Beyond the orchid

by Rhiannon James

Orchids have reigned supreme in our homes for many years now and it’s easy to see why. They are unfussy and elegant, yet also sensuous and exotic – a perfect pick for today’s stripped-down style. But if you fancy trying something a little different, there are a host of plants out there which can rival the orchid for beauty with a modern vibe. We asked the experts to name their favourite challengers:

Kaffir Lily (Clivia miniata)

“They can look stunning because they have such vibrant flowers and the leaves are quite architectural even when they’re not in flower. They are rarely used and rarely seen but I think they are fantastic.”

Ian Drummond, Creative Director at Indoor Garden Design (

Kaffir Lilies need a bright spot out of direct summer sun. Water moderately from spring until autumn and then give it a winter rest in an unheated room.

Giant Peace Lily (Spathiphyllum ‘Sensation’)

“This wonderful plant makes a dramatic statement, with its giant, arching leaves creating a stage for the perfectly-formed white flower spades.  It evokes a sense of peace and tranquillity in any room.”

Peter Belton, Proprietor and Designer at East of Eden Plants (

The Giant Peace Lily can grow to 1.5 metres in height and is an excellent air purifier. The plant is easy to look after and will do well in most places apart from spots with burning sun or very low light. It will benefit from regular misting with warm water.

Madagascar Jasmine (Stephanotis floribunda)

“It’s as old as the hills as a houseplant but it can look very, very modern when it’s grown on a wire column. It’s a beautiful plant and very scented.”

Stephen Davies, Indoor Plants Manager at Clifton Nurseries (

Stephanotis is a vigorous climber which needs to be trained on a support. It dislikes drafts or any sudden change in temperature and should be put in a bright spot out of direct sunlight.


“For me, Bromeliads are the thing without a shadow of a doubt. They’ve got an amazing flower, like an orchid, that lasts for three months but when the flower dies, the foliage looks fantastic. And they’re just as easy as an orchid. If you keep them for more than one flowering season, they grow pups and become this lovely natural-looking plant.”

Paul Thomas, Director at House of Plants (

Bromeliads are unusual because many have a vase at their centre which is used to collect rainwater and dew in the wild. After flowering, keep this central vase topped up with water during the growing season. Only water the compost when it dries out unless the plant doesn’t have a vase, in which case keep the compost moist but not wet. Keep humidity up by misting. Most bromeliads need a brightly-lit spot out of direct sun.

Rose Grape (Medinilla magnifica)

“This plant makes an impact in any surroundings, with its large pink bracts surrounding the flower clusters. Even without the flowers it has spectacular leaves – a truly tropical plant.”

Ian Drummond, Creative Director at Indoor Garden Design (

To get the best out of this plant, put it in a warm, bright spot out of direct sunlight and drafts and mist the leaves regularly or stand the plant on a pebble tray.

Echeveria lilacina

“We think it’s a lovely plant because it’s very subtle in colour and has pale pink flowers. It would look particularly good on a glass table where the colour and the pattern of the leaves would stand out. It will stay as a low rosette but makes a large single head quite quickly.”

Richard and Sheena Drane (

Echeveria lilacina requires bright light. Water about once a month in the growing season (from March to October) but stop over the winter.

Umbrella Plant (Cyperus involucratus)

I like some of the things you can waterlog – for example, Cyperus involucratus needs to be kept constantly moist. It can look wonderful, almost like a little indoor water garden, especially in steamy bathrooms.”

Diana Yakeley, interior designer and author of Indoor Gardening (


“With pretty, delicate little leaves, Muehlenbeckia looks wild on a miniature scale! It can be trained to grow in any shape you like, so you can make all sorts of striking designs.”

Caroline Marshall-Foster, Board Director and Spokesperson for the Flowers & Plants Association (

Muehlenbeckia will thrive in almost any conditions, but it prefers direct sunlight. It also likes the soil to be kept moist.

Cape Primrose (Streptocarpus)

“Streptocarpus is in my view the very best of all flowering houseplants. The vast range of colours on offer from deep reds, blues and purples to the more delicate pastels of pinks, creams and baby blues, enables you to mix and match to your interior design. Streptocarpus also flower over a very long period, given the right growing conditions. The varieties from the Dibleys’ Crystal Range will however flower all year round.”

Paul Johnson, Mail Order Manager at Dibleys Nurseries (

Feed Streptocarpus with a high potash feed once a week when flowering, keep compost on the slightly dry side and place in a bright position.

Kentia palm (Howea forsteriana)

“It looks elegant, tolerates low light levels well and doesn’t grow too big too quickly so it won’t outgrow its space.”

Simon Gridley, Owner at Amulree Exotics (

Kentia palms are very easy to look after and will thrive in almost all light conditions apart from direct sun.

Cast Iron Plant (Aspidistra elatior)

“A lot of urban flats and houses, especially the older properties, are a bit dark, and it’s quite hard to find plants that’ll work. The Aspidistra is a great plant for shady spots though. It’s also a fantastic foliage plant which is quite architectural and modern-looking and can get to a nice size.”

Peter Hulatt, Managing Director at Camden Garden Centre (

Aspidistras cope very well with neglect, just keep them out of direct sun and water when the compost gets dry.


Photos by The Flowers & Plants Association

One Response to “Beyond the orchid”

  1. Hayley Thomas

    Hi City Planter! I just thought I would say what an amazing online magazine this is – and a great article. I am off to buy a Rose Grape!

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