When I stayed with my friend Mina at her home in San Fransisco a couple weeks ago, the first thing I noticed when I stepped inside her place was how incredible her indoor garden is. Everywhere I looked there were beautifully arranged plants and flowers, and I couldn't stop telling her how impressed I was. (I also couldn't stop sending photos of the plants to my friends, which is probably why a couple of them blocked me on SnapChat.)
I shouldn't have been surprised by Mina's well-designed place; after all, she was one of the few people I knew in college who could transform a dark and drab dorm room into a bright and comfortable nook. But even still, there is something unique about the way she created her indoor garden that plays to the strengths of her house and the colors on its walls, floors and counter tops. Mina has done with plants what others will do with light: set a distinct mood. The one in her place is at once calming and energizing.
In an attempt to bring some of that energy to my own apartment, I asked her a million questions about her plants and how she approaches her garden. The interview below not only offers some excellent tips on designing and caring for an indoor garden, but it also shows how personal gardens are, and how they can be rooted in the places and people that we want to surround ourselves with.
You have an amazing indoor garden, and what inspired you to create it? What purpose does the garden serve?
Thank you! My inspiration comes from my mom. I grew up in South Florida with a Green-Thumbed Mama. Our house was filled with orchids, ferns, little potted seedlings on the kitchen sill... And the yard, a tropical oasis with what had to be over fifty kinds of plants, from bougainvillea to brugmansia. She tended to her plants every weekend when my brother and I were kids. Every time I visit her now, I'm newly inspired to care more for my own plants at home. I visited her a few weeks ago, and she took me to a flower emporium that made my eyes pop out of my head: hundreds of orchids, and a suspended wall of air plants threaded to each other. I was mystified. San Francisco's climate is quite different from that of South Florida. While I have a lot of orchids, I can't have the same plants I grew up with. There's been a lot of trial and error in figuring out what lives well in this dry, sunny climate. Succulents, for example, are great. Having happy plants brings me so much joy, and caring for something and watching it grow is a fulfilling little venture.
How many plants do you have and did you get them all at once or over time?
I think I have 11 different times of plants, slowly acquired over time. I'm not a natural when it comes to plants, so I've had my moments where I've gotten something pretty, like a maidenhair fern, and accidentally killed it because I didn't mist it enough. Slowly, I've learned what looks good, what has a place in my house, and how to care for plants. They're all a happy group of friends now!
What types of plants are in your home? How did you pick them?
I have: a bird of paradise, two types of fern, six orchids, a philodendron, two rubber trees, a snake plant, eight varieties of succulent, and four plants that were gifts whose names I don't know. Most of these are young plants that are in the process of growing, aside from one rubber tree that's almost 7 feet tall, and the snake plant, which can't grow much more. Most of these plants are relatively easy to care for and last a long time in San Francisco's climate. The Ferns, however, I couldn't resist because they're so green, lush, and delicate. Those require daily attention, but watching them grow on my dining room table is so fun!
Not only do you have so many different plants, but you've arranged them in various, interesting ways. How did you decide which plants to display in certain planters?
Half of these plants, like the 7 foot tall rubber tree, the bird of paradise, the ferns, and some of the orchids stay in the dining/living room, which are open spaces that get lots of light. The dining/living room is also the first room you walk into in my house, so seeing all those plants first thing is just lovely! Plus, it's nice to have the plants in the rooms where guests most often sit. One trough of succulents and three orchids live in the kitchen, and the rest of the plants are in my room, which also gets a lot of natural light. The planters are kind of a mélange: random pots from Trader Joe's (their orchids are fab), dollar pots from garage sales, terra-cotta and glazed planters from the local nursery, and pots I've painted white myself. I once thought uniform planters would provide a nice, clean aesthetic... but a hodge-podge is fun and lively!
Your garden feels very balanced in terms of the number and size of the plants in different parts of your house. How did you think about that?
Well, I'm glad it appears that way! Some thought was certainly paid to balance, but to be honest, not too much. The livelihood of the plant is first priority when deciding its placement in the house. Aesthetic and feng-shui are second.
I'm getting better at not killing my plants, but some of them are harder to care for than others. What tricks have you picked up for keeping them happy?
I ask my mom, and if she's busy (a.k.a., in pottery class), then I consult Google. In the beginning of plant parenthood, I either over- or under-watered my plants. Watering technique is a somewhat delicate balance. For example, for plants that live in soil, just water when the soil becomes dry. But for an orchid, an ice cube or two once a week does the trick, as it slowly waters the plant. Misting orchid leaves is also key to keeping them happy if you're in a drier climate. Young plants require more attention than mature ones. I have these two baby Ferns that I water almost every day. A grown plant, like my 7 foot rubber tree, gets one giant watering a week.
What’s the hardest part about maintaining them? Which plants are the most difficult to care for?
With my younger plants, I'm never quite sure when they need to be re-potted into bigger planters so they can continue to grow. I'm also usually terrified that I'm going to kill the succulents. I love keeping them indoors, like in the kitchen or in my bedroom, but I know they thrive outside. I try to put them out on our small balcony when I'm gone for the weekend, or when it's raining.
What would you like to add to the garden this year?
There's a small yard in the back of the apartment. We put some fake grass down in January, and we have some large native plants growing around the grass. I'd love to fill in some holes with lavender and rosemary, which grows wild here. I'd also love to find a tropical palm for my bedroom, but since those aren't native, they tend to be quite expensive. Also, a cactus garden would be dreamy!
Do you have any advice on where to get plants from? Do have a preference among farmers markets, garden stores, or big home-care stories like Home Depot?
I love the Sloat Garden Centers out here in the Bay Area. It's where I've gotten most of my plants from. As a kid, I can't remember one trip to the Home Depot when my mom didn't pick something up. Trader Joe's has amazing orchids at a pretty inexpensive price. Just remember to get the ones with lots of buds on the stems; they'll last longer and bloom later! Also, if you live in San Francisco, never buy succulents. They grow wild here, so just get clippings of the varieties you like and plant them in little pots of soil yourself. Water occasionally, and they'll grow!