How to create your own urban jungle
Winter is nearly here, but you can still hold on to that summer feeling at home — at least if Igor Josifovic and Judith de Graaff have anything to do with it. As joint authors of Urban Jungle: Living and Styling with Plants, they are among a cohort of bloggers and interior designers espousing the benefits of bringing the outdoors indoors. The book guides the reader through five “green” homes and is crammed with ideas for incorporating plants into interior design. According to the authors and their green-fingered friends, whose tips are included in the book, every room — even the bathroom — should have a touch of the botanical. Styling advice includes grouping plants together, combining contemporary ceramics and vintage pots to create an eye-catching tableau, and remembering that if the shelves and window sills are taken, there’s always room for a terracotta hanging basket.
It is aimed at amateurs as well as experts; you don’t have to be a dedicated horticulturist to create your own “urban jungle”. Terrariums (miniature indoor gardens in glass containers), hanging baskets and wall-mounted planters are all low maintenance.
Oliver Bonas has a good selection of mirrored-base terrariums from £16, and West Elm, a home-furnishing shop, has quirky ceramic, llama-shaped planters starting at £39. Online companies such as The Balcony Gardener and The Urban Botanist have a wider and more eclectic range, from tall wine glass-shaped planters to hanging globe terrariums. If you want to stick to pots, Garden Trading has an assortment in warm shades of cocoa and grey.
On an aesthetic level plants breathe life into a room, but there are also proven health benefits to having them in the home. Natural air purifiers, plants remove toxins, release oxygen, help to regulate room temperature and balance humidity. Studies have shown that they also reduce fatigue and stress.
Isabelle Palmer, the founder of The Balcony Gardener, suggests arranging house plants in odd numbers and incorporating a mixture of textures to maximise their appeal. “I think odd numbers are more aesthetically pleasing. Whether it’s three plants or five, you can have pots in different sizes, textures and shapes. In terms of hanging plants, there are macramé holders, which you can find in lots of nice colours.”
As for terrariums, “they’re great because you have basically got this miniature garden world”, Palmer says. “If it’s sealed, then it will look after itself. You just need to occasionally prune it.” She recommends adding small objects such as rocks, sticks or shells “to create a landscape” and make them look more interesting. “I usually put the stones in first and work around them, adding the soil and pebbles,” she says.
Another trick is to add props from dolls’ houses: she has made use of miniature newspapers, wine bottles and deckchairs in her terrariums.
Lucy Serafi, the owner of The Urban Botanist, suggests choosing containers that are “design led and accentuate the shape and the colour of the plant”. Her brand has a range of copper-solded and monochrome terrariums.
Naturally the species of plant will affect the level of upkeep; those with little time on their hands should be pragmatic. Serafi favours succulents, cacti and air plants because they are the easiest to look after. Another popular choice for interiors is moss — specifically moss art, where the plant is displayed artistically within a frame.
Alan Page, the franchise director at Urban Planters, an interiors company specialising in plants, says: “A lot of the inquiries we get are from people who live in city centres or have limited garden space. Moss art is one way of adding the feel of greenery.” Indeed, any live planting can be framed to adorn a wall, he explains.
There are large-scale options for those wanting more than a splash of green (but remember, the bigger the plant display, the higher the maintenance). Living walls — panels of plants grown vertically — can make an attractive feature.
Martin Leather, the owner of Bright Green, a landscaping company, says: “There has been a move away from corporate towards residential. Living walls are becoming more mainstream.” They can be applied to surfaces including steel, timber, plaster and concrete, and some people are drawn to them as an unusual way to divide a room or form a centrepiece in a large living space. However, installation and upkeep can be costly — about £400 a sq m.
“You need to commit to maintaining them,” Leather says. “Depending on the size of the wall, they often need an automatic irrigation system. If they do, they’re going to need drainage as well, so that if the automatic irrigation system fails, then you have a means for the excess water to escape.” Living walls up to 10 sq m can be watered manually.
Like Josifovic and De Graaff, Leather has noticed a trend towards “greening up” interiors and believes it can only be a good thing. “People are more aware of the benefits of having living plants even in relatively small quantities, and particularly in an urban environment.”
Urban Jungle: Living and Styling with Plants (£25) is published by Callwey