Plants have as much power as a piece of art, beautiful fabric, or favourite antique to make a room sing, but decorating with them requires just as much consideration as anything else. We chatted with an interior designer, landscape architect, floral designer, and well-known tastemaker about design strategies to implement when bringing plants into the home. Plus, our experts have shared a few favourite houseplants to help you get started—as well as their top sources for impeccable faux options if you’re wary of the added responsibility.
Consider your layout and decoration before purchasing
Renowned landscape architect Janice Parker says it’s important to take note of the layout of your space and the type of design being utilised there before bringing in plant life. She also advises considering how much natural light your space gets, as well as where it receives the most and least light to help narrow down your choices for which plants to decorate with.
“I like to use orchids on one side or the other of a fireplace or entry to make a symmetrical layout,” says Parker. “If you have a traditional house, you can use the plants as you would use two tables on either side of your sofa. Work with your layout in a way that makes sense and choose plants that have their own personalities but will still complement your interiors.”
Parker says that a room with traditional furnishings will be complemented by palm trees, ferns, African violets, and plants that will look great in a classic blue and white container. When it comes to sleeker, more contemporary spaces, Parker suggests decorating with tropical plants and cacti.
“Usually, modern interiors have lots of light, so you can use larger and more striking plants such as Chestnut Vine,” says Paula Ellis, a London-based floral designer and assistant buyer of House & Home for TOAST. “More traditional buildings tend to have smaller rooms and require simpler arrangements. For example, a fern works well in more classic rooms.”
Take inspiration from your natural surroundings
All of our experts advised looking beyond your interiors to the surrounding environment as well when decorating indoors with plants. Margaret Parker, an interior designer based in Houston, Texas, says that she sources plants that are native to the natural geography of each project, which helps give any room a sense of place, no matter the design. Ellis says she selects plants to complement the surrounding landscape, opting for soft, delicate plants for rural settings and more sculptural options for the city.
“Embracing where you are is crucial to beautiful authenticity,” says tastemaker and Z.d.G. founder Zöe de Givenchy. “In the winter in the country when there are no longer flowers in the garden, I bring in potted hellebores, azalea, and cyclamen to bring colour and vitality into the house. And in the Bahamas, I’m dedicating an entire room to potted palms and ferns, which will serve as a cooling breezeway between my two garden guest bedrooms.”
Opt for design-centric vessels
No matter how beautiful and well-kept your plants are, they’re only as appealing as the vessel they’re housed in. Our experts say that finding the right container is as important as choosing the plant itself.
“Make sure to use bold, beautiful vessels like an antique urn or reclaimed primitive wood container,” says Margaret Parker. “Placement is everything, too. We recently decided to place a larger than life fig atop an Italian sculptor's table, allowing it to practically spill into the space. It's a whole moment!”
Ellis notes that plants can really pack a punch when they are used in abundance. She says you can turn them into a work of art by creating a hanging installation with varieties of Rhipsalis hung at different levels to create depth and balance, for example.
“I often disguise plant pots in a basket such as a TOAST Hogla Storage Basket as they are lightweight and add a different texture,” says Ellis. “Plants such as Oxalis or fragrant herbs work wonderfully incorporated into a table setting to create a focal point for a room. I recommend the TOAST Longpi Indoor Planter, with its deep black patina, as it offers height and modernity.”
Janice Parker goes one step further to say that it’s not just about the pot but about how you pot the plant. She advises choosing beautiful containers with a saucer if you will water the plants in them, and she always places a cork circle or marble tray between the pot, saucer, and furniture or floor to prevent water marks so you don’t ruin your historic wood flooring or favourite antique side table in the process.
“Most people do have some sort of art that includes natural landscapes or scenes in the home, so having real plants will really resonate, and if people don’t have art in that space, then plants will really be needed to connect us to the outdoors,” she says.
Pay attention to seasonality
Plants can be a helpful means of changing the mood in your house according to the season, as de Givenchy points out. Whether you have access to a host of plants right outside your front door or need to bring in potted plants or cut flowers, she advises using seasonality to your advantage. de Givenchy especially loves to use potted paperwhites and amaryllis at Christmas and forced bulbs in any sort of vessel throughout the spring months.
Whether there’s an upcoming holiday or it’s the heat of the summer, de Givenchy also likes to install potted or flowering plants in a forgotten guest bathroom or bedroom so that the space is always ready for visitors—expected or otherwise. If you’re looking for something seasonal but low-maintenance to bring organic elegance to a lesser-used space (meaning you can basically forget about it most weeks), Margaret Parker suggests filling the room with artfully placed cherry blossoms or fresh branches in a beautiful pot for visual impact.
Take advantage of the versatility of your houseplants
“I always think of architecture and furniture being called the ‘frozen music’ in the home," says Janice Parker, "but plants are always changing and growing, and they can easily be moved around,” she says. She also notes that plants are supposed to be the supporting actors, not the star of the show and should never overwhelm a room. Looking at your plants as temporary elements of decoration can free you to move your plants around as they take shape and grow larger—and it also gives you some grace if they do wither and die.T he landscape architect says that life and death is part of caring for houseplants and to expect some failures whether you’re just starting out or have been propagating for years. When you stop expecting perfection, you can enjoy the process all the more.
For those with green thumbs…
de Givenchy loves working with myrtle topiary, snake plants, and rare ferns in her mid-century home in L.A. and potted palms and ferns at her home in the Bahamas.
Margaret Parker’s favourite house plant is the Ficus Triangularis, which she says is an extremely rare species with quirky features that work well in both formal and casual environments. She also loves the “effortless class” of a black olive tree.
Ellis enjoys bringing in trailing or creeping plants like Philodendron Scanden, Chestnut vine, and Grape Ivy. She recommends Oxalis Triangularis for smaller houseplants with leaves that also make fabulous salad garnishes.
Janice Parker has never been without a spathiphyllum in her home which she says is both one of the easiest plants to care for and one of the prettiest. She also loves the tropical-looking Ficus Elastica.
For those who have yet to find their green thumbs…
Margaret Parker advises decorating with branches and leaves can still help you achieve a sense of natural beauty on a table or in a room.
De Givenchy says topiary can be done really easily in faux form and she adores Casa Gusto’s papier-mâché leaves and flowers, as well as their hand-painted tin flowers that she says look even better than the real thing.
Ellis likes working with Abigail Ahern or Dowsing & Reynolds when in need of faux plants, but she also suggests trying out some seriously hardy plants like succulents to build your plant confidence.
This story originally appeared on House & Garden UK