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Going Potty

Turning your house green from the inside out spoke to expert Jim Clarke about how to make the most out of plants around the home.

NOT EVERYBODY HAS the luxury of a back garden.

This can make getting in touch with nature that little bit harder.

However, for those living in built-up urban areas and apartments, what options are available to bring a bit of nature indoors?

To find out, spoke to Jim Clarke, plant sales director with Johnstown Garden Centre, about how to bring the outdoor inside.

So, plants. What are the benefits? 

They are suitable for everybody because they take in carbon dioxide and they give off oxygen, so they are very healthy for the room is one thing. They neutralise a lot of chemicals in the air as well which come from furniture and cushions.

NASA has done a lot of work on this in terms of research for looking at how it would work in a space station. They’ve analysed the effects the plants have on the air. A lot of them absorb chlorine and stuff that’s in melamine board, and benzines and things that are in the air. The plants absorb these and turn them into food for themselves.

shutterstock_137843150 Plants can have a beneficial effect on air quality in your home. Shutterstock / Olena Zaskochenko Shutterstock / Olena Zaskochenko / Olena Zaskochenko

They reduce headaches as the oxygen level is better. They are also easier on the eye and create an ambiance that is different from a cold, clinical office or a cold apartment with no plants in it. The difference when you have some green life in there, it has a positive mental effect on people.

They’re better suited to people with a lot of time though, right? Like older people… 

Depends on the types of plants. A bonsai plant for example would be a high maintenance plant that would be a bit like having a pet. You’d be minding that, watering it every two days. Something like an orchid you might only water every two weeks. Something like a cactus or aloe vera you might only water once a month.

So what about for someone who worked a lot and didn’t have any spare time? 

Aloe vera is very good. It looks a bit like a cactus sort of thing but it is fleshy and succulent. It is known as the medicine plant. I’d say nearly every home should have one because if you get burns on your skin or cuts or insect bites, you just rub a bit of the sap from the aloe vera plant on the cut area and it heals it. It forms a natural skin. It is put in a lot of things as a healing product – it is an instant medicine cabinet basically.

What’s the most popular plant at the moment? 

Orchids are the most popular indoor flowering plant at the moment. They are traditionally thought of being exotic and difficult to mind. They are actually very easy. They flower for about nine months continuously and you only water them about every two weeks. They suit modern lifestyles and they have a nice modern look to them as well.

shutterstock_70361299 Orchids are a very popular flower at the moment. Shutterstock / Pakhnyushchy Shutterstock / Pakhnyushchy / Pakhnyushchy

People are always looking for ways to pinch a few pennies. Can you grow your own food in the house?

On the kitchen windowsill, herbs and salads. Small lettuces – those you can do on the kitchen windowsill. That’s about all really though. Outside on the veranda or the porch steps you can have bigger containers. You can have potatoes, carrots, onions, garlic, all that kinds of material.

I saw someone with a lemon plant in their house a while ago. That seemed pretty odd. 

They are very good. They are actually better outside for the summer time. The lemon just needs frost protection in the winter. They are brought into a cool enough room. They don’t like a lot of hot dry air from central heating. From May onwards until October you put it outside and leave it outside all summer.

And what’s the weirdest plant you have for sale? 

A group of them called air plants and they grow on trees down in the Florida swamps. Sort of semi-tropical jungle areas, up on the branches of trees. They get mist, fog and light rain which keeps them alive and they just cling onto the branches of trees.

They have no roots, they just have a little foot that needs to cling onto something. Here you can use a bit of siloclone glue and stick them to sea shells or blocks of wood. Or you can glue them onto a rope that you could hang in your house. They are very different and very unusual. They just take everything they need in from the air.

And do people have to do anything clever to stop these plants from dying? 

Some of them, and particularly flowering plants, need the sunlight to produce good flowers. There are some shady ones that can tolerate the indoor conditions and traditionally in the wild they would be growing in the forest or a woodland so they are used to shady conditions. A palm tree for example would be from a shady woodland, so it is developed to be accustomed to very low light.

Jim Clarke’s top tips for keeping plants in the house

  • Plants are a good way to improve the air quality of a room. 
  • Aloe vera and cactus plants are very low maintenance.
  • Orchids are a very popular plant at the moment.
  • ‘Air plants’ are an unusual addition to a house. 
  • Certain foods can be grown on a kitchen’s windowsill. 

Read: Is buying a house abroad still a risky move?

Also: Building a house where the parking space is meant to be