Jungle system: easy-going houseplants | Gardening recommendation

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Jungle formula: easy-going houseplants | Gardening advice

TThis week I stumbled across a copy of a half-century-old book on houseplants in a charity shop and was amazed at how cyclical gardening trends often are. On the cover were monstera leaves, a sealed balloon terrarium, a brass atomizer and (rather coincidentally) a sliced ​​avocado, all proudly displayed. Add in an upcycled cabinet with paperclip legs and a tongue-in-cheek beard, and it would pretty much be a gallery of ubiquitous millennial imagery. However, there’s one group of classic houseplants from the 1970s that haven’t made such a resounding comeback yet, though they’re arguably best suited to the 21st-century home: gesneriads.

This family of small, furry-leaved plants native to the world’s humid tropical rainforests is as easy to care for as it is beautiful. They’re super easy to propagate so don’t cost a fortune and grow in cool, dark spaces so don’t need energy-hungry supplemental heating and lighting to thrive. Many of us will still be familiar with the most famous of this group, the African violet, but there are many other trailing relatives that make eye-catching specimens for shelves and hanging baskets in small apartments where space is at a premium. They make me think of a distant woodland in the depths of a British winter every time I water and prune them.

La vie en rose: a pink Episcia cupreata flower in bloom. Photo: Noo Uma/Getty Images

I may be biased, having grown up with this little guy in the jungles of Southeast Asia, but Aeschynanthus longicaulis is a thing of real beauty. It grows epiphytically, adorning large trees with large garlands of its dark green leaves, marbled with pale veins and purple undersides. In summer and fall, the entire display is rounded off with perfectly matching yellow-green flowers, pollinated by sunbirds. It’s really easy to grow from cuttings, so if you have a friend who has one, you won’t have to pay a dime to get a plant.

From the other side of the world, in the Atlantic forests of Brazil, comes Codonanthe crassifolia. Cascades of small, emerald green leaves create a truly elegant effect, adorned with tiny white flowers all year round. Tickle the center of each with a brush and you’ll soon have a harvest of bright orange berries that will last for months, complementing the colorful display.

Finally, Episcia cupreata, native to Colombia, Venezuela and Brazil, creates a tapestry of soft, fluffy leaves with intricate metallic patterns on the forest floor in tones of silver and copper. There’s a reason the Victorians called them “carpet plants.” Unlike the previous two, which are dangling epiphytes with leaves hanging in Rapunzel-like curls, these bottom dwellers form neat rosettes but send out new babies on long stolons, much like strawberry plants spilling out of hanging baskets. Flowers are usually bright red, but pink and white forms are also available, all of which are incredibly easy to grow from seed, leaf cuttings, and stolons. Place each of these bright, indirect lights in pots of free-draining potting soil to mimic their woodland, and they’ll thank you with stunning displays in hanging baskets for years to come.

Follow James on Twitter @Botanygeek