Bringing the outside in

Mini cacti and spindly spider plants have had their day. Now anything that grows, goes, says Eleanor Bailey
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Indy Lifestyle Online
House plants are like sex on TV. It takes more and more explicit material to make an impact these days. Greenery has been cheering up the indoors since the human race began, but while previous generations freshened up the home with a saucy-shaped cactus, or by dangling the tentacles of a spider plant through the bannister rails, now indoor greenery is running wild. Flowers are bigger. Pots are as extraordinary and outrageous as possible. Growing plants are combined with cut stems and wild, twisted wood to create eyecatching, bold displays to bring the spring into the home.

The divide between indoors and outdoors is becoming indistinct. Any kind of plant can now be placed indoors, the more incongruous the better. The avant-garde will use anything in their decorations. It's all about thinking laterally.

Vegetables, for example, can easily play a part of an innovative display. Karl Antony, a decorator with the florist Kenneth Turner, says: "We use vegetables and fruit. We make sculptures from apples. We use stone obelisks and stick on small pebbles. It's painstaking, but the effect is stunning. We cover pots and urns in old sack and stick leaves on, creating a forest effect, and then make it more modern by glazing wood in silver leaf. We gild old vegetable boxes and use logs as frames."

A garden in the home means that, rather than wheeling out the tired old spring bulbs, you create whole displays with them, mixing mediums. Anthea Stevens of Fulham Palace Garden Centre in London says that primroses, moss, grape hyacinths are all being mixed with orchids and wood to look different.

"People are creating growing displays so that it lasts a long time but doesn't look like dull bulbs in pots." Even the name "pot plant" sounds restricting in the new world of green interiors, with its implication that there are plants that are born to languish in a plastic tub. So throw them aside, says Stevens. "People are happy now to bring in containers normally associated with outside, the large terracotta pots, for example, marble and big baskets, more interesting containers."

The fact that consumers are clamouring for the wild and the new shows just how popular and style-led gardening has become. The new, indoor, plant arrangements particularly appeal to the urban dweller whose gardening dreams are frustrated by the solitary window box The use of flowers and plants has become an integral part of interior decoration rather than an occasional addition. We should use flowers in the same way that we use paint. "People are using wacky colours," explains florist Rob Van Helden, "and just one bright swathe of colour, like bright orange, to create a modern look, rather than a muddled array of colours."

There are only too many plants when you can no longer get in the door. Consumers are happily spending more money on plants and flowers, no longer seeing such things as luxuries. Every room in the house is being used. "I have displays in every room and I was looking for more, so I decided to create a spring forest in my bathroom, too. I have planted bluebells and hyacinths for the fragrance in concrete tubs, draped in moss," says David Hall, 30, a textile engineer.

"People assume I work in a florist's, because I have so much in the house. Actually, I just spend a lot. I think it's so important. I live in the middle of London, I don't have a garden but I have a lot of light, and this is one way I can gain all the health and mood benefits of being around greenery. It makes my flat very relaxing."

Linda Joyce, manager of Bill and Ben, the plant and flower supplier, has noticed that as well as spending more on plants, people have become more discerning. It's the difference between buying one pair of trousers from Paul Smith rather than ten from C&A. "People may well buy fewer flowers but bigger and better ones, something more dramatic," she says. "For example, 5ft cacti direct from Holland are very popular. Lilies of the valley, bird of paradise plants, freeze-dried roses and topiary trees."

The whole way of thinking about floral arrangements has changed. The container can be as decorative as the displays. Designers are decorating the containers themselves to give the arrangement a more organic, less dull-flowers-in-vase look. "People are using coral linings, embedding wood in the vase to make it more eyecatching," says Stevens.

Of course, what is new freedom for some, is terrifying for others - a bit like being told to decorate your house with your own artwork and having to write "aged five" on the bottom. And with far more ambitious projects becoming more acceptable, it's even harder to fake your way as a talented amateur. You have gathered moss, spring bulbs, shells and silver-sprayed branches, but how to turn them into something wonderul? Consequently, perhaps, flower arranging courses have seen an upturn in interest.

Sonia Waites, director of Pullbrook and Gould, a florist and arranging school in London's King's Road, says, "The key is not to be inhibited with your ideas. You don't have to stick with the traditional triangular form. Once you have learnt the basics you can move onto looser, more natural styles. People improve very quickly. The biggest thing that goes wrong is that people don't know where to begin. But once you get the hang of it, it's wonderful therapy - it gets you away from the drudge."

"It's good to have one big piece," says Karl Antony, explaining where to start with your concepts, "and then build things around it. I use a lot of orchids, because they are so stunning and last a long time, and twisted wood for shape and bulk."

One sacrifice that must be made is time. The results look so good because many hours and much thought have been put in. For many, this can be a bonus, discovering green-fingered work to be relaxing and rewarding. But for the rest of us, things are only getting harder.

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