The 3 underrated houseplants you shouldn’t snub – and why

Take even a fairly lengthy scroll through the biggest plant accounts on instagram and you’re likely find there the usual, trendy leafy suspects: moody monsteras with their sexy fenestrations, cool calatheas with their hypnotic patterns, and stuning strelitzias with their imposing structure.

We probably all have one or all of these in our collections, in different shapes and (probably smaller) sizes, while aspiring to go to the next level by bagging a rare species to take an even more centre stage.

Move over monstera

But while monstera variegata albo, licuala grandis and philodendron verrucosum remain firmly up there as any respectable plant parent’s goals, there is also a time (right now) and a place (your home) for some of the forgotten, more commonplace plants that never quite seem to make the A-list.

So here I give you: the peace lily, the spider plant and the sprengeri, and dare you to invite these in. Read on to see why…

{Warning: peace lilies and sprengeri are poisonous to pets and humans. Do keep yours out of reach. Spider plants are not toxic}

1. Spathiphyllum, or Peace Lily

This once-popular-now-massively-underrated plant has actually become one of my favourites and the main reason is… its versatility.

Unlike fussy premium plants, you can pretty much chuck a peace lily anywhere – except perhaps in direct sunlight – and it will thrive. It’s the perfect plant for a shady corner, especially if you’re not fussed on it flowering. After it finshes flowering, you can also reliably divide it – ie make free plants – by pulling up the outer shoots with as much root as you can and potting straight on. These take really well, but the smaller the new plant, the more frequently it needs watering, so keep an eye while it’s establishing.

The perfect starter plant, it’s extremely robust – it forgives manhandling and neglect. In fact it actually tells you that not only it, but most others around, need watering by drooping its leaves – and it’s super satisfying to watch it perk back up after a drink.

And finally, peace lilies are also really affordable, so you can get a pretty large plant, that adds height and structure, at a very reasonable price compared to trendier counterparts.

Amy @harrison_nate_and_me showing how a large, flowering peace lily (top right) can create subtle contrast against a dark green wall – beautifully modelled by Betsy!

2. Asparagus Aethiopicus, or Asparagus Sprengeri

It’s nice to see sprengeris finally making a bit of a comeback. They are absolutely gorgeous plants, with a really unusual feathery look and slightly prickly feel, almost cactus-like.

They’re fairly easy to look after, and a brilliant way to add interest and texture to any corner, as the masses of needly strands flow in a rather unruly but fascinating fashion, really drawing the eye. Perfect in a hanger or on top of a high shelf/wardrobe.

Here, Meagan @plant_lady_is_the_new_cat_lady is using the sprengeri (top) as a hanging plant. Its unusual, unruly texture is a feast for the plant eyes

3. Chlorophytum Comosum, or Spider Plant

Not just a 70s throwback, the unassuming – and ready variegated! – spider plant, in its many shapes and varieties, can add magnificent drama to modern or period homes.

This magnificent spider plant adds elegance and a touch of drama to Carla’s period hallway @houseofbeau13

It’s also affordable, easy to find, and easy to look after – much like the peace lily, it tells you it’s thirsty by turning a pale green.

And it’s absolutely mesmerising when it starts flowering and having babies – spiderlings – which you can keep for added impact or propagate for (you got it) more free plants!

I hope I’ve convinced you to give at least one of these vintage babes a place in your home. If you do, let me know what you choose and where it goes!

What other “unpopular” plants do you love? Let me know in the comments below!

Digging up the dirt: the cats among the plants

One of the questions I get asked the most is how I keep my plants and 3 cats co-habiting in one home in such harmony: that is, how do I keep my greedy cats from killing my plants, and how do I keep my toxic plants from killing my cats?

Wide view of my plantiest room, complete with healthy feline

Cats v Plants

Let me turn first to cats v plants. Truth be told, my cats are really not very interested in my house plants anymore. They used to be when they were kittens, and chewed the hell out of one plant in particular before I noticed; but now they’re allowed to go outside, they tend to keep to the garden grass… I totally get that if you live in a flat, or you have an indoor cat – or indeed if your cat is persistent – this outdoor distraction technique is not going to work. So here’s some things you could try to keep them off your lush leaves, with breaking the habit as your main focus.

1. Leave a sour taste

My cats (and a few others, I’ve run a small focus group 🤭) hate the smell of orange. I found this quite accidentally when tucking into my favourite citrus a few months back. Next time you eat an orange, just pop the freshly cut peel under their nose to see what I mean 😆 (demo by Loki below). So try gently rubbing a little orange peel over a few leaves of the plants they target, and see if that puts them off. A little culinary citrus oil could also work under the same principle, but I haven’t tried this. You may need to do it a few times to break the habit. And apparently some cats also hate bananas, so banana peels could also be an option, although mine aren’t bothered and also because of the high sugar content I worry it could attract gnats. Then you have yourself a whole nother problem…

Loki demonstrates the power of the citrus peel 🤭

2. Provide a tasty alternative

Cats instinctively chew plants because they need the substances in green stuff to puke their hairballs out. I know it’s gross, but it’s pretty natural! Planting up some cat grass or catnip away from the plant victims would serve your cat other delicious options. This could be in the house if your cats are kept indoors, or by the back door if they’re allowed out to lure them away from your prized plant possessions.

3. Behaviour training

If you have the time and patience you could look at behaviour training techniques to stop them. I tried a couple of times a gentle squirt with water when they went near the plants, but found it a mixture of entertainment and cruelty so I gave up on that. May be effective if you can persist, but I suspect that like telling cats off, it’s a) a bit mean and b) only works there and then so they’ll do it again when you turn your back… 🤷🏻‍♀️

PS: The dirt

When my cats were little, more so than the tasty plant leaves, they were actually obsessed with digging up the soil and particularly playing with clumps, or knocking plants over in overexcited play. Oh and the odd 💩 too – lovely.

There are some things you can do to stop them getting I’m the soil. As a short-term solution, I found the most effective method to be putting large stones just over the soil, but don’t leave them on for more than a good few weeks as the soil needs to aerate and the stones can cause other damage. I collected mine from the beach and gave them a good wash to get the salt out (tip – walk as far as you want and collect your rocks on the way back to save your arms… a lesson, by Nessie 😭). A tall, narrow plant stand can also make it harder for them to access. (Or you could scare them off with a cucumber. If you don’t know what I’m talking about, just Google cats vs cucumbers 🤭)

Natalie at @budgethomeinteriordesign did come up with a very nifty and discrete mesh solution that works well for her indoor cats – check it out on her Instagram highlights under “the plant files”.

Plants v Cats

But us cat owners don’t just worry about the damage inflicted on our plant babies via sharp teeth and claws. Oh no. We also worry about the harm plants can potentially do to them, because some of the most alluring ones out there are actually pretty toxic to pets. As Britney would say 🎶 “I’m addicted to yooooou, don’t you know that you’re toxiiiiiic”🎤. Ahem, anyway. Here are some of the things you can do if you want to have you toxic plant cake and make sure the cats don’t eat it (I try, I do 🤷🏻‍♀️). The main rule is – restrict access. This also works if your plants are not toxic but no matter what you do with can’t stop the nibbling… I’d actually go as far as saying it’s more effective!

Note: I’ve also drawn up a list of some of my favourite toxic and safe plants at the end of this post, in case you don’t want to take ANY risks.

1. Hang on for dear plant life

Plant hangers are not just beautiful godly creations, they are also literal life savers when it comes to keeping toxic plants out of reach. Any plant can look great in a hanger, but I like using them for trailing plants for the most impact.

I’m lucky enough to have high ceilings with picture rails to hang my plants from but you can also easily hang them from walls and ceilings, using plant hanging kits or brackets. Other options include popping small hooks on the sides of high shelves or s hooks on curtain rails – or even making a super cool plant hanging branch!

The key thing here is to make sure your cats can’t access it. So it’s no good hanging a plant from your cat’s favourite perch, or from a curtain rail with a chair right underneath. Also keep an eye out for debris when you water/tend to your plant and remove any part of the plant that has dropped to the floor. You may also need to trim trailing plants from time to time, but make sure you propagate these to make new ones! (A new post coming up on that soon).

Note: my favourite place to get macrame hangers from is North Rose Designs – you can spot them all around my house. Hollie has a super range, gorgeous colours, and has even done couple of custom made hangers for me to tie in with my bathroom palette! Check out her Instagram page too. I always like to shop small where I can, so another tick there, and the quality of her products puts the big guys to shame anyway.

Black macrame hanger from North Rose Designs and Aeschynanthus Pulcher Mona Lisa (lipstick plant) from Root Houseplants. This plant is not toxic, but it’s so perfectly paired…

2. Take a shelfie

If hangers aren’t your thing (not sure we can be friends, but ok) then a high shelf is your next best thing. Just make sure the shelf is high enough and that there are no jump access points if you can. If you can’t remove access, then make sure the shelf is as full of plants and/or accessories as possible leaving no room at all for your cat. This makes them much less likely to try to jump up (my 3 never have and they do jump high elsewhere). If you find your cat jumps anyway, then re-think your strategy, or at least avoid really heavy plants/pots that could either cause alot of damage or hurt someone (or your cat!) if they were to fall. You can also hang planters from high shelves – more room for more plants, yay 😃🤑🥳

When planning your shelves, make sure you choose a place with the right light (and ideally temperature) conditions for your chosen plants – and a decent wall to take the weight if you’re planning on having big ones up there like me. My shelf is just a cut and stained scaffolding board with victorian style cast iron brackets.

Here, even though they could jump via access points, I’ve left no visible space so they don’t!

And I say shelf, but high cabinets and wardrobes without access points – if they’re in a good light position and your cats don’t typically jump on them – are also an option (for example my cats can easily jump onto my bedroom wardrobe because of the dressing table next to it, so that’s a no-no but they have no way to access the the kitchen cabinets via mid point as my worktops are narrow). So if this is your only option you may need to re-shuffle your furniture to remove access points.

A different shelfie view, with my toxic plants and water propagation station out of reach. This shelf is 3m away from a large west facing window – it gets very bright light all afternoon/early evening in the summer (but not direct this far away)

3. Isolate

Isolation is not just for COVID (too soon?🤭). Worst comes to worst, put your toxic plants in a room the cats are not allowed in or where they only go when you’re around to you can keep an eye on them. Mine are free to roam but many people ban their cats from bathrooms and bedrooms so that could work for you.

The toxicity edit

Here’s a few of my favourite non-toxic plants…

  • Ctenanthe Burle Marxii – Never Never and Amagris
  • Ceropegia Linearis sp. Woodii – String of Hearts
  • Aeschynanthus Pulcher Mona Lisa
  • Kentia and Areca Palm
  • Pilea Peperomioides – Chinese Money Plant
  • Most Calatheas, eg Orbifolia, Picturata, Musaica, White Star, Beauty Star, Roseopicta, Ornata etc
  • Most Marantas – Prayer Plants
  • Birds Nest, Boston and Staghorn Ferns
  • Chlorophytum – Spider Plants
  • Peperomias, eg Watermelon, Hope, Caperata, and Prostrata – String of Turtles
  • Pachira Aquatica – Money Tree

And some of my favourite toxic ones! 🤫

  • Senecio Rowleyanus – String of Pearls, and Radicans, String of Bananas
  • Epipremnum Aureum, Marble Queen and Devil’s Ivy Pothos
  • Monstera Deliciosa – Swiss Cheese Plant
  • Most Ficus, Fiddle, Weeping and Elastica (Rubber Plant)
  • Philodendrons – Scandens, Brasil, Neon, Micans, etc
  • Spathiphyllum Wallisii – Peace Lilly (as are all lillies)
  • Most Alocasias, Zebrina, Gageana, Stingray, etc
  • Zamioculcas Zamifolia, ZZ Plant (although only mildly)
  • Asparagus Fern
  • Sansevieria Laurentii – Mother-in-laws Tongue/Snake Plant
  • Aglaonema – Chinese Evergreen
  • Strelitzia – Bird of Paradise
  • Cycas Revoluta – Sago Palm

Note: your plant supplier should be able to advise you on your choice of plant. My favourite plant shop, Root Houseplants, has a note on every plant to tell you if it’s suitable to be within reach or not. Another thumbs up from me!

So that’s it! My top tips for flora and fauna bliss. These have served me well, with no casualties so far, but let me know if you have any other tricks in the comments below. Would also love to know if these worked for you – so keep in touch. Love, Nessie 🌿🐱🐱🐱🌿

Alive and kicking: 5 easy ways to keep your plants lush

I get lots of questions on how I manage to not just keep my house plants alive, but also looking so lush. Not gonna lie: living in an old house with a high water table (damp) + blasting central heating (Mediterranean blood) definitely = the tropical conditions they thrive in… 💁🏻‍♀️🤪 But there are definitely things you can do to help them along!

1. Find the pole position

My best looking and healthiest plants (pictured above) sit 1-3 metres away from a west facing window. I do pay close attention to individual needs: too close and they might burn; too far and they won’t get enough light to thrive. I keep a close eye and any sign of tantrums I move them a few inches until I find the perfect spot. Err on the side of further away, if you’re not sure, gradually working back towards the light. Also plants of the same family will quite probably do well very in the same spot and close to each other – see all my calatheas together there. An easy tip is to think about the plant’s natural environment and mimic those conditions as much as your home permits.

If, like me, you don’t intuitively know your wests from your easts, there are compass aps that do that for you. At a pinch, my idiot’s guide is: west-facing is usually a room that is very bright and gets lots of afternoon sun. At this time of year (early spring) the sun starts pouring in proper around 1pm. Most plants love it here. East-facing gets the morning sun, but it’s shady then in the afternoon. More delicate plants do well here, as the morning sun is less harsh. North-facing gets almost zero light. Only plants like sanseveria, cast iron or pothos keep going here. And south-facing (if this is you, you lucky git) usually gets all day sunshine. So most plants will love you very much if you put them here – just be careful with very direct sunlight.

2. Hold the watering

If in doubt – UNDER-WATER. Most plant casualties in my experience are from too much “care and attention” leading to irrecoverable root rot. It’s (relatively) easier to bring back an under-watered plant than a drowned one – and even then don’t be tempted to over-compensate!

If you’re not sure whether “it is time”, for most plants, do the finger test: poke your finger as far as it goes into the soil. If too moist (easily poked) leave alone, if too dry, it’s time to water. If you have a watering routine (eg once a week) do this as you go round, as not all plants might need it at the same time. Over-watering also attracts gnats. Enough said.

I’ll do a separate post on watering tips and how I water soon, so leave your questions in comments and I’ll answer them then.

3. Be a helicopter plant parent

If you love plants, this isn’t a chore and can be so relaxing (like meditation for me). I love getting a nice cup of coffee and a pair of scissors and having a good old check over on a quiet Sunday morning. Or do this as and when you walk by them. Have a good look around the plant, inspect the leaves for pests or damage, remove any dead looking bits. I always snip off very sad looking leaves, especially in plants that have lots of them. Sounds harsh and counter-intuitive, but it’s so they can send all their energy into making nice new ones, not keeping struggling ones alive. Not only does it keep your plant looking good, but also helps with air flow: if they’re less crowded in the one pot, they’re less likely to get fungal infections.

4. Moist around the edges

Damp joking aside, most leafy house plants like a good spray every now and then (ferns like it daily, the gorgeous little shits). You can do this with a mister (I have a mini 50p one from the home bargains hair section I keep handy) or you can take them in the shower every now and then for a good hosing (it doubles up as dusting too: I have no patience/time to wipe down individual leaves). Another way to do this (as pictured) is to keep plants close together. They sweat (I know 🤮) and share moisture that way.

5. Trusted sourcing

I can’t over emphasise this: you get what you pay for. A good specialist houseplant shop (small and local!) will source their plants carefully and – hopefully – ethically. You can still get good plants elsewhere of course (though don’t be tempted for fussy or rare ones), but if you do, check them carefully and thoroughly for general health, infections and pests (I once saw a plant crawling with mealybugs at a large and acclaimed garden centre! Photo below). It can be rewarding to nurse a reduced plant to health, but do it accepting this doesn’t always work as they’re *usually* reduced for a reason. Whatever you do, never ever buy a sick or pest infected plant – the risk it will spread to your lovely healthy ones is too big!

My favourite and most trusted plant shop is Root Houseplants in Liverpool ( – they also have a great online store. Not an ad, they’re a genuine fave. I think it’s definitely worth saving your pennies and buying legit than taking shortcuts and being disappointed!

So there you are – these are my top 5, one size fits all tips. Share yours and any questions in the comments below. Love, Nessie 🌿🐱🐱🐱🌿

The plant edit: easy like Sunday morning – my top 5

You gotta love house plants (if you don’t, I mean, why are you even here?)… But they can be hard work. Let’s take a toddler analogy. Tantrums. Too hot, too cold, too much water, not enough water. In the wrong beaker. Pests (trust me, mealybugs are just like headlice). Won’t get into the goddamn car seat!!! 💁🏻‍♀️

But having tested a fair few over the years (plants now, a toddler is for life; until it grows into a teen… and then you really do begin to consider your options), there are definitely a few out there – ranging from easy to downright indestructible. And trust me: if I can’t kill them, you’ll definitely be alright!

1. Swiss Cheese Plant (Monstera Deliciosa)

For me, the Monstera is the queen of the houseplants. Stunning, but easy going, needing little more than an occasional leaf wipe down (or shower). She tolerates most conditions (but to grow well prefers sun, mine is about a metre away from a west facing window) and copes well with my lazy, irregular watering. She also takes a good haircut and mine (Matilda, pictured) has had 3 successful babies from water propagated cuttings and just carries on growing! What’s not to love?

2. Philodendrons

From the common heartleaf to the beautiful Brasil (with the gorgeous bright green highlight in the middle of the leaf), these guys do well in anywhere, even in shady spots. Phil (pictured, far back) is in a bright room but far from the window, getting no direct light) and look at that bad boy grow! They’re super versatile too – they can trail or climb, or you could keep them in a standard pot and give them regular haircuts = more free plants. What’s not to love, part deux.

3. Devil’s Ivy (Epipremnum aureum)

Delia Smith. Virtually indestructible. Tolerates most conditions aside from super direct sunlight and it propagates like a botanical bunny. I keep mine in the shadiest corners where nothing else will grow – and look… Like philodendrons, it will grow up, down, sideways and backwards, and they’re also quite cheap and easy to find (stop it).

4. Mother in law’s tongue or snake plant (sansevieria)

Super easy to care for, actually prefer neglect. Hardly need watering. No pruning needed. Does well in light or shady spaces. Lots of varieties. Has lots babies. And it propagates well from leaf cuttings. What more can you ask for? Pictured is a moonshine variety. His name is Michael Jackson (the general) 🤷🏻‍♀️

5. Never Never Plant (Ctenanthe burle marxii)

That fancy pretty girl down there, second from the right, is cTanya (silent c). Do not be fooled by her dazzling beauty and likeness to common calatheas. She is actually a dream to care for unlike her fussy cousins. Fear not – as long as you find her a good spot where she can thrive – then do not move her – she will happy sit and put out new leaves almost daily – I kid you not. So sit back, water sparingly, and enjoy. Tanya sits about 3metres from a west facing window so gets some direct rays in the afternoon.

So there’s my choice of easy plants! What are yours? Let me know in the comments below. Love, Nessie 🌿🐱🐱🐱🌿