Dreaming of cultivating lush, green landscapes but living in an apartment? Sure, the idea of housing a garden in a flat may not sound feasible, but according to Wilson Wong, head horticulturalist with National Parks, tackling the space issue just requires a little vertical thinking.
‘Instead of growing plants on a horizontal plane as we traditionally do, plants can be grown against a wall,’ Wong says. ‘Constructing a vertical garden on your balcony is easy enough with materials such as bamboo poles or an aluminium window grille. A sturdy, waterproof, trellis-like framework can be erected and mounted onto the wall using screws and hooks. Plants can be secured onto the vertical garden by tying them onto the grid using wire.’
Celia McPartlin, a ‘permaculturalist’, or specialist in renewable natural resources, says you needn’t worry even if you have no outdoor space or your apartment has limited sunlight exposure. ‘Plants such as herbs on a kitchen bench can be moved into sunlight for an hour or two every day, or second day, if no natural light comes in.’
Check out how these plants can help to enhance your home and health.
Spider Plants filter the air of toxins
NASA has studied which plants are best for filtering air (presumably so they know what to grow in space stations). Some of the winners are easy-to-grow houseplants such as peace lilies, spider plants and mother-in-law’s tongue. Apart from absorbing carbon dioxide and releasing oxygen (as all plants do), these ones remove pollutants and toxins such as benzene, formaldehyde and trichloroethylene from the air.
Venus flytraps keep pests at bay
Mosquito-eating plants have a great fresh scent and having a couple in the house should keep the mozzies out. Use strategically placed Venus flytraps to snap up any lingering insects. These cute, carnivorous plants need a bit of sun each day, and you should try to resist the urge to keep poking them to see the lobes close.
Herbs and spices
Fresh basil goes well in Thai green curry
Why buy dried herbs when you can grow a row of fresh flavours on or near the windowsill. Wong says he has basil, thyme, mint, bay, pandan and chilli at home. ‘Nothing beats the satisfaction of being able to pick homegrown herbs for cooking. At other times, I get to enjoy instant aromatherapy by brushing my hands against these herbs!’
Mandarin tree for luck and vitamin C
Okay, there aren’t many fruit trees you can successfully keep indoors, except maybe a little mandarin tree for Chinese New Year. But if you have plenty of sunlight coming in, Wong suggests ‘try growing passion fruit, mulberry and chiku’. If you have the patience, you can also try cultivating a whole plant from a pineapple top – place the top in a glass of water for a few days until roots start to sprout, then plant it in a pot and wait. Make sure it gets some sunlight each day.
Loosehead lettuce is easy to grow
Seed sprouts are the simplest vegetables to cultivate if you want to add homegrown goods to your cooking. ‘Wheatgrass, broccoli and sunflower sprouts are all quick and easy to grow,’ Wong says. But if you want more of a gardening challenge in your apartment, he recommends Ceylon spinach, loosehead lettuce, cherry tomato and cucumber.
Good luck plants
Money plants might improve your fortunes
If you are superstitious you will love the money plant, which is believed to bring good luck. This lush, succulent plant needs very little care. It grows well in hanging baskets, making it ideal for vertical gardens, and the dark-leafed varieties hardly even need sunlight. Another bonus is that they are easy to propagate, so you can give prettily wrapped cuttings to friends and family as thoughtful, inexpensive gifts.
Aloe vera heals burns, cuts, abrasions and bites
Gel from the hardy aloe vera plant soothes and aids the healing of burns, cuts, abrasions and bites – just cut a stem open and squeeze out the goo. The juice is also thought to be good for digestive problems…but check with a doctor before you drink too much!
Cacti do not need water
Cacti are hardy plants and hardly ever need to be watered. They’re almost impossible to kill, have large colourful flowers, and come in a vast range of shapes and sizes. Try placing some big, solid-looking ones around your door to dissuade unwanted guests or the neighbour’s children. Indoors, position a smaller model on your delicate side tables to stop people from trying to lean or sit on them.
Where to buy or rent plants