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Updated Friday, January 18, 2013 at 01:01 PM

Open the door to bringing in a vibrant array of plants

By Valerie Easton
Special to The Seattle Times

MANY A gardener has been surprised to find their green thumbs stop at the front door. Or is that just me?

Sure, we've all heard about the benefits of houseplants. They remove toxins from the air while increasing humidity. Living with green, living things improves our mood. But not when saucers leak, plants languish and bugs colonize. Nothing looks sadder than a houseplant leaning toward a window desperately seeking light, leaves yellowing or sticky from an infestation of white fly or mealy bugs.

But now Tovah Martin has written a cheery, even inspiring book on houseplants for every season. Not just winter, when most of us drag tender succulents and fancy leafed geraniums indoors to sit glumly on the windowsill until it's safe for them to go back outdoors come spring.

"The Unexpected Houseplant: 220 Extraordinary Choices for Every Spot In Your Home" (Timber Press, $22.95) is billed as "not your grandmother's houseplant book." Which means you won't find a single African violet or mother-in-law's tongue among Martin's botanical roommates. Instead, she cultivates an interior garden draped in vines, bright with flowering bulbs, and rich in every shade of green. Her collection of houseplants is as vibrant, fragrant and ever-changing as an English border. And she keeps it going year-round.

If you're scoffing because, of course, it's easy to keep houseplants going when you live in a warm, sunny climate ... Martin lives in New England.

Who would have thought that bleeding heart and pulmonaria, kangaroo paws and dwarf fuchsias could look so at home growing inside the windows instead of outside them? How intriguing is it to cultivate such unlikely houseplants as Icelandic poppies, edible figs and carnivorous pitcher plants?

Martin writes in a captivatingly personal way. "This is a chronicle of the highlights of my indoor garden. It's about my very own, overly green, botanically jampacked home," she says.

In the chapter "Love Thwarted," Martin does admit to killing plants. She's given up on heliotrope ("we get along better when I admire it from a distance outdoors"). Same with abutilon, hibiscus and bougainvillea.

There's nothing elegant or particularly showy about most of these plants. Their impact comes from the surprise of Martin's choices and how she groups plants together. Her containers are an eclectic, well-worn assortment. The pots sit on teacup or glass saucers, clustered on windowsills and tables. Martin even makes "mall plants" like crotons look fresh by planting them in industrial metal canisters.

She covers all the basics — soil, water, light, diseases, pruning — with an emphasis on toxicity. Her cat, Einstein, who tends to snack on plants, shows up in many of the photos.

But you won't read this book front-to-back as I did for the practical advice; that's available online. It's Martin's exuberance and deep knowledge that'll keep you reading. The photos and book design beautifully capture her aesthetic, which lies somewhere between wabi-sabi and shabby chic.

Martin's view of plants transcends categories. She grows what she loves up close so she can enjoy it. Her book encourages us to see familiar plants in new ways, and to consider the entire realm of flora, even plants like euphorbia, primroses and lavender, as potential houseplants.

Valerie Easton is a Seattle freelance writer and author of "petal & twig." Check out her blog at www.valeaston.com.

Local news partner - Plant Talk

Valerie Easton writes in her blog about gardens and the people who make them.


"THE UNEXPECTED HOUSEPLANT"
Tovah Martin's enthusiasm for unusual houseplants is boundless; Einstein, the cat, rates his own pot of fescue, and succulents summer indoors at her home in New England.




"THE UNEXPECTED HOUSEPLANT"




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