During the last official winter month, our thoughts turn wistfully toward open windows, ice-free sidewalks and reestablishing a relationship with the backyard. After so much snow and ice, aren’t most Mainers dreaming of green living things?
The good news is, no one has to wait until May (or those disturbing 90 degree days in April) to enjoy the verdancy of warmer weather. Many local nurseries are open throughout the winter, operating on a smaller, indoor scale. They stock plenty of plants that thrive inside, even during the short days of winter.
“A lot of these plants only need three hours of filtered light,” says Sally Bolstridge, a sales associate at Skillins Greenhouses in Falmouth. That means the plants don’t have to sit directly in sunshine, so they work well in offices, hallways and corners. And unless you keep your home very warm or heat with a woodstove, watering once a week is usually enough.
“Because it’s winter and there’s less light, the plants require less water. That’s just nature, and it’s just like people. The more light we’re exposed to, the more hydration we require,” Bolstridge says. Be sure to let the soil dry out completely between waterings. You can test dampness with your finger or an inexpensive moisture meter. When it’s dry, “give it a good soaking,” enough so the water runs out the bottom.
Many plants that thrive indoors during winter can move outside in May. Small citrus trees are especially appealing; they produce fruit year-round and add vibrant color to any room. Herbs are another multi-season option. They do require more sun, about a half-day’s worth, but the culinary benefits alone are worth dedicating a sunny spot for your rosemary or thyme plants.
With all the windows shut against the cold, plants may help filter toxins and pollutants out of the air. NASA found in a 1989 study that one plant for every 100 square feet of indoor space should remove 87 percent of air toxins in 24 hours. But in the years since, some scientists and horticulturists have questioned whether those findings, intended to address air toxins in the space station and conducted in sealed laboratories, can be applied to homes. There have also been some studies indicating houseplants can lower stress and blood pressure, increase focus and improve moods, although again, no scientific consensus. Still, there are many who swear by the concept of biophilia, the hypothesis that humans are innately attracted to nature and other forms of life.
Cheryl Tyler, an artist, lifelong grower and Maine Master Gardener, is making her career in biophilic design. “You need the green!” she says adamantly. Tyler’s Brunswick-based company, TerraFlora, builds indoor vertical gardens. Unlike outdoor versions used to grow veggies and herbs in tight spaces, these are framed living art pieces. They’re visually stunning, and they cash in on all the mental and physical health perks of houseplants.
Tyler references hygge, the Danish word that encompasses feelings of coziness, well-being, and simplicity. “Many people are following the ‘less is more’ principles of Scandinavian design,” she says, “and plants are the perfect decorative choice. They add warmth and color without creating visual clutter.”
Leaf pattern, texture and hue all play into Tyler’s designs. She gets her plants from local nurseries and her own summer gardens, plants them in a felt bag to allow air to reach the roots and then places them in planters that clip onto a vertical rail. (The planters, and the plants, hide the rail and make it all look one tightly planted garden.) An automated pump circulates water from the reservoir at the bottom of the frame, while lighting above and below directs growth. Examples of TerraFlora’s work can be seen at Wyler’s in Brunswick, The New Place Market in Bath and on TerraFlora’s Facebook page.
Filling our homes with greenery quite possibly cleans our indoor air and improves our general health. It’s certain they lift our spirits. The countdown to spring is on, but with so many indoor plant options, there’s no reason to wait to reap the benefits.
To go green inside your home, an expert from Skillins has these plant recommendations:
HAPPY WITH FILTERED LIGHT YEAR-ROUND
PREFERS BRIGHT LIGHT AND CAN MOVE OUTSIDE
Bird of Paradise
TOUTED FOR AIR-CLEANING ABILITIES
Sarah Holman is a writer living in Portland. She is enthusiastic about cheese plates, thrift shop treasures and old houses in need of saving. Find her online at storiesandsidebars.com.