Hundreds of houseplants set to invade RHS Garden Wisley

Company: RHS

It’s like the Day of the Triffids, but safer. Hundreds of houseplants will be growing, overflowing and taking over the Glasshouse at RHS Garden Wisley from 25 January to 1 March 2020.

A lost and abandoned Victorian house has been overrun by its only remaining inhabitants – the houseplants.  Every room is filled with plants we know and love, grown wildly out of control. From a parlour palm lounging in an armchair to a giant fern taking a bath, this is a world where the plants set the rules. 

The exhibition Giant Houseplant Takeover, created by the Glasshouse team, is aimed at inspiring everyone to think about quirky and innovative ways to grow houseplants. Ambitious and surprising, the show will give visitors the chance to wander round an entire house of six rooms, each showing different kinds of houseplants that have made themselves far too much at home.

In the Entrance, spider plants (Chlorophytum), devil’s ivy (Epipremnum) and spiderwort (Tradescantia) have obscured the staircase. In the Living Room, a banana plant has swamped one corner, bursting through the roof; a group of small palms (Howea and Dypsis) are playing chess on the coffee table with cacti chess pieces, and trailing plants (Monstera and Ceratostigma) creep around the bookcase. A parlour palm (Chamaedorea) occupies the armchair by the fireplace, now home to a spectacular bush lily (Clivia). 

Under the stairs in the Bedroom, the mattress and curtains of the four poster bed have been engulfed by bromeliads (Guzmania, Neoregelia, Cryptanthus, Tillandsia) and other plants tumble haphazardly from the dresser and bedside table.

In the Dining Room, tall succulents (Zamioculcus, Euphorbia) and cacti (Cereus) are gathered around the dining table ready for their Mad Hatter feast – cupcakes which look strangely like carnivorous plants such as Venus fly-trap (Dionaea). A globe drinks trolley is crammed with champagne bottles full of string of pearls (Senecio rowleyanus). French doors open onto the cycad (Macrozamia) garden, complete with ancient wheelbarrow.

The Bathroom, ruined by a waterfall pouring through the ceiling, has been overwhelmed by ferns and moss. A big staghorn fern (Platycerium) is wallowing in the purple and gold bath, and Boston ferns (Nephrolepsis), asparagus fern (Asparagus setaceus) and spleenwort (Asplenium) have pushed up through the floor tiles and sprout from the pedestal sink.

Carnivorous pitcher plants (Nepenthes) have settled in the kitchen with the meat cleaver and climb up the copper pots and pans.

In the rest of the Glasshouse, the experience continues. There will be an avenue of terrarium plants, and visitors will have the chance to wander along a path of over 100 air plants (Tillandsia), and see a gallery of portraits made of Echeveria and house leeks (Sempervivum). There will also be the chance to see giant orchid (Phalaenopsis) and flamingo flower (Anthurium) live sculptures surrounded by their normal sized relatives.

Garden Manager Emma Allen said: “We really didn’t have a choice – the houseplants chose us. We tried to resist, but in the end they won, and we will have make the best of it. We will keep them well fed and watered and can only hope they will leave our visitors in peace.”

She adds: “We want to encourage people to be bolder with their houseplants and let their imaginations run riot. Houseplants don’t need to sit in a neat pot. You can grow them in cups, teapots, bottles and even from the middle of chairs - they will always add beauty and joy to your home. As long as you give them right surroundings and nutrients, they will flourish.”

The exhibition builds on the increasing popularity of houseplants, particularly with younger people who cannot afford to have a garden. Houseplant sales at RHS Garden Wisley have risen by 62% this year alone, with foliage plants up 130% and flowering houseplants up 80%. Big winners are elephants ears (Alocasia) for which sales have increased tenfold, (particularly Alocasia zebrina with its zebra-like striped stem) and prayer plants (Calathea) with over 1,300 sold this year so far.

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