Gardeners tend to accumulate plants indoors over the winter. Tender perennials that graced our patio containers beg to be saved from the first freeze and end up crowding our windowsills. On gray winter days, those bright tropicals at the store just jump into our shopping carts. Amaryllises, Christmas cactus, and other "holiday" bloomers fill any remaining sunny spots. After they've bloomed for this year, we can't just throw them out!
How can we accommodate all these winter houseguests?
Central heating keeps both humans and plants from freezing, but indoor air can get pretty dry in winter. Some plants can handle an occasional chilly windowsill, while others curl up their leaves at the least draft. Trays of gravel and water help provide extra humidity, but for many rain forest types, it's just not enough. If you're looking for additional plant space in your home, consider a room that's more humid and draft-free by design -- your bathroon!
Those small high windows in some bathrooms just beg to have a hanging plant in front of them. Maybe there's space for a plant shelf over a towel bar, or next to your tub. If you're a "shower person" who never uses the soaking tub in your master bath, you may have a perfect place for a grouping of large containers. It's easy to remember to water a plant that's right in front of you when you're brushing your teeth. A little corner by the sink is also a great place for a rooting vase - changing the water is quick, and the cuttings provide a splash of color.
When looking for space for some orchids several years ago, I put up shelves over the tub in our master bath. Rather than dealing with lots of little saucers that would be prone to overflowing when I watered, I found trays meant for window box planters that fit perfectly on my shelves. While shopping for the trays, I decided an actual window box would fit nicely on the lower shelf, giving me a good place for an assortment of episcias and other trailing plants. A layer of gravel in the trays lets me add extra water without drowning my plants.
The steam from your morning shower will give a big burst of welcome humidity to plants in your bathroom. For the rest of the day, humidity trays continue adding moisture to the air right around your plants. Get creative - trays, saucers, bowls, TupperwareTM, anything that fits under your plants and holds water can be put into service. Gravel isn't the only way to raise the plant pots above the water. Setting pots on a variety of saucers, overturned pots, flat rocks, jar lids, and so forth will serve the same purpose while adding visual interest to a group of plants.
You can cram a lot of plants into a little corner while still creating an appealing display. Pay attention to heights and textures, just as you would outside. Small potted plants can often be tucked into "bare spots" in bigger containers for the look of a mixed planting that's also easier to water. Even if you have space to spread them out, grouping your plants into lush islands of summer-green will give them more visual impact. Also, groups of plants create their own micro-climate, moderating temperature changes and increasing local humidity.
The bathroom isn't the only possibility for an oasis grouping of plants, of course. I scatter houseplants all over, but I also love to create little "jungle spots," preferably surrounding a comfortable reading chair. With scented geraniums and jasmine, upright lemongrass and cascades of Christmas cactus, small sweet bay and key lime trees vying for overhead space with dangling spider plants and tumbling pothos, bright-blooming amaryllis and African violets, my favorite reading corner is a winter oasis for my soul.
Photos by Jill M. Nicolaus. Hover your mouse over images and links for additional information.