P. Allen Smith: A Breath of Fresh Air


I just love bringing the outdoors in. Having plants in the house makes me feel connected to Mother Nature even when I can’t get outside. And houseplants are a simple way to add instant vitality to any room!

The “greening” of indoor spaces is taking off, as more people want to exercise their green thumbs without having a garden. What’s great about houseplants is that many do double duty by helping clean the air and beautifying your space.


Climbing plants are taking over people’s homes — almost literally. They’re easy to grow and they add whimsy to a home or office. Plant them in a hanging pot or train the vines to climb around windows and doorframes and along bookshelves or other furniture.

Be sure not to overwater your climbers. Water only when the soil is completely dry and fertilize your climbing vines during the growing season.

Should you need to transplant your climbers, increase the container by two sizes and repot the plants in the spring. I recommend that you occasionally prune the vines so they don’t get out of control.

A few of my favorites are:

  • Philodendron: These plants thrive indoors but can tolerate a shady spot outside as well. Put your philodendron in a spot with indirect sunlight and watch for the yellowing of leaves: One or two here and there is fine, but a bunch of yellow leaves means the plant is getting too much light.
  • Swedish Ivy: I love using this plant, which is neither Swedish nor an ivy, in hanging baskets. Also called “Creeping Charlie,” it’s closely related to mint and requires bright indirect light. Be careful not to overwater. If you notice yellow leaves, your plant has been getting too much water.
  • Wandering Jew: This one is a looker! The leaves of the zebrina variety have a gorgeous green and purple striped pattern with a silvery shine. This plant needs bright indirect light. If it’s too dry or over-fertilized, the leaves’ vibrant colors will fade.


Since many of us spend most of our time indoors, it’s important to offset the junk we breathe in. By placing certain houseplants in your home or office, you’ll be taking in better air in no time.

“Oxygen bombs” are houseplants that help remove toxic air pollutants from industrial chemicals used to manufacture building materials and numerous household cleaners that may contain formaldehyde, benzene, ammonia, acetone and ethyl acetate. The plant leaves actually absorb these pollutants and convert them to harmless substances. As a bonus, they help create an inviting space.

Some great options are:

  • Bamboo Palm (Chamaedorea seifrizii): It needs bright filtered or indirect light and neutral to acidic soil. Water it sparingly in winter.
  • Elephant Ear (Philodendron domesticum): It needs bright filtered light. In the summer, mist daily; in winter water sparingly. Support the stems as the plant grows.
  • English Ivy (Hedera helix): It needs bright indirect to low light. You can grow this ivy as a topiary or in a hanging basket. Keep the soil moist.
  • Gerbera Daisy (Gerbera jamesonii): It requires bright light and excellent drainage. Plant the crown half an inch above the surface of soil and keep the old leaves picked off.
  • Peace Lily (Spathiphyllum ‘Mauna Loa’): It needs indirect to bright light and high humidity.
  • Red-edged Dracaena (Dracaena marginata ‘Tricolor’): It needs full light with shade from the hot sun. Keep the soil moist in the summer and water sparingly in the winter.

You’ll need one air-purifying plant for every 100 square feet of space. Make sure there’s one of these plants in your bedroom, since you spend plenty of time sleeping in there.


What’s not to love about these fun, whimsical plants? Air plants, known as tillandsia (“tillies,” for short), are popular right now, especially among urban dwellers and first-time plant growers. They are low-maintenance and there’s no limit on fun ways to display them!

They don’t require soil to grow. That’s right—no dirt! But you still have to consider a few things when growing tillies if you want them to survive.

Air plants require bright filtered light and air circulation. Putting them near a window should do the trick. Because they absorb nutrients through their leaves, tillies need to be watered regularly. If you notice the leaves have turned hard and brown, they’re thirsty. If you see white fuzz growing on the leaves, your air plants are healthy and don’t need as much water.

You have a couple of options. You can mist the leaves every other day or so, depending on how dry your climate is. Make sure you avoid distilled and softened water. Filtered or bottled water works best.

You can also soak the air plants about once a week. Place your plants in a bowl of water for a couple of minutes to hydrate the leaves. Be sure to shake off excess moisture and keep your air plants in an area with good circulation for a few hours.

No matter which plants you choose for your home, make sure to follow their growing requirements. Pick ones that reflect your style and dress up your tabletops, walls and windowsills in green this season.

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