ISSUE 97  |  Love Letter to the Houseplant

Required Reading: The Unexpected Houseplant

November 14, 2013 6:00 PM

BY Jeanne Rostaing

When it comes to gardening, I admit to being a bit of a snob. Gardening, to me, is done outdoors while wearing sturdy garden boots and wielding things like pitchforks and axes. It involves digging and hauling and getting soaked in the rain, broiled by the sun and blown around by the wind.

Caring for house plants, on the other hand, has never seemed like real gardening. My prejudice, however, has melted away lately under the influence of a book called The Unexpected Houseplant by Tovah Martin with photographs by Kindra Clineff.

Photographs via The Unexpected Houseplant.


Above: The book opens one’s eyes to a vast array of plants, normally seen outdoors, that can be successfully and impressively grown inside. Martin makes it clear that you do not have to shop for your indoor plants only in the house plant section of your local nursery. You are not limited to spider plants (in fact, Martin condones throwing those in a dumpster) or trying to keep last year’s poinsettia from dropping dead.

Be warned that this book engenders so much enthusiasm for indoor flora that you can find yourself outdoors with a shovel in your hand robbing your own garden of plants to bring inside. I know. It happened to me.


Above: Information about caring for specific plants is arranged in a format that gives the plant’s attributes along with its growing requirements. As Martin points out, you have more control over the growing climate indoors than outside. The back of the book contains a primer of basic plant care as well as information on buying plants–”the secret lies in selecting a plant that tugs at your heartstrings”–and picking appropriate containers.


Above: This is not a dilettante’s engaging discourse on the joys of indoor gardening. Martin makes it clear she has successfully grown all the plants she covers and that it takes work, a lot of work, and a sort of hyper-sensitive attention to the plants. She even suggests that you approach it “with the fervor you pour on your pets.”


Above: Martin also offers tips to gardeners on her blog Plantswise. I’m thinking of writing to her about a couple of issues. As a brownstone dweller, I have few windows and only north and south exposures. She recommends a lot of plants for east and/or west facing windows but very few for those that face north. Am I limited to ivies and hellebores, or can she suggest others? And my few pitiful windowsills are all located on top of radiators… proven plant destroyers. Tovah, you’ve got me hooked. What should I do now?


Do you think your Tiarella cordifolia has to spend the winter outdoors under a snow bank? Certainly not, according to Tovah Martin who says, “Foamflowers are disarmingly easy to grow indoors.”

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Above: Martin, who lives and gardens in Connecticut, is described as having a “serious house plant addiction.” The Unexpected Houseplant is available for $16.78 from Amazon.

N.B. This is an update of a post that originally published on December 17, 2012.

For more ideas, see 802 images of House Plants in our Gallery of rooms and spaces.