Plants are living organisms just like us. And aside from their lovely home-enhancing beauty, they’re an easy and affordable way to help combat rising air pollution. Finding space for them in your home means you’re enhancing your quality of life in both mind and body, and embellishing your living space. Win-win.
You don’t need to be especially green-fingered to be able to care for plants in your home but it helps if you have a little knowledge. Snake plants, peace lilies and aloe vera, as well as ficus, bamboo and dracaena are all good plants to start with and are easy to look after. We met with urban gardener Marta Lowcewicz from London’s Barbican Conservatory to get an expert’s insight on tending for an inner-city oasis.
One of two craft gardeners working at the Conservatory, Marta has tended the Barbican plants for over seven years. Her day starts at 6am when her first task is feeding the fish and terrapins. Then it’s watering, checking the bees, replanting, repotting and weeding, cleaning pond filters, pruning and propagating. It’s no small feat, and an unlikely vocation in the heart of the city. “It is labour intensive. You get dirty, sweaty, and ache. But there aren't many places like this in London, especially for free, so when you see how much people love being here, it makes it all worthwhile.”
“Every plant you bring into your home is great because they all produce oxygen in photosynthesis: the bigger the plant, the bigger the boost of oxygen,” Marta explains. And it’s not just the physical benefits that plants will give you; they’re good for the soul too. “When you plant a little seed in the soil, water it, love it and then from that tiny seed get beautiful plants like the ones here, it feels so good to remember how they started.”
With a resurgent interest in all things botanical, Marta is at the forefront of an exciting and important movement and is keen to share her knowledge. While most of the plants in the Conservatory are from the tropics and deserts, many of them can be grown in your own home. “We have ficus benjamina or ‘weeping fig’ that grows well indoors. You’ll often find them in the corner of an office or lounge,” says Marta. “It ordinarily grows to about 6ft but here in the Conservatory, it grows to over 65ft.”
Marta’s top four plants for the home
1. Palms – a lovely way to get some big leaves into your home if you have the space.
2. The crassula ovata or ‘money tree’. This common houseplant hails from South Africa and enjoys hot, dry conditions, so indoors on a sunny windowsill will see it flourish.
3. Cacti and succulents are easy to grow, and some cacti have beautiful flowers. You work all year thinking that they're quite ugly and then they open up with this brilliant show.
4. Aspidistras or the ‘cast iron plant’ named simply because you just can't kill it – that’s always a good one to start with.
Her biggest piece of advice? “Don’t just focus on the theory or knowing all of the plant names, do the practical work too, even if it's just over the holidays or weekends. It's amazing to see plants grow, and it helps you grow and develop your horticultural skills. If you have the passion, it will show in the health and happiness of your plants.”
Initially constructed to disguise the Barbican theatre’s fly tower, the Conservatory is home to around 2,000 species of tropical plants, trees, cacti and succulents. Balconies cascade with plant life everywhere you look. “It's London’s second largest conservatory [Kew Gardens being the largest] so the amount of space and plants within it is fantastic, especially because we're in the middle of a busy city,” enthuses Marta. “You look outside at the hustle and bustle and in here it’s quiet and peaceful. It really is a tranquil oasis.”
The Barbican Conservatory is open on Sundays 11am–5pm and Bank Holidays 12pm–5pm. Level 3, Barbican Centre, Silk Street, London, EC2Y 8DS
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