Bloomin' 'eck, what's that?

Exotic house plants are putting naff aspidistras in the shade. INGRID KENNEDY reports
You've sanded your wooden floors and stocked up on aromatic candles, all that's left is to find a place for the spider plant your mum gave you, right? Wrong. However much we learn about design, many of us can't get it right in the house-plant department. Rule one: ban spider plants. Think tropical and unusual instead...

The look for plants now is architectural, says floral designer Stephen Woodhams: "People want simple shapes. Flowering plants tend to be white, such as the moth orchid: its blooms can last up to eight weeks."

The cost can put many people off. Orchids retail for around pounds 30, banana trees for pounds 75 - expensive if they end up dying. But you can find easy- care, affordable plants, such as the peace lily. Paul Carter, buyer at the Chelsea Gardener in London, owns one: "When I go away for a few weeks and don't water it, I'll find all the leaves on the ground. But, with a good watering, it springs to life again in 24 hours."

There are three main things to remember: stability, humidity and light. "Most plants die from over-watering," says horticultural writer David Domoney. "To check if they need water stick your finger about an inch into the earth - it should be moist." And plants need sun or artificial light. For more advice, Carter recommends The House Plant Expert: "It's been around for ages but it's really good."

`The House Plant Expert' by Dr DG Hessayon (Expert Books, pounds 8.99).