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How to with houseplants: 3 amazing air plant displays

PUBLISHED: 09:38 21 February 2015

Air plant in copper pot. From The House Gardener by Isabelle Palmer, published by CICO Books (£25). Photos © Helen Cathcart

Air plant in copper pot. From The House Gardener by Isabelle Palmer, published by CICO Books (£25). Photos © Helen Cathcart

Helen Cathcart

The exotic air plant is a surprisingly low-maintenance house plant and grows on almost any surface. West Hampstead ‘balcony gardener’ Isabelle Palmer demonstrates three easy projects to maximise the impact of this unusual breed

Isabelle PalmerIsabelle Palmer

When I saw the unusual air plants (Tillandsia) for the first time, I was mesmerised: was this really a plant? Air plants are wonderfully unusual and are surprisingly easy to maintain, which for me is a great benefit.

You may think they’re rather strange looking, and indeed I suppose they are but that’s why I love them so much. They have a curious, alien-like form and look strikingly different to our conservative view of the house plant, which is usually lush and green.

Yet, air plants, can be a wonderfully contemporary addition to your interior.

Tillandsia is an Epiphytes, a plant that grows upon another plant or structure such as a tree, but is non-parasitic. In their native South America, air plants grow remotely and in weird and wonderful places. You can spot them growing on other plants, or other objects such as telephone wires or even attached to the sides of buildings.

Hanging potted air plants. Helen CathcartHanging potted air plants. Helen Cathcart

They derive moisture and nutrients from the air, rain and sometimes from debris accumulated around them, so they look after themselves via their positioning. The roots are used as anchors meaning they make perfect plants to style and set in containers or vessels that can’t hold soil.

I’ve placed these plants in some different settings, which I think show them off to their best advantage.

The three options here progress from a small, simple display to a more prominent installation - I think the terrarium is like a work of art.

1. Hanging Pots

Wall hanging potted air plant. From The House Gardener by Isabelle Palmer, published by CICO Books (£25)
Photos © Helen CathcartWall hanging potted air plant. From The House Gardener by Isabelle Palmer, published by CICO Books (£25) Photos © Helen Cathcart

These hanging pieces are wonderful against the dark hues of the grey wall.

The copper holder was a find from a vintage store (I often pick items up from the little antiques market on Flask Walk or Ebay and there’s a good antiques fair in Alexandra Palace for really interesting pieces). It houses the air plant so well and sets off the white ceramic pot.

This is a great display for bare walls that are lacking interest.

2. Neon pink hanger

Neon pink hanger air plants. From The HOUSE GARDENER by ISABELLE PALMER, published by CICO Books (£25). Photos © Helen CathcartNeon pink hanger air plants. From The HOUSE GARDENER by ISABELLE PALMER, published by CICO Books (£25). Photos © Helen Cathcart

I just love the neon pink here, such a luminous and bright colour, which automatically draws your attention to the display.

I particularly like it against this simple and rustic backdrop and it can hang happily on your wall.

I made the wooden frame myself and drilled holes in it, then threaded the wire through.

It’s a really simple project but you can get a similar effect using a picture frame with nails on the back to thread the wire around.

Neon pink hanger air plants. From The House Gardener by Isabelle Palmer, published by CICO Books (£25). Photos © Helen CathcartNeon pink hanger air plants. From The House Gardener by Isabelle Palmer, published by CICO Books (£25). Photos © Helen Cathcart

3. Terrarium

I love this terrarium. It reminds me of a Victorian museum specimen encased in its glass setting and makes a lovely centrepiece to a book shelf or side table.

You can attach air plants to bark or to bog wood pieces, as in this terrarium, which I fixed using the method below. Aquatic shops are your best bet for finding bark or bog wood for this project. They have lots of different pieces for around £5 and they are sterilised. However, any branch is fine to use.

If you find an interesting piece of wood on a walk, I would suggest using some diluted bleach to wash it first, to kill any diseases or fungus that may harm the plant.

Air plant in a terrarium. From The House Gardener by Isabelle Palmer, published by CICO Books (£25)
Photos © Helen CathcartAir plant in a terrarium. From The House Gardener by Isabelle Palmer, published by CICO Books (£25) Photos © Helen Cathcart

To attach the air plants I used a waterproof adhesive, although you can also use a hot glue gun if you have one, which is by far the fastest method. It’s quite safe to attach the air plants to your vessel after the glue has cooled down for a few seconds.

The plants can be mounted at any time of the year and the roots will grow when conditions are optimum — ideally, a warm day with lots of humidity.

Mist your air plants regularly in order to keep humidity levels high.

How to care for your air plant:

:: You can grow them by mounting them to boards, tiles, or other objects, or by growing them in a special planter, which comes in the form of a glass hanging globe with holes in it to increase air flow or metal structures that can be fixed to the wall. You can buy these on Etsy.

:: Most prefer cooler night temperatures - 10-15 degrees cooler than daytime temperature is ideal. This can be achieved by keeping the environment around the plant humid .

:: Air plants need moisture; from late spring to mid-autumn, mistthe plant and air daily with a water atomiser, available at any garden store. You can use a household spray bottle if you don’t have one though. In winter, mist only once or twice a week to increase humidity in the surrounding air.

:: Fertilise every other month in spring and summer using a low-nitrogen liquid fertiliser mixed at one eighth the recommended strength. Dilute the fertiliser into water and apply it as you would water the plants, by misting with an atomiser.

:: Tillandsia need bright, indirect light so keep them near a window or on a north-facing windowsill - not right next to a sunny window.

:: As the name suggests they need air, so constant air circulation is paramount to keeping your plants happy and healthy. They won’t thrive in an airtight container.

:: If you can’t find air plants in your local garden centre they are readily available online. Common names include Air plant, Ball Moss and Spanish Moss

n The House Gardener, published by CICO books is available in stores now priced £20. Isabelle will be running a workshop ‘How to’ Spring Window Boxes and Containers on Friday 13th March in Hampstead.

For more information please call Kelly on 07801 953 980 or email kelly@thebalconygardener.com

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