I do not have a green thumb, which makes no sense. My mother has houseplants that may outlast all of us. I have given her houseplants as gifts, which now look like an innocent version of Little Shop of Horrors— they are ancient, massive and so perfect they look fake.
I was so obsessed with plants when I was a kid that I cleaned disgusting farm equipment in my free time during the summer in exchange for plants from my neighborhood greenhouse. I planted everything I could get my hands on, in every color, all together, in the tackiest way possible. (Forgive me, I was 10). I even had a garden of white carnations, for which I wire-cut every hanger in our house to keep them from falling over not realizing that carnations were only grown for 7-Eleven bouquets.
We also grew an organic vegetable garden that doubled as a playground. In between rows of squash, green beans and tomatoes, you’d be sure to find Matchbox cars, Star Wars figures, heads of my sister’s dolls and other childhood detritus.
Now, as an unguided and unsupervised adult, I am much better at killing than cultivating. Nonetheless I regularly add to my indoor garden. I do not know about you, but I think indoor plants and gardening are important. I will walk into someone’s house, and rather than noticing the artwork or their beautiful sofa, I am drawn to their gigantic monstera plant in the corner or the snake plant on the mantle. You can tell a lot about someone by the plants they keep.
The point is you should have plants—a lot of them—in your house because they are beneficial. Not only are they beautiful, some of them help purify your air, trapping toxins in their delicate leaves (plants release oxygen and absorb carbon dioxide—the opposite of what we do when we breathe). They are also soothing botanical healers that offer deeply discounted therapy. They can decrease allergies and lift your mood. Basically, they undo the bad effects of being around too many people. (Kidding. Sort of). And plants are the best listeners, even when you are being annoying.
If you are reading this, I know you are an animal lover. So, it is crucial to have the right kind of houseplants—i.e., ones that are not deadly, unless they aren’t kept far away from dogs and cats. One of my dogs, Pepe, a very curious and adventurous chihuahua, will stick any plant in his mouth—indoors or out. We have wisteria in our backyard that he tries to eat every spring. The blooms are highly poisonous to dogs so we keep him away from it.
Likewise, this time of year many people give and receive poinsettias, but they are not pet-friendly because their sap is toxic. They need to be placed well out of reach of canine and feline family members.
Here is a short list of houseplants that are easy to find, easy to grow in most homes (even if you have a black thumb, like myself) and best of all not poisonous to cats and dogs:
1. Bird’s Nest Fern: A beautiful, tropical fern with rippleedge fronds; a must for your houseplant collection.
2. Peperomia Obtusifolia: Also known as a “baby rubber plant,” and characterized by spoon-shaped leaves.
3. Money Tree Plant: Easy to grow with a pretty braided trunk and it is said to bring good luck.
4. Phalaenopsis (petite purple) orchid: If you’re thinking, “Aren’t orchids extremely high maintenance and easy to kill?” Not this one. Known as the beginner’s orchid, because of its ease of care, it is still gorgeous to behold.
5. Calathea Medallion: Unique round leaves, with a green patten and burgundy underneath.
USEFUL AND DELICIOUS HERBS
If you are more daring and adventurous, like Pepe, and want to also plant something useful and delicious, try an indoor herb garden. You’ll have fresh herbs all year long. Here are some tips to get you started:
• Herbs need at least six hours of bright sunlight—preferably a south-facing window (mint, parsley and thyme can grow with less light—a west facing window will do.) You can also use a grow light, if necessary.
• Plant each herb in a separate, well-draining container, with a base to catch excess water. For winter growing, it is best to plant herbs in glazed ceramic because clay dries out too easily due to indoor heat.
• You can also purchase an indoor, hydroponic herb gardening system, which grows the herbs with water and requires no soil. Kits are widely available online and in local gardening centers.
• Chives, lemon balm, marjoram, parsley, oregano, rosemary and sage are all easy to grow indoors. You can grow fresh basil, too—but know that is does not like the change in temperature by a drafty winter window. Basil likes 70-ish degrees 24-hours a day, so if you can accommodate it, grow that too—because basil is extraordinarily delicious.
Dustin Rhodes is vice president of development of Friends of Animals. He lives with two perfect rescue dogs in Asheville, N.C.