1. Life & Culture

Tips for decorating your home with plants

As an alternative to greenery, fruits can be grouped in clear glass vessels. Here, Flynn used apothecary jars.
As an alternative to greenery, fruits can be grouped in clear glass vessels. Here, Flynn used apothecary jars.
Published Oct. 18, 2013

Decorating with plants "kind of fell out of vogue" for a time, says California interior designer Molly Luetkemeyer. But it's become popular again in recent years. • Today, "designer spaces pretty much always include some element of life," says interior designer Brian Patrick Flynn, founder of "The most common way to add life is with potted plants and trees." • We've asked Flynn, Luetkemeyer and Betsy Burnham of Burnham Design in Los Angeles for advice on choosing the right plants, potting them perfectly and keeping them lush with minimal effort.

Where to start?

"Talking to someone at a nursery is a really good idea," says Burnham, because employees at garden stores and plant nurseries are usually glad to answer questions about choosing and caring for plants.

You can choose plants based on the spot in your home where you'd like to keep them (sun-drenched windowsills, shady corners or in-between spaces that get a mix of sun and shade). Or you can select a plant you love and then ask for advice on where to place it.

If you have pets or small children, ask whether a plant you're considering is poisonous. And if you want plants that need very little attention, don't be shy about saying so.

Fabulous ferns

All three designers like ferns, such as the maidenhair. "They're so delicate and soft," says Luetkemeyer. "They're fresh, and they're that pale green that's the beginning green of spring."

Maidenhairs are fairly easy to care for: "If you water them, they hang around," she says.

Consider grouping several together in small pots or buying just one large fern.

"They can ground a space grouped together in odd numbers in pots of varied heights on the floor," Flynn says. Or "you can use them to add life high up in a room with hanging basket planters. And then they also look excellent potted and placed on a pedestal, coffee table or console table."

If you want something larger and bolder than the delicate maidenhair, Flynn suggests the staghorn fern. Just remember that all ferns do best in shade rather than direct sunlight.

Flowering plants

"I love plants that flower in the spring," says Luetkemeyer, who recommends daffodils, narcissus and hyacinth. She also loves gardenia plants for their heady fragrance and shiny leaves. But they do require a bit of effort.

"Any plant that's a woody plant, with a wood that's exposed, is going to be a little bit trickier," she says. Research gardenias online to learn how much water and light your plant will need.

And with all potted plants, Luetkemeyer suggests placing a dish underneath the pot to catch and maintain the water, then placing a coaster underneath the dish to protect the furniture or floor.

Potted trees

"A statement tree," says Burnham, "adds height to your room, and plays with the light at a window."

Her clients often opt for the color and fragrance of small citrus trees in their homes or at the entrance to a patio or yard. "They require light and require water," Burnham says, "but they have fabulous floral blooms in addition to the color of the fruit.

Flynn also suggests fig trees: "Fiddle leaf fig trees are, hands down, my favorite," he says. "They're super architectural and almost kind of minimalist. Since these grow straight upward, they're perfect for corners or flanking a fireplace or focal point without growing out and over it."

"I also use fiddle leaf fig trees in unexpected places," he says, "just to add a big burst of life into an otherwise utilitarian space such as a bathroom or even offices. The key to using them successfully is ensuring they don't come into contact with direct light, and that they're not exposed to dry heat."

Countertop herbs

"This might be a great time to put some herbs in your kitchen," Luetkemeyer says. Many grocery stores and nurseries sell herb plants such as mint or basil in small plastic pots. You can repot them into more attractive containers, then cluster several together on a countertop.

Perfect potting

"What you plant something in makes just as much of a statement as the tree or plant itself," says Burnham.

Take time shopping for exactly what you want. "Add a little extra effort," she says, "and you get a really chic little addition to your room."

Luetkemeyer agrees that it's worth taking time to choose the right pots: A pot is "sort of like the frame on the piece of art. It sets the tone."

Nonplant options

If you don't wish to commit to even a low-maintenance plant, Flynn suggests you "work in fruits in decorative ways."

"Oranges, clementines, apples and limes ... look excellent grouped in vessels," he says. "The key to getting it right is to separate them, and not have different types of fruit within the same grouping. My favorite way to use fruit decoratively is by placing them in apothecary jars in different heights and sizes."