Flower Arranging With House Plants

House plants are, of course, quite a different subject from flower arrangement, growing in pots and being decorative in themselves. They brighten up our homes during winter months and lighten up many a dull corner with their fresh green leaves, either grouped together on a table near the window, arranged in a wire container especially designed to hold them or looking bright and gay on shelves in a conservatory to be seen through the sitting room window. But do they always look ‘bright and gay’ and are their leaves always a ‘fresh green’, and what is their immediate connection with flower arrangement?

Perhaps one should answer the last question first. There are certainly three different types of plants which are reasonably easy to keep going through the winter months and their foliage is invaluable for the type of arrangement often made for the home. A good example is the small arrangement usual in a normal sized dining room. With flowers which have little foliage of their own and need something to conceal the pinholder (if that is the method of fixing the flowers) or the wire netting. Bare stemmed flowers can look more attractive with foliage from other plants, even if there is no fixing apparatus to conceal.

In winter especially it is not always easy to find something suitable in the garden and there may not be time to go off on an expedition into the country for the sake of a few leaves. This is when two or three pot plants are invaluable.Flower Arranging With House Plants

Thinking mainly in terms of small groups for a dining table or a table for books and a reading lamp, I recommend the use of geranium or pelargonium foliage, with a few flowers. The variegated and coloured leaved geraniums are some of the most valuable for this purpose and are most successful with various colour schemes. For instance, the charming green and white leaved geranium (this is the round lobed leaf, mostly green, but edged with white), makes a good background for two or three short buds of the Iceberg rose, arranged in a white container. Then there is the dark green leaved plant with a paler green towards the edge and a faint ring of pinky-orange about t-inch from the outside lobes. These leaves are almost a decoration in themselves but look charming with yellow or something in the pinky-orange line of colouring — either a few of the yellow daisy (anthemis) cut quite short, or, in the winter, a couple of pale yellow carnations. Otherwise salmon-pink carnations could be brought in to tone with that pinky band in the leaf, or a tight cluster of alum root ( Heuchera) again cut short, or one or two salmon pink zinnias. (Unfortunately that shade of pink is a difficult one to match and sometimes the contrast of white is safer.)

The usual green leaf of a geranium is a charming shape and grows in such an interesting way that it is indispensable in itself. Sometimes a short spray cut from the parent plant will include two or three small new leaves still pleated before unfolding and these are useful indeed, especially for a flat table decoration, growing on the stem as they did on the plant. Geranium leaves last well and a good sized plant does not seem to resent having a few cut off now and then. The scented geranium has a serrated leaf and is rather a different shape, and attractive in its way. It grows sometimes in clusters which are useful as well as decorative.

There is, of course, the usual procedure with geraniums of taking cuttings and allowing the older plants to dry off and have a rest during the winter. But this all depends on whether the flowers are more important to you than the leaves. I have kept two or three plants, of which I am especially fond, through four or five winters in the house on account of their foliage, and cut from them whenever the need arose. They are not first-class exhibition plants but they are quite adequate for this purpose and revive throughout the summer when I put them outside in their pots.

Another standby is the green and white tradescantia. It is propagated so easily that once there is a plant in the house others follow on rapidly for there is usually a constant supply of small new ones. The foliage is almost the exact opposite in shape and habit of the geranium. A soft grey green with white markings, it hangs or droops or spreads itself out horizontally, making valuable material for a small pedestal vase. The leaves themselves are narrow and pointed and are a good contrast with rounded flowers such as clematis or anemones.

The Rex begonias (ornamental begonias) form the third of this valuable trio and are, again, a complete contrast to the other two. They have large heart shaped pointed leaves, sometimes in silver-green or deep wine with soft green marking or deep wine with a lustrous pink veining, these leaves are dramatic in themselves, but tone in a remarkable way with various deep colours. The darker wine toned leaves are excellent with purple anemones and the grey green silvery leaves with white carnations. In a small group three leaves toward the centre could be the chief constituents and all that would be required to complete the arrangement might be two or three other flowers.

I think I should mention that, in my own experience, these last two plants do not care for pin holders. I have never known them to last well arranged in this way, and so I have given up using this method. Geraniums, on the other hand. Seem to be reasonably happy in any form of anchorage. ‘I have known them last for a matter of weeks when arranged loosely in wire netting, but do not think their span of life was quite as long when a pin holder was used, although to all intents and purposes, no serious damage was incurred. This was not true of the tradescantia and begonia foliage, which went into a rapid decline.

So much for the use of these three house plants for decoration. Now let us return to the original question of keeping them bright and gay with fresh green leaves. This is not as simple as it may sound. Some people have the proverbial ‘green fingers’ with house plants and with these people I am not concerned. I feel much more for those who say `Oh, but I have only got to look at a plant in a pot and it curls up and dies.’ This may be rather a dramatic way of putting it and, we hope, an exaggeration, but there is still the feeling of not knowing how to go about making a house plant settled and happy.

There are a few definite rules, of course, and most florists and nurserymen will be helpful and give one a few tips when plants are bought. But from my own sometimes depressing experiences I have found out a few simple points about plants which may prove helpful to a beginner. First, about geraniums, I think that on the whole they prefer to be over dry rather than over wet. When the temperature is low in very cold weather, the plant will stop growing and will not start again until the necessary rise in temperature takes place. If it is watered too much at this time the geranium is unable to take in the liquid and the roots will become sodden. Unlike some plants they do not like to have a continuous supply of moisture or to have their feet standing in water.

The opposite is true of begonias and a plant which I have not so far mentioned, but which, to a certain extent, is useful for cutting — the maidenhair fern. I keep a plant of each, usually in the bathroom, where they enjoy the steam from the hot tap and where they both stand in dishes also containing water. People with a greenhouse may deal with them differently, of course, but this is how they enjoy being looked after in the house.

The number of house plants are, of course, endless, but from the point of view of using the leaves for flower decoration I have found the ones mentioned above particularly useful. Perhaps I should not end without mentioning the false fig ( Fatsia japonica ), which is also invaluable for large groups, but I personally prefer to see this growing in the garden whenever possible.

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