Inside job

Text by David McDermott. Images by Daniel Haffner and David McDermott

Plantsman David McDermott examines plants suitable for interior commercial and residential environments

DESIGNERS AND MAKERS OF THE 21ST CENTURY have a wealth of material choices available to them. The best among us are exploring new ways to apply these materials in built form, while attempting to solve the often complex challenges of sustainability and durability.

As landscape architects, we are charged with applying the most wonderful and perhaps most challenging material of all – living plants. Our knowledge of plant species, their creative use in the built environment, and the long term maintenance of such installations is what can set us apart from other disciplines. Indoor planting is a clear example of the value of such specialised knowledge; it is one of the few situations where landscape professionals are invited into the realm of the interior architect, and it is our knowledge which can ensure the health of the interior garden and thus the success of the interdisciplinary project.

It was only a century or so ago that potted plants started to be moved indoors by experimenting gardeners - a usually exotic species would be fussed over in a prime growing position of the house - and in some respects little has changed since. Many of us will recall the sight of a lush hanging fern in the bathroom or laundry of our childhood homes, or perhaps it was a dusty, half-dead Ficus in the living room which comes to mind! With an increasingly urban population however, indoor gardens have become more popular and more diverse. The physical and mental health benefits of growing plants in our living/work spaces is now well documented, while the creative use of plants as a design element is at the forefront of 21st Century architecture. Multiple pot plants are now a must-have in many homes and retail spaces, while large-scale interior plantings are often specified as standard in modern city offices and apartment buildings.

 TRADESCANTIA FLUMINENSIS: This may be grown as an indoor plant invariegated forms. It requires moist soil to do well.

TRADESCANTIA FLUMINENSIS: This may be grown as an indoor plant invariegated forms. It requires moist soil to do well.

 BEGONIA: There are about 1795 species in this genus of perennials. Many are suitable for use as colourful and ornamental indoor plants.

BEGONIA: There are about 1795 species in this genus of perennials. Many are suitable for use as colourful and ornamental indoor plants.

The use of native plants for indoor planting is not well documented. Whether this is due to lack of experimentation, or because our most commonly cultivated native species are simply not suitable for indoor use, is ripe for investigation. Several of our native epiphytic and lithophytic species (see previous editions) are well suited to planting indoors however, due to their generally shallow root systems and their ability to adapt to challenging growing conditions.

Arthropodium bifurcatumcan be seen adorning interior green-walls throughout the country, its lush, drooping leaves and showy white flower spikes conjuring images of the northern coastal cliffs from where it originates. Fuchsia procumbensis a softly-spreading groundcover which is classified as ‘at risk’ in the wild, its rounded, lime-green leaves will hang veil-like over the edge of pots and fill spaces between larger indoor specimens. Microsorum pustulatum is one of several native ferns to make the list, it has broad, glossy fronds and a climbing-clinging habit - it is a handsome choice for low-light situations indoors. Peperomia urvilleanahangs from rock crevices and tree-forks in northern forests, making it a prime candidate for interior planting; its succulent, light green stems and oval leaves form a dense mound when grown in a pot in a semi-shaded position.

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