Tall, elegant houseplants can add a vivid flourish to today’s clean and clinical home. And, surprisingly, some do more than just look good
Back in the day, when lava lamps and Hostess tea trolleys were all the rage, no self-respecting home was without a rubber plant; an ungainly, spindly, temperamental thing with large, glossy green leaves which came in a small pot and, if left unchecked, was prone to becoming top heavy and falling over.
That and the Swiss Cheese Plant, a brooding monster with large broad, cutaway foliage and seemingly Triffid-like potential.
Together, they were the Seventies’ horticultural equivalent of cheese and pineapple cubes on sticks, lamps made from old wine bottles and geometric orange wallpaper.
Times, thankfully, change and today’s style-conscious homeowner is more likely to go for a dramatic palm with lustrous, spiky leaves to complement the lines of their bright, minimalistic interiors or to blend with subtle grey feature walls.
This autumn’s must-have statement plant is the Madagascar Dragon Tree, a tall, resilient and attractive specimen with long, lance-like green leaves on thin stalks and are often handily potted in clusters of two or three of varying height. They do best in bright conditions but can tolerate medium to low light. However, what has the hipsters buzzing is that NASA says they remove harmful chemicals from the air.
The ficus family are also likely to make an impression. The Weeping Fig is well-known for its bushy, glossy tree-like form but don’t discount the larger-leaved Fiddle Leaf fig with its waxy, darker foliage or the African Fig, which grows upright to about 7ft and has flashy, green leaves that help to maintain the humidity level in homes.
However, the star of the family is the Ficus Alii, a tall slender-stemmed individual which has dark green leaves that spread from the top and create quite an impression when positioned in the corner of whitewashed walls.
Palms are slow to grow but the rewards are worth the wait. If you are a fan of distinctive foliage, the European Fan Palm is the one for you; a giant of a house plant which can grow up to 9ft, it has a significant spread and can tolerate cooler temperatures. Alternatively, the beautiful Majesty Palm with its dense foliage is a fast-grower that will hit the heights in a shady space.
More familiar perhaps are the tree-like Kentia and Areca Palms, with their bright green fronds which bring a tropical look to any room. Both tolerate low temperatures and can grow up to 7ft, although the former does well in low natural light while the latter loves plenty of sunlight.
And even if you feel you are not in the least green-fingered, there’s always succulents such as the stunning Ponytail Palm, Corn Plant and that living room and conservatory stalwart, the Yucca, all robust with a splash of green foliage atop chunky stems.