Tuesday,21 August, 2018
Current issue | Issue 1131, 17 - 23 January
Tuesday,21 August, 2018
Issue 1131, 17 - 23 January

Ahram Weekly

Adding a touch of green

Farah El-Akkad seeks expert advice on houseplants and growing vegetables at home

Al-Ahram Weekly

If you have seen the movie Just like Heaven, you will be familiar with its ending, where David shows Elizabeth the exceptionally beautiful garden he has made for her after her recovery from illness. His delightfully potted honeysuckles and sweet peas may leave us wondering if such an exquisitely beautiful garden is possible in our own city apartments.
“It’s definitely possible,” says interior designer Nadia Al-Almi who specialises in indoor gardening. Noticing how artificial plants have recently invaded our homes, Al-Almi decided to do a Masters degree in indoor gardening as a way of trying to revive “a lost art”, as she calls it. Gardening is an art that allows us to nurture a better outlook on life and “gives interiors a new spirit”, she says.
In Al-Almi’s view, one should not need to go outside to see the beauty of plants. On the contrary, greenery within the home can give the sense of freshness and colour that so many people today so vitally need. The first step towards good indoor gardening is to choose your plants wisely. “People should focus on plants that don’t need a lot of light,” Al-Almi explained.  
There is a broad selection to choose from. The African violet, for example, is a gorgeous, delicate flower that blooms year-round with very little effort. It only needs medium light and does not need direct sunlight, though it will most reliably blossom if put next to a window, Al-Almi said. While its flowers are usually purple, African violets are available in a variety of colours.
“You can find flowers of almost any colour to match your décor,” Al-Almi said, but the flowers are perhaps most stunning in rooms painted in purple shades. To grow African violets well, you should avoid getting water on the furry leaves as it causes ugly brown spots. When the plant blooms, cut off one of its leafy stems and root it in moist potting mix, which can be found in supermarkets around Cairo.
Another flower Al-Almi recommends is the white peace lily. “This spoon-shaped flower can be easily managed in the home as it can put up with low light and low humidity.” While it flowers most heavily in summer, some varieties bud throughout the year, Al-Almi said. To grow healthy peace lilies, the soil should be kept moist in order to encourage the plant to bloom. The lily’s leaves are poisonous, so infants and pets should be prevented from eating or chewing the leaves.
Jasmine is famous for its exotic scent and gleaming shape. There are two kinds: flowering and Arabian. Jasmine is easy to grow, and it can give a touch of beauty to all corners of the home. The plants are best put next to sunny windows, as they need bright to intense light in order to bloom. “Though commonly having white flowers, jasmines sometimes produce light pink blooms,” Al-Almi said. They have among the most fragrant flowers of all indoor plants, and they usually bud in late spring and summer.
Jasmine is not poisonous to cats, but it is to dogs. Make sure you keep it out of reach of canine pets.
Other more exotic flowers that can be suitable for the home with a bit of extra effort and care include the kaffir lily, gloxinia and the angel-wing begonia. Most of these bloom in a variety of splendid colours, ranging from purple and pink to shades of orange and red. As with other houseplants, it is important to remember that water and light are crucial considerations. “House plants should be cleverly chosen, as each plant varies in its need for light and water. In general, blossoming plants need medium to bright light. They also need the soil to be kept moist throughout the year,” Al-Almi said.
The light factor is the most important thing of all, Al-Almi said. Some people complain about their plants dying when they think they are doing everything right, but in fact they are not she said. Some 80 per cent of houseplants die because of lack of light, not lack of water. For rooms with low light levels, plants with large, dark green leaves should be chosen. “The darker a leaf, the less light it needs,” Al-Almi said. In spaces with bright lighting next to windows or balconies, tropical plants with coloured, showy leaves such as jasmine can be chosen.
Al-Almi said that in order to take correct care of houseplants, people should change their perspective on plants in general. “Plants should be treated more like humans,” she said. They need food and water. Water is particularly important in spring and summer and can be reduced in autumn and winter.
In addition to paying attention to the amounts of water and light, it is also essential to take proper care of the plant itself, for example by picking out old leaves in order to give space for new ones to grow. For plants to remain healthy, food and minerals are also important. Seaweed solution can be used, for example, as an additive to their water. A six-monthly granule feed in spring and autumn can also be recommended. “Plants often need a haircut. The best time to trim your plants is right after flowering, because waiting too long can run the risk of cutting off the buds that will turn into next season’s flowers,” Al-Almi said.
Indoor plants are also often exposed to a higher chance of insect attack, for example from mealybugs, a white hairy insect that lives on the plants’ stems. This type of insect can be controlled with natrasoap spray. Another common insect that can affect indoor plants is scale, which looks like brown or black-coloured bumps on the leaves. Plants affected by scale should be sprayed with pest oil.   
Pots vary in colour, size and design and should be chosen according to space and the size of the plant. Most flowers can easily grow in pots, but the material the pot is made of should be taken into consideration. Some plants can get cold in winter if they are potted in ceramic or terracotta pots, and so these should be placed in plastic pots that keep them protected. Potting soil is available in markets around Cairo.  
In order to grow vegetables in the home, you need a bright corner that receives at least six hours of full sunlight a day. Vegetables can then be planted in large containers. Among vegetables grown at home are celery, dill, spinach and baby tomatoes.
A high-quality soil mix should be used, along with nutrients such as peat moss and fertiliser like bone meal or kelp meal. Soil polymers can also reduce the wet-dry cycle the plant goes through, and they can help provide moisture to the roots. Vegetables should be fed with the right food. Natural organic nutrients should be used every two weeks, in addition to fish emulsion which gives veggies a boost.
The best way to water plants is drip irrigation, a system that uses a controller that can be set according to the weather. Vegetable plants should be chosen according to their colour and maturity. Most garden centres sell different kinds of vegetable seeds, including for cucumbers, squash and beans, Al-Almi said.

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