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14 Questions with Melissa Lowrie, Author of ‘Terrain: The House Plant Book’

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14 Questions with Melissa Lowrie, Author of ‘Terrain: The House Plant Book’

October 25, 2022

When Melissa Lowrie was young, she would accompany her mom on trips to the local nursery. It was there in the shop’s greenhouse that she discovered the sensitive plant (Mimosa pudica), whose leaves open in the sunlight and fold up when you touch them.

She was instantly smitten. It ignited a love for houseplants that has only grown over the decades. Today, the divisional merchandise manager for plants and gardens at Terrain has channeled this love into a new book—Terrain: The House Plant Book (Artisan Books), an informative and inspiring guide to collecting and growing plants at home. The book, written with the Terrain plant team, contains in-depth profiles of treasured varieties, organized by how they grow and how you’d use them at home, along with detailed care advice. It also highlights the dedicated growers (“some of the best people I’ve ever met”) that Lowrie visits throughout the year as she searches for unusual specimen to bring to market.

Melissa Lowrie of Terrain. Photograph by Kate Jordan.
Above: Melissa Lowrie of Terrain. Photograph by Kate Jordan.

“Houseplants have always been closest thing to my heart,” she says. “In this book I get to celebrate them.” Here, she shares some of her favorites and expertise.

Favorite houseplant?

You can train the vines of the slow-growing Stephania perrieri on a wire hoop or frame. Photograph by Kate Jordan. Excerpted from Terrain: The Houseplant Book by Melissa Lowrie and the plant team at Terrain (Artisan Books). Copyright © \20\2\2. 
Above: You can train the vines of the slow-growing Stephania perrieri on a wire hoop or frame. Photograph by Kate Jordan. Excerpted from Terrain: The Houseplant Book by Melissa Lowrie and the plant team at Terrain (Artisan Books). Copyright © 2022. 

Impossible question, but right now I’m getting a lot of joy from my Stephania perrieri, a vining caudex from Southeast Asia, also known as Climbing Rock Plant. I have probably about 120 houseplants of various sizes in my house now, and am focusing more on smaller plants, like varieties of caudex and Hoya, that will stay contained so I can have more.

Favorite pots?

I typically use terra-cotta or other natural, unsealed porous clays, which are ideal for maintaining predictable moisture levels. We have new pigment-dyed containers at Terrain that I love because of their modern silhouettes and color palette. They are lightweight and feel like porcelain. Like terra-cotta, these pots allow the plant to breathe and regulate moisture.

Splurge-worthy plant?

The Giant Fan Palm (Licuala sumawongii) makes a statement in any room. It can reach \10 feet in height and six feet wide. Photograph by Kate Jordan. Excerpted from Terrain: The Houseplant Book by Melissa Lowrie and the plant team at Terrain (Artisan Books). Copyright © \20\2\2. 
Above:The Giant Fan Palm (Licuala sumawongii) makes a statement in any room. It can reach 10 feet in height and six feet wide. Photograph by Kate Jordan. Excerpted from Terrain: The Houseplant Book by Melissa Lowrie and the plant team at Terrain (Artisan Books). Copyright © 2022. 

These days, I’m mostly focused on Hoya and weird Begonia, but as far as larger investments are concerned, I am more prone to splurging on the right size plant for a particular space. I might be willing to pay more for say a slow growing, mature Licuala sumawongii or another focal piece to get the right scale for my space.

Best advice for new parents?

Pay attention to your plant. Look at the signs it’s giving you and take time to understand what those signs mean. Plants tell us a lot. Once you have those signs down it’s not so overwhelming. Also don’t be too precious about it. Obviously, a plant is a living thing, and we want to take care of it, but give yourself permission to make mistakes. That’s how we all learn. Sometimes you can save a cutting and start again. But it’s okay if you lose one. Once you start to recognize when a plant is failing and figuring out why, you’ll be able to help it.

Go-to houseplant source?

Founded in \189\2, Logee’s specializes in fruiting, rare, and tropical plants, as well as an extensive selection of Begonia. Photograph courtesy of Logee’s Plants for Home & Garden.
Above: Founded in 1892, Logee’s specializes in fruiting, rare, and tropical plants, as well as an extensive selection of Begonia. Photograph courtesy of Logee’s Plants for Home & Garden.

Other than Terrain? 😉 My favorites are old collector growers with particular interests, like Gardino in Florida and Logees in Connecticut. E-commerce makes these places accessible to lots of folks, but there’s nothing more fun in plant hunting than digging through a wild, overgrown greenhouse to find weirdo treasures hidden in the chaos. I always make a point to visit new growers and nurseries.

Next fiddle leaf fig?

That’s so tricky! I think the plant industry is diversifying, which is exciting. I don’t know that we’ll see a single plant rise quite the way that these trend drivers [fiddle leaf fig and monstera] have because of the way that plant availability and genetics are shifting in the industry. I do think, however, that as people learn more about what works for them in their spaces and what really holds their interests, we’ll see broader micro trends continue to surface.

Plant you just don’t like?

Spathiphyllum (Peace Lily) is not a favorite, and things like Ficus benjamina (Ficus tree).

Best houseplant for beginners?

Silvery-blue Epipremnum pinnatum ‘Cebu Blue’ (aka Philodendron ‘Cebu Blue’) prefers indirect light and a well-drained potting blend. Water only when the soil is dry. Photograph by Kate Jordan. Excerpted from Terrain: The Houseplant Book by Melissa Lowrie and the plant team at Terrain (Artisan Books). Copyright © \20\2\2. 
Above: Silvery-blue Epipremnum pinnatum ‘Cebu Blue’ (aka Philodendron ‘Cebu Blue’) prefers indirect light and a well-drained potting blend. Water only when the soil is dry. Photograph by Kate Jordan. Excerpted from Terrain: The Houseplant Book by Melissa Lowrie and the plant team at Terrain (Artisan Books). Copyright © 2022. 

It depends, of course, on light conditions and a person’s proclivity for watering. But aside from the usual recommendations like a snake plant and zz plant, I like many of the climbing aroids. Epipremnum pinnatum ‘Cebu Blue’, and the popular Monstera Swiss Cheese vine (Monstera adansonii) are two easy-to-grow options I recommend, and I think are potentially more exciting starter plants.

Worst houseplant chore?

I really don’t like bug infestation cleanup. It is super tedious and time consuming. And if I’m being honest, sometimes I will weigh out the cost benefit of doing it. Will this recover if I put the time into it? No one wants to spend an hour wiping mealy off a plant. It’s no fun. But I will do it for a plant I’ve invested in, for sure.

Favorite seed sources?

Eden Brothers have an amazing array of flower seed mixes. I especially love their dahlia tubers and poppy selections. They also provide valuable information on timing for gardeners on their packets. Good Seed Co. has a really great mission, selling heirloom and open-pollinated non-GMO seeds for everyday use. I have a vegetable garden at home and grow a lot of heirloom tomatoes and herbs.

Garden tool you can’t live without?

A Hori hori!

Favorite pruners?

ARS All-Purpose pruners; \$4\2 at Terrain.
Above: ARS All-Purpose pruners; $42 at Terrain.

I have a favorite, well-worn pair of FELCO #2’s that I keep with me always. For most of my houseplant work I am religious about keeping snips on every floor in the house to allow for easy and continual maintenance. ARS bypass pruners are a favorite for more heavy-duty work. I make sure to clean them with alcohol after each use.

Most dog-eared gardening book?

For veggie gardening, Mark Highland’s book Practical Organic Gardening is a super helpful resource. Mark is the owner of Organic Mechanics and an old friend of the Terrain brand. He has a great perspective, and his knowledge is immense. For pleasure reading and inspiration, I pick up The Earth in Her Hands. It is a celebration of women across every kind of plant related career and how they’re creating change.

Favorite garden refuge?

One of the great public gardens in the US, Longwood Gardens in Kennett Square, PA, features formal gardens, meadows, conservatories, fountains, and more than \10,000 species and varieties of plants. Photograph courtesy of Longwood Gardens.
Above: One of the great public gardens in the US, Longwood Gardens in Kennett Square, PA, features formal gardens, meadows, conservatories, fountains, and more than 10,000 species and varieties of plants. Photograph courtesy of Longwood Gardens.

Longwood has been my happy place for a long while. I grew up in the area and had a membership when I was in high school and college. I would spend time there reading and writing. I try to seek out new gardens and glasshouses everywhere I go.

Terrain: The House Plant Book by Melissa Lowrie is in bookstores starting today.
Above: Terrain: The House Plant Book by Melissa Lowrie is in bookstores starting today.

For more on caring for houseplants, see:

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