"Designer spaces pretty much always include some element of life," said interior designer Brian Patrick Flynn, founder of decordemon.com. "The most common way to add life is with potted plants and trees."
We've asked Flynn, California-based interior designer Molly Luetkemeyer and Betsy Burnham of Burnham Design in Los Angeles for advice on choosing the right plants, potting them perfectly and keeping them blooming with minimal effort.
Where to start?
"Talking to someone at a nursery is a really good idea," said Burnham, because employees at garden stores and plant nurseries are usually glad to answer questions about choosing and caring for plants.
You can choose plants based on the spot in your home where you'd like to keep them (sundrenched windowsills, shady corners). Or you can select a plant you love and then ask for advice on where to put it.
"I'm only interested in plants and trees that are low-maintenance," Flynn said. "Give me something that requires daily care and/or delicate grooming, and it's most likely to go from green to brown or black in less than 72 hours."
All three designers like ferns, such as the maidenhair. "They're so delicate and soft," Luetkemeyer said. "and they're that pale green that's the beginning green of spring."
Maidenhairs are fairly easy to care for: "They need to be watered," she said, "but if you water them, they hang around."
If you want something larger and bolder than the delicate maidenhair, Flynn suggests the staghorn fern. Just remember that all ferns do best in shade rather than direct sunlight.
Luetkemeyer recommends daffodils, narcissus and hyacinth. She also loves gardenia plants for their heady fragrance and shiny leaves. But they do require a bit of effort.
"Any plant that's a woody plant, with a wood that's exposed, is going to be a little bit trickier," she said. Consider researching gardenias online to learn how much water and how much light your plant will need.
"A statement tree," said Burnham, "adds height to your room, and plays with the light at a window."
Flynn suggests fig trees: "Fiddle leaf fig trees are, hands down, my favorite," he said. "They're super architectural and almost kind of minimalist. Since these grow straight upwards, they're perfect for corners or flanking a fireplace or focal point without growing out and over it.
"The key to using them successfully is ensuring they don't come into contact with direct light, and that they're not exposed to dry heat," Flynn said.
Many grocery stores and nurseries sell herb plants such as mint or basil that are already blooming in small plastic pots. You can repot them into more attractive containers, then cluster several together on a countertop.
"What you plant something in makes just as much of a statement as the tree or plant itself," Burnham said.
One simple approach is to "put the plant into a fabulous low basket and cover it with reindeer moss," Burnham said. "You don't see the soil, and don't see the plastic container inside."
Luetkemeyer agrees that it's worth taking time to choose the right pots: "A pot is sort of like the frame on the piece of art. It sets the tone."
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