Fill in the Blank With Houseplants

We have the cure for that empty spot. Choose the look that you like, and put it together in a snap.
Ellen Ruoff Riley / Photography Joseph De Sciose

Rejoice--you've thrown out the Christmas tree. But now the room feels surprisingly empty without the presence of something green and alive. Fill the space with a tall arrangement of houseplants, and get a vibrant, fresh look to enjoy throughout the year.

Do a Little or a Lot
Make your houseplant arrangement big or small, depending on the amount of space you have and the number of containers on hand. Choose three plants: one tall, one midsize, and one trailing. Chinese fan palm (Livistona chinensis), 'Limelight' dracaena, and 'Brasil' heart-leaf philodendron are just a few options. Here are three great ways to put them together.

Look 1
A tall, sleek container--measuring 24 inches across at the top--holds all three plants in a neat, tidy display. The pot allows you to elevate the Chinese fan palm, providing great height without purchasing a larger, more expensive plant. The dracaena fills in around the base, and the heart-leaf philodendron tumbles over the edge.

Why it works: The room's uncluttered decor highlights the architectural details and natural light. The contemporary container and compact plant arrangement become a living sculpture to accent the clean, fresh surroundings.

Look 2
The original container remains in place, and a second one is added in front. The shade of the new pot complements the other, while the texture and shape differ. Move the 'Limelight' dracaena to this new addition, giving it a starring role in the display.

Why it works: The dracaena draws your eye down and anchors the arrangement with substantial bright green foliage. The second pot is half the height of the original (the correct scale for the pair to work), and its roundness gives the duo a slightly less formal attitude.

 

Look 3
Bring on the big display. Add a third container (we opted for a vase-shaped copper pot), and include two more plants in the arrangement. Repeat the selections you already have instead of bringing different ones into the mix. Leave Look 1 in the original container with all three plants. Add a 'Limelight' dracaena to the second pot, and then include another 'Brasil' heart-leaf philodendron in the copper vase.

Why it works: We have three containers that are all in the same color family, even though the materials are different. The original pot and the copper one have similar shapes, giving the arrangement a well-planned appearance. Notice the placement of the plants: The dracaenas line up on one side, and the philodendrons on the other. Along with the palm, this makes a neat triangle of texture, which is restful to the eye.

Trade Secrets

  • To lighten the load, fill the containers with enough packing peanuts to bring the rim of the largest plant's pot almost even with the edge of the decorative container. Place a plastic saucer on top of the peanuts to catch water. Elevate a small pot with a brick.
  • If you can't find the perfect decorative container or if you have the right pot but it's the wrong color, do what we did: Spray-paint it. Our large plastic container started out orange. We updated it with a metallic bronze shade.

The Particulars

Why these three plants?

  • The Chinese fan palm brings height and grace to the mix without overpowering the space.
  • The 'Limelight' dracaena's brilliant green foliage brightens the arrangement and is a new look for an old-fashioned houseplant.
  • The 'Brasil' heart-leaf philodendron links the others with the combination of dark and light green shading on its foliage. 

How much do they cost?

  • Chinese fan palm in a 10-inch pot costs between $15 and $20 at a nursery or home-improvement center.
  • 'Limelight' dracaena in a 10-inch pot costs about $25 at a nursery. Choose a traditional dracaena from a home-improvement center, and spend only $10 to $20.
  • 'Brasil' heart-leaf philodendron in an 8-inch hanging basket can be found for $10 to $15.  

"Fill in the Blank With Houseplants" is from the January 2006 issue of Southern Living.