which by the way is now the largest generation in America) or somewhere in-between, house plants can fill both a physical and spiritual need in your life. Check them out at your favorite garden center this month.

Sunnyside will be hosting a free class, “The Joy Of Houseplants,” Saturday, January 20th at 10:00 am.

Steve Smith is the owner of Sunnyside Nursery in Marysville, WA, and can be reached at

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