FOR much of the 19th century, Liverpool was home to the biggest collection of exotic orchids in the country. There was a constant influx of new species, and some were named after the grower first to coax the alien into flower so far from home. Cattleya mossiae was introduced in 1836, and flowered in the collection of Mrs Moss, the wife of a banker, Thomas Moss, in the suburb of Aigburth.
Most of the grand villas of Aigburth are still there, but the ornate conservatories, or “stove houses”, which housed solicitors’ and wealthy merchants’ precious collections, have long gone. The dwellings now tend to be multi-occupancy, and front gardens are full of cars and wheelie bins.
The eagle-eyed, however, walking down the wide streets, will spot many an orchid: probably a Phalaenopsis, or moth orchid. They will be on windowsills rather than pedestals, and their owners, typically 20-somethings, are working hard, but not yet putting down roots. The ubiquitous moth orchid has been selectively bred from just a few wild species to be easily cared for in modern homes.
Houseplant sales are soaring, partly owing to the renting generation. At a time when young people despair of ever owning a home, and are spending more on travel and experiences, they enjoy pot plants over gardens.
Houseplants are affordable, can move with you, and still offer the therapy that nurturing something beyond ourselves can bring. They literally bring life into our living spaces, and can absorb pollutants from stale indoor air. Not since the 1970s and ’80s have they been so on trend.
The writer and editor Jane Perrone, presents “On the Ledge”, an engaging podcast about indoor gardening. She says that the wonderful thing about making the podcast is that she learns along with her listeners. Despite a lifetime of growing houseplants, she ends up with a new wish-list at the end of each episode.
She is currently obsessed with aspidistras: “I think they should be revived as houseplants, because they are tough, architectural, and will sit happily in all those shady spots in the house where nothing else will thrive”.
I recommend another favourite from yesteryear: Achimenes, or “hot water plant”. Grown from small scaly rhizomes (available online from Dibleys) planted a couple of centimetres deep in seed or houseplant compost from now till April, they make fabulous free-flowering and elegant houseplants.
For a minimalist interior, succulents such as Haworthia and Echeveria, or the striking glossy-leaved Zamioculcas zamiifolia fit the bill. Weeping figs (Ficus benjamina) seem to move with the times, and look good with any interior style. In nature, they can grow to 30 metres, and are used as street trees in Mediterranean climates, but they can be pruned at this time of year to keep them compact.
All these are easy to look after, and might just help a youngster you know to de-stress while becoming green-fingered.