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.


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.

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.

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.

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: Garden ideas explored

Forget January, for most gardeners the calendar starts in spring and, like most new years, comes with a raft of good intentions. Top of those resolutions is finally sorting out that problem border – I’ve yet to meet a gardener who was totally happy with their plot. Yet like losing weight and going to the gym more, it’s often the one left unfulfilled. The biggest challenge is knowing where to start and it’s getting those garden ideas that Matt James tackles in his latest book, RHS How to Plant a Garden.


garden ideas

His aim, he says, is to “demystify the planting design process” and help anyone, from the novice to the old hand, transform their plot “from the ordinary to the extraordinary”. It’s a task for which he is well qualified: an established designer, he leads the degree course in garden and landscape design at the Eden Project and is a regular on radio’s Gardeners’ Question Time, while television viewers will remember him from The City Gardener on Channel 4.

So, it’s hardly surprising that this book is comprehensive, taking in not only how to choose the right plants for situations as varied as dry shade and the side of ponds, and what constitutes a particular style, such as formal or exotic but everything else you might possibly need to know.

Garden ideas
Seated Roof Garden © Garden Collection

Before a single plant is identified, we are invited to consider elements of the garden that are just as important to its eventual success. These range from the microclimates created by existing trees and shrubs or buildings, to the amount of time available for upkeep. “Honesty is essential,” he tells us.

James then moves on to an exploration of what he calls ‘The Plant Palette’, which is divided into easy to follow sections, such as trees, shrubs, grasses and herbaceous perennials. The chief characteristics of each are noted, there’s advice on their use and suggestions of possible varieties.

This thoroughness is evident in subsequent chapters, which cover garden styles, how to combine plants using colour and form, and finally how to draw up a planting plan.

Garden ideas
Grasses can be used to give privacy © Garden Collection

Woven through is advice from a warning to embark on a cottage-style plot only if you have time to tend it to how to adapt a new perennial planting scheme to a small garden.

Some of the advice – the colour wheel, types of roses and how to identify soil types – is fairly basic for anyone who has gardened for any length of time but this is acknowledged with a suggestion that only novice gardeners, or those wishing to understand the thinking behind professional designs, should start at the beginning. Others are given permission to skip to later chapters where common garden problems are solved and a designer’s plant calendar is explained.

Plenty of high quality photographs make this book attractive as well as informative, though the credits system makes it difficult to identify individual gardens pictured, which is important when some of them are ‘show’ rather than real gardens. Also irritating is the continual use of common plant names, presumably part of the ‘demystification’ process. It works up to a point but I’ve yet to come across anyone who routinely refers to a hosta as a plantain lily.

Garden ideas
Topiary adds interest to a deck © Garden Collection

But they are minor quibbles. Overall, this is an easy-to-follow insight into design, offering plenty of garden ideas, just the thing to kick-start those planting resolutions.

RHS How to Plant a Garden by Matt James is published by Mitchell Beazley, priced £25 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 Octopus Publishing Group.

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