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The great indoors; Orchids really grow on you as stunning house plants, writes JANET WHEATCROFT.

Byline: JANET WHEATCROFT

IN spring and summer, most of my indoor plants take a brief holiday out on the terrace.

They grow like crazy. Sun and light rain give them the boost they need to keep going through the months indoors.

Our houses can be pretty tough on plants. We like dry centrally heated rooms, while plants need moisture and humidity. They also need light but hate draughts, so too near a window can be risky.

Then they need water, but too much will rot their roots. And always make sure during winter to use water at room temperature, not ice cold straight from the tap.

Outdoors, the limitations are primarily soil and shade, while indoors you need to work around low light levels and dry air. Foliage plants such as ivies, the big- leafed Fatsia japonica, or my favourite, the Swiss Cheese plant, Monstera deliciosa, are much more robust than many flowering plants.

Most of our house plants come from the tropical or sub-tropical forests, growing in the shadow of huge trees.

Beneath the larger leaved varieties are the flowering plants such as the popular Peace Lily (Spathiphyllum) or a wonderful range of Orchids.

The secret of success with house plants is fooling them that they are back in the jungle, so gather your favourites together and they will create a healthy microclimate. Tall foliage plants can be grouped with smaller ones in the shade of their leaves. But even if you don't have the big leafed plants, small flowering plants benefit from the same treatment.

Half a dozen African violets and begonias in a gravel-filled bowl will always do better than a single isolated specimen in a pot.

It's easy to give plants the humidity they need without having the walls dripping with moisture. I have my plants standing in pots on big trays filled with gravel or broken- up fragments of old clay pots.

If you keep the gravel damp with daily watering, then the atmosphere around the plants will be humid. Every few days, I use a hand mist spray on the tall plants.

The real stars of indoor gardening are the orchids. There are orchids that grow outdoors in our climate, such as the magnificent Marsh Orchids, Dactylorhiza and some rare British native plants.

Tropical orchids were always expensive and best left to the specialists. But now plant breeders have produced many varieties that are much easier to grow.

Those that intrigue me are the orchids which grow on tree bark or moss, called epiphytes, meaning they grow on other plants.

Today, orchid growing in your own home is taking off at a rapid rate and it is utterly addictive. There is nothing to match the beauty of the flowers that they produce. Look out for the Lady's Slipper orchids or Paphlopediums that are in flower for up to five months, or the Dendrobiums from the Himalayas.

Orchids grown indoors are spectacular. Get quality plants from a specialist nursery, and start out with proper orchid composts and plant food.

These plants make great Christmas presents and good garden centres usually stock excellent varieties at this time of year.

For first-rate plants and supplies by mail all through the year, contact David Stead Orchids, Greenscapes Horticultural Centre, Brandon Crescent, Shadwell, Leeds, LS17 9JH. Tel: 0113-289 3933. There is also a website at www.easyorchids.co.uk
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Title Annotation:Living
Publication:Daily Record (Glasgow, Scotland)
Date:Nov 5, 2002
Words:560
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