Review: Success with Succulents by John Bagnasco and Bob Reidmuller

If houseplants are currently the biggest gardening show in town, succulents have a strong claim to be the star. They seem to be everywhere from supermarket shelves and magazine articles to garden show displays and Instagram feeds.

succulents

Their popularity, say John Bagnasco and Bob Reidmuller in Success with Succulents, is down to a combination of things: a greater range available to home growers thanks to online shopping, their suitability for container gardening, ability to cope with a degree of neglect, and their looks.

“Succulents look great on camera,” they tell us, pointing out that the hashtag #succulent has more than one million posts on Instagram alone.

succulents
Dish gardens are one way of growing succulents. Photo: Rebecca Eichten

Given what they describe as this “stylish plant swank”, I did wonder if the book would be full of trend-following style rather than horticultural usefulness.

In fact, it is more horticulture than gardening fashion. There are detail explanations of the difference between cactus and succulents – “all cactuses are succulents, but not all succulents are cactuses” – and how you can tell the difference; a look at the different types from “mimicry plants”, such as Lithops, to Echeverias, one of the most sought after plants; and reference to some of the uses of the plants from tequila to rope-making.

If anything, the pair seem more interested in saving succulents than encouraging their popularity as indoor plants.

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Not all succulents are suitable for indoors. Photo: Rebecca Eichten

They warn that “care often needs to be exacting, without much room for improvisation” and suggest “growing succulents outdoors is by far the best-case scenario for healthy, attractive and colorful succulents.”

They do concede that is not always possible in climates where snow and frost are commonplace and they suggest putting plants outside for as long as the weather will allow.

And if you do grow indoors, the book gives advice on light, watering, containers and how to deal with pests.

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Windowboxes is one suggestion of where to grow succulents. Photo: Rebecca Eichten

They conclude with their top 100 choices. Each entry is illustrated and there is information on care, hardiness, propagation, and when the plant will flower.

The book is unlikely to appeal to the Instagram growers – it’s not glossy enough for that. It’s also probably too specialised for the novice houseplant owner but perfect as a step up from a basic general plant guide.

Success with Succulents by John Bagnasco and Bob Reidmuller is published by Cool Springs Press, RRP £16.99. Buy now (If you buy via the link, I get a small payment. The price you pay is not affected.)

Review copy supplied by Cool Springs Press.

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Review: Houseplants by Lisa Eldred Steinkopf

There’s no doubt that houseplants are in fashion. Once seen as a hobby for the middle aged, indoor plants have been given a make-over and are now seen as the cutting edge of gardening. Forget soil, it’s succulents we want.

houseplants

This change is driven partly by the fact that people are renting for longer; houseplants are easily portable when you move and the only option when you have no garden. For years, they were the main way I ‘gardened’. My teenage bedroom, student room, first flat, all were filled with plants in lieu of space to grow outside.

Houseplants also fit with today’s love of the visual and a lot of what is written is as much about how to display as how to grow, driven by a plethora of carefully framed Instagram images.

So, I admit to being a little sceptical when Houseplants by Lisa Eldred Steinkopf arrived, expecting it to be yet another book exploiting a current trend. What I discovered was a comprehensive overview that covers the fashionable ‘how to display’ element but also goes into the equally important ‘how to grow’ aspect.

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Choosing the right container will enhance any houseplants Photo: Chelsea Steinkopf

Pot size, soil type, how to water, when to feed and light requirements are all covered in depth with photographs giving extra clarity to the advice.

There are step-by-step instructions on how to repot – even down to outlining what materials you should assemble before starting – an overview of how to water and different methods, and hints on how to tell if your plant is in the wrong position.

Advice includes quarantining new purchases to ensure they are pest-free, ‘tagging’ plants with details of when they were bought and repotted, and how it’s better to check plants regularly than water according to a schedule: “Watering practices are the biggest killer of plants,” she tells us.

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Terrariums are back in fashion Photo: Lori Adams

I particularly liked the suggestion of growing Paperwhite Narcissus in pebbles and water with alcohol added to keep them compact and stop them flopping.

Problems ranging from pests to plant sunburn are covered and there are instructions for creating miniature gardens and the currently popular terrariums.

Possibly the most useful part of the book is the section that deals with individual plants. Divided into easy to grow, moderately easy to grow and challenging, these give everything from the light needs and watering to size and the correct botanical name – essential if you’re trying to source something specific, as common names vary wildly across the country let alone the world.

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The easy to grow Aspidistra elatior is known as the cast iron plant Photo: GAP Photos

Despite dividing the plants into categories, we’re told that the most challenging are not necessarily more difficult, they just need more time and attention.

It’s this ‘can do’, encouragement that I liked best about the book. In her introduction, Lisa assures us that “There is no such thing as a natural green thumb.”

And she goes on to say: “killing a plant is only a learning experience and shouldn’t discourage you from trying again.”

Houseplants the Complete Guide to Choosing, Growing, and Caring for Indoor Plants by Lisa Eldred Steinkopf is published by Cool Springs Press, RRP £19.99. Buy now (If you buy via the link, I get a small payment. The price you pay is not affected.)

Review copy supplied by Cool Springs Press.

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Review House of Plants by Caro Langton and Rose Ray

Despite growing houseplants since childhood, we’ve always had an uneasy relationship. True, I did keep an asparagus fern going for more than 30 years but then I’m also probably one of the few people who has managed to kill a mother-in-law’s tongue. Houseplants also became less important once I left student days behind and finally got a garden of my own.

So, I was intrigued by the offer of a review copy of House of Plants by Caro Langton and Rose Ray. Would it rekindle my interest in indoor greenery and, more importantly, would it show me where I’ve been going wrong?

growing houseplants
Houseplants are a great way to bring outdoors inside

The authors’ love of growing houseplants began when they inherited a London house from Caro’s grandmother and in it “a collection of ancient cacti, succulents and tropical plants”. It’s these plants that they concentrate on in the book; if you’re planning to grow orchids, it’s not for you.

Wanting to know more about their new charges, they started to research and, more importantly, observe where the plants were growing and thriving in the house. Indeed, knowing what each plant likes is the key to their philosophy.

growing houseplants

“When it is in its ideal position, a plant will be at its attention-grabbing, animated best and it will thrive,” we are told.

Yet this is not strictly a ‘how-to-do’ book. It’s far more interesting than that. Beautifully illustrated with carefully composed photographs and some sketch drawings, it has more of the feel of a lifestyle guide than gardening tutorial and is written in an easy, conversational style.

growing houseplants
Houseplants can be used to screen ugly views

Yes, it does cover how to care for different plants, including watering, feeding, light and temperature requirements, whether they need humidity and how to repot, but there are also ideas on how to display them from using chairs and stools where there are no shelves to creating a foraged wall hanging.

Indeed, display is as important as care when it comes to growing houseplants and there are numerous suggestions: grouping plants in a glasshouse terrarium; sourcing unusual pots from markets and second-hand shops; making your own coir and concrete pots. I’m not sure seventies-style macramé plant holders will make a comeback though.

growing houseplants
There are ideas for displaying houseplants

Many of the ideas are accompanied by step-by-step instructions and photographs, while more advice covers plant ailments, repotting, propagation and even cleaning – with a paintbrush in the case of a prickly cactus.

Some of the tips are simple: taking a cardboard box along, if you are planning to buy a spiky cactus. Others are more complicated: mixing your own compost and how to make nettle fertiliser; I hadn’t realised strawberry leaves were an alternative.

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Houseplants can be used as table decorations

Meanwhile, a ‘cast list’ of plants and a glossary explaining horticultural terms make this ideal for the beginner who’s thinking of growing houseplants.

As for me, I was amused to find mother-in-law’s tongue among ‘The Immortals’, plants that “will keep bouncing back no matter what life (or their owner) throws at them”. Perhaps it’s time to give it another go.

House of Plants by Caro Langton and Rose Ray is published by Frances Lincoln, priced £20 RRP. Buy now. (If you buy via the link, I receive a small payment. The price you pay is not affected.)

Review copy supplied by Frances Lincoln.

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