There is something profoundly depressing about a poorly houseplant. A garden plant that's having an off period doesn't tend to draw the eye in the same way, as there's usually something else to camouflage it, but there's nowhere to hide from a yellowing, leggy spider plant or a parched palm.
Perhaps that's why some of us gardeners shy away from indoor plants: they look lush and lovely when we bring them home, but we stick them on a windowsill or shelf and then turn a blind eye when you're busy outside and in the meanwhile they turn a little brown at the edges, start farming their own herd of fungus gnats and generally become an eyesore.
Houseplants are out of favour. I get dozens of press releases every month about veg, fruit and ornamentals for the garden, but something on indoor plants is rare indeed. So I was delighted to receive not only a press release but a living plant from Dobbies a couple of months back. The presser promised that the Dobbies chain was giving "a tired old friend a glamorous new look", and included a top 10 health benefits of houseplants.
The plant in question was a maidenhair fern, Adiantum fragrans, a delicate number with tissue-paper thin leaves dancing on wiry black stems. I had fun getting it home on the train, but has since taken up residence in my bathroom. Normally, maidenhair ferns aren's something I'd buy: they need frequent, careful watering and humid conditions which are hard to meet in most modern houses. The bathroom's a good choice, though: usually on the chilly side, with plenty of moisture in the air from showers and baths. So far, so good, barring the occasional tug from a toddler and an accident with some toothpaste.
The Dobbies houseplant collection has four collections: Country, Heritage, Oriental Spa and Contemporary. I haven't been into a Dobbies yet to check them out, but when other garden centres are stopping the sale of houseplants, its good to see someone trying to bring them "back into fashion", even if the selections (despite all the reinvention) major on the usual suspects (I'm thinking begonias, orchids and maybe a jade plant). The pot, too, is perfect: just the right side of distressed, and a gorgeous shade of ultramarine.
Bear in mind, though, that Dobbies is owned by Tesco: if you have a problem with that (and maybe you should), try asking your local florist if s/he can order indoor plants for you. Alternatively, and for those on a tight budget, try Wilkinson or Lidl. They both sell good houseplants on occasion, but you need to get in there quick when new plants arrive as the stock isn't usually well tended. Ikea's another excellent choice, if you have one near you, and the offering's a bit more exciting: for instance the intriguing Hoya kerrii (pictured right), a tough plant which if you treat it right will end up looking like this - including the weirdly wonderful hoya flower.
*Watch out for part two, in which I'll name my top 5 houseplants that are hard to kill