A home-garden helps us realize a dream of beauty around us
Of all the dozens of plants in Jamie Song’s home, it is the heart-shaped, neon green leaves that colonise a wall of his living room everyone wants to know about. “What plant is it?” “How is it persuaded to climb?” “Is it simple to grow?” “Where can I buy one?” Song is more than happy to provide all the answers. His plant-packed home – and his willingness to share endless gorgeous and informative images and videos of it – have earned Jamie’s Jungle 172,000 admirers on Instagram.
The plant, a neon pothos (Epipremnum aureum ‘Neon’), grows from a self‑watering trough positioned on a stool behind the sofa, and transparent outdoor light clips secure the stems against the wall. That’s the practical bit, but what’s the magic potion that makes this and all his other houseplants grow so well? Song shrugs: there is no secret, he claims, no mystical green thumb, just a question of carefully selecting the plants that will grow well in his home.
After a childhood spent in highly urbanised Taipei in Taiwan, Song first fell in love with plants in his mid-20s when he visited Bali. But it was four years ago when he moved to his current home, a converted boiler house in south-east London with a huge skylight in the high ceiling, that his houseplant population exploded. The skylight was key, turning the open-plan living space into a kind of live-in greenhouse that’s ideal for many houseplants, including philodendrons, calatheas, begonias and orchids.
The whole place is “saturated” with greenery, says Song, with plants clustered on shelves, perched on stands, hanging from the ceiling and draping the walls. it is a “who’s who” of the must-have houseplants of the moment, from a huge Chinese money plant (Pilea peperomioides) with its neat, coin-shaped leaves, to a large mound of false shamrock (Oxalis triangularis), its dark purple and burgundy leaves like clover on steroids.
It may look like an indoor jungle of lush, healthy plants, but Song openly admits he has had plenty of failures along the way, from a battle with infestations of sap-sucking mealybugs, (the scourge of indoor plants – they look like tiny blobs of cotton wool), to struggling to provide enough light for succulent plants such as echeverias. “For me, a lot of it is trial and error. If it’s a plant I love, I will try it again, but if it dies, I won’t try it a third time,” he says.
He will go to extreme measures to source a plant he wants. Aglaonema pictum ‘Tricolor’, an unusual Chinese evergreen with leaf markings in three shades of green like a camouflage jacket, was impossible to get hold of in the UK. So Song got his mother to buy the rare plant for him in Taiwan and organise paperwork known as a phytosanitary certificate, to show the plant wasn’t carrying any pests or diseases so she could legally bring it to the UK.
Song certainly has an eye for how to match plant and pot to shelf and stand: no doubt his day job running online vintage retailer, Bureau of Interior Affairs London helps. And in turn his home acts as a gallery and display area for paintings and other collectibles. Look up and the space above is filled with plants, too, from Vanda orchids by the window to rhipsalis and purple spiderwort (Tradescantia pallida ‘Purpurea’) below the skylight. His large collection of phalaenopsis orchids live in his bedroom, but are brought into the living area as they start to bloom.
Making the best of the high ceilings by growing many plants in hanging containers maximises the space and creates a jungle-like feel. Hanging pots tend to be too small to be truly useful, but Song managed to find the perfect alternative. He bought a load of matt gold large containers meant for use as fruit bowls and drilled holes in them so they could be hung from hooks. “I acted like a mad man because they are perfect for this space, just the right size, so at one of the sample sales I just grabbed them. The staff’s jaws dropped. I couldn’t help myself.”
Song often devotes a whole day at the weekend to tending his collection – he bought an extra-tall ladder to water the hanging pots – and perusing plant shops in person and online looking for new specimens. Then there are other jobs such as dividing and repotting plants that have outgrown their space, trimming back the neon pothos when it becomes too rampant, and fertilising plants during the growing season. As for holidays, he gives them all a good water to see them through.
Taking care of so many plants can be a chore, he says, but he gets too much of a kick out of making his indoor jungle thrive to consider cutting back. “After a long day of watering, I’m exhausted. But they make me happy. When I lived in a dark apartment in central London, I had really bad seasonal affective disorder, but that’s gone.”
Plants to kickstart your collection
– Philodendron ‘Xanadu’ The glossy-green, lobed-leaved aroid is one of the easiest philodendrons to grow.
– Neon pothos (Epipremnum aureum ‘Neon’) Either tumbling from a pot or trained on a pole, a great plant for beginners.
– Purple false shamrock (Oxalis triangularis) Its vivid purple leaves open in daylight and fold shut at night, and it produces pretty pink flowers in summer.
– Calathea orbifolia Not the easiest to keep looking lush – keep it somewhere warm, humid and away from draughts.
– Moth orchids They may be mass produced, but phalaenopsis orchids are still beautiful, the flowers last for months and they’re easy to grow as they aren’t bothered by centrally heated homes.