The Gentleman's Guide

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Plants

Yes, I know that if you've ever attempted to care for a plant it was probably of the illegal variety. Bad news; you're not a student any more and it's time to act a little more mature.

  • Why you want some plants.
  • Using flowers to decorate.
  • Easy options; Ficus and Aloe.
  • Finding more obscure species.
  • Ensuring the plant enhances your room, rather than taking it over.

So what's so great about plants? Well, for one they look nice. Yeah, it's that simple. It's all very well having a sleek ultra-modern apartment designed by metrosexual German robots from the future, but if you follow this design concept to it's logical conclusion you'll end up living in a brushed-steel box. Wonderful lines, yes, but not very much like a home. A living thing here or there (and I'm not talking about something you found at the back of the fridge) breaks up the sterility.

There are, of course, other reasons to get some plants. Firstly, they demonstrate that you're actually capable of looking after not just yourself but another organism as well. Doesn't quite make you father material, but it will be looked upon kindly by any ladies who may visit. It also demonstrates that as a perfect gentleman you're more than comfortable with design options that in recent years have mistakenly been viewed as more feminine. Remember, a gentleman doesn't need to constantly try to prove how masculine he is, unlike so many lesser men in our society today. Plants can also have practical uses. No, not making oxygen - if you're producing enough to notice then you have way too many plants. However, you can grow plants such as aloe vera, which can be used to treat minor burns and skin irritation, or herbs such as chives which will happily grow in a pot on your kitchen windowsill until you need to add them to your food.

Your first and simplest option, is flowers. No, these are not just for girls. Pharaohs were so into flowers they decorated everything with them, including the chariots that they rode to war. Numerous ancient civilisations also developed elaborate codes based on flowers. Such codes were revived and reinvented by the Victorians, who called it The Language of Flowers. There's occasionally some conflict on meanings, but as an example red chrysanthemum means 'I love', a multiflora rose means 'Grace' and a four leaved clover means 'Be mine', so a bouquet of the three presented to a lady would mean 'I love your grace. Be mine.'

This is perhaps more advanced than you're ready for right now (and it's a topic I'll discuss in detail in a later article), but a vase with a few fresh tulips on the table will make an excellent impression. No vase? Think creatively. For example, I have a decanter for red wine that also makes a gorgeous vase. Tall glasses (not beer mugs), pots, or almost any vessel that looks good in the centre of a table will look even better filled with water and blooms. Don't be afraid to put some sprigs of leaves in there as well, to reflect your masculine side.

You've now made that first step; it's time to get onto something that won't die in a couple of weeks - a proper, growing plant. In the world of plants, as with so many things in our society, different plants come in and out of fashion. I'm told that after the ikebana craze (Japanese flower arranging, uses those twirly pieces of bamboo you may have seen, very Zen) of the past few years, trends have swung back around to large-leaved houseplants. This is good news for you because there's plenty out there that are easy to care for and inexpensive to get hold of. They were all the rage back in the 70's (think: cheese plants) and now they've finally been purged from every home, office foyer and doctor's waiting room in the country they have, of course, become fashionable again.

Let's start with a nice easy option; the ficus. The most common variety of this you might see is the Ficus Benjamina - lots of nice green leaves about 5cm long. I have one myself and while I've heard other people say they can be hard work, I've found it to be stupidly easy to care for. Yes, you can mist the leaves with water every day or two if you want to be anal, but all I ever do is water every 3 or 4 weeks in winter, and once a week in summer. If the leaves start to go a bit wavy round the edges then it's time for a bit more water. Put the plant pot in a shallow bowl and pour water in all around until it soaks through and starts to puddle around the bottom. Add some fertiliser once in a while if you feel generous, put it in a bigger pot when it starts to look too big for the one it's in. Oh, and give it a name. I call mine Ficus. That's it. On average I spend maybe a couple of minutes a week looking after it and it manages just fine.

Another popular option is Aloe Vera. Long, pointy, thick, fleshy leaves growing straight up out of the soil. As I said, the leaves can be sliced open to release a soothing balm that's good for burns. If anything it's even easier to care for than a ficus. Water it when the soil dries out or if the leaves begin to discolour or become less turgid. Re-pot and fertilise when you feel like it. It likes some sunshine, but don't leave it to bake in direct, strong summer light for days without making sure you top up the water when the soil dries. It really is a no-brainer and you'll have to try pretty hard to kill the thing through not caring enough for it. If you manage to kill the ficus and the aloe then you need a cactus, since they're designed to go without water for weeks, or even months. They're a bit early nineties now, and not as cool, but better than nothing. Go for one without needles for something a bit different.

These are just two options that are very easy to find in every garden centre as well as lots of supermarkets or DIY stores. If you feel like being a little more adventurous then by all means go for it. I don't have room in this article to detail all the suitable plants out there but your local garden centre of branch or B&Q can help you out. Some species you might like to consider are Anthurium (Painter's Palette), Aspidistra Elatior (Cast Iron Plant), and Asplenium Nidus (Birds Nest Fern), but these are just three of many which could work for you. However, I will make a final suggestion for a more obscure option; Coffea arabica. That's right, a coffee plant. You don't get much fresher coffee than beans you've picked and roasted yourself, though it may take three or four years for your plant to produce beans depending on how old it is. The plants have quite large dark green leaves and can grow up to around 10 feet if left to their own devices. It's a pretty unique plant and when it's big enough you'll get a few pots of coffee out of it each autumn. It likes the light, but not direct sunlight, needs a bit of fertiliser every month or so, and needs the soil keeping damp with good drainage. You get pretty white aromatic flowers too, and you need to move it outside so these get pollinated during spring/summer.

Your plants shouldn't be the centrepiece of a room. They should simply add some texture around the edges. Every room can benefit from them but particularly your living room, kitchen, and master bedroom since these are the areas where you spend the most time. Also make sure they don't take over. Plants are a little like curly hair; when well managed they can look gorgeous, but left to their own devices they can grown into crazy, unruly monsters. Prune them once in a while. Either chuck the pruned bits in the bin, put them on a compost heap, take them to your local waste processing centre and add them to the garden waste, or try growing a cutting. Ficus is particularly easy to grow from a cutting, so you can be rather rough and ready with how you do this. Get a plant pot with some well fertilised, damp soil, and stick half a dozen ficus cuttings in there, cut end down. Some will die, but one or two may survive. Pick the one you like the look of the most, throw away the rest, give the cutting some TLC for a few months, and you should have a new plant to put in another room soon.

Finally, face the fact that, as I mentioned earlier, fashions change. Sooner or later those plants are going to be passé. Either resolve to not stoop to the silly fickle nature of fashion, proud that you grew something, or accept that sooner or later you're going to want to get rid of the plant. It's a decoration like any other. It has no emotion, no feelings to hurt, no sentience, and it won't be offended if you unceremoniously dump it in the bin. Accept this now, and you don't need to feel guilty in the long-run. If you really can't bear the thought of your plant dying but you're too dedicated to fashion to keep it then consider giving away it as a gift instead. That way you can always visit and sneak a little fertiliser into the pot for old times sake.





Get in touch: email me at cj@gentlemansguide.net

TOP TIP:

Plants can die from being over-watered too. Check the care instructions they came with or look them up on the internet to get an idea, but basically make sure that while the soil isn't bone dry, neither are the roots standing in a pool of water. A little gravel in the bottom of the pot can help drainage.