Indoor Plants, Lotti, Planting, Plants

how choose houseplant

Houseplants are a great way to add colour and life to your home, especially during the winter. We’ve touched on some of the benefits of houseplants before, so it might not come as a surprise to learn that keeping plants indoors is great for both your mental and physical health! Houseplants help to improve the quality of the air in your home and some studies show that they reduce stress levels and even increase productivity. Making the decision to buy a houseplant can, however, be a daunting task: especially if (like me) you have trouble keeping them alive! We’ve put together a handy guide on choosing the right houseplant for you so you can have all of the benefits with none of the stress.

Choosing a Houseplant

Choosing the perfect houseplant for your home can often feel a little overwhelming. There’s a lot of factors you need to consider when choosing a plant: how much light it needs, how much watering and how much space you’ve got. The best advice to follow if you’re new to house plants (or not feeling very confident) is to pick a hardy plant which doesn’t need a lot of looking after. The two most important factors you need to take into account when buying a plant is space and lighting.

succulents

Space

Even the tiniest apartment can benefit from a selection of houseplants. If you’ve not got a lot of floor space, trailing plants like String of Pearls (Senecio Rowleyanus) or Hearts on a String (Ceropegia Woodii) are great for placing on a high shelf or hanging from the ceiling. Desks, workspaces and nightstands can benefit from small potted plants, and succulents or cacti are easy to care for and as well as being compact. Air Plants are also becoming more common: these miniature plants are fairly easy to keep alive and they don’t need soil, great for avoiding mess and saving space! Lucky Bamboo can be picked up in most garden centres fairly cheaply, and while it can grow to 3ft it can be easily maintained with regular trimming.

If you’re after a splash of colour, Polka Dot Plants and Flowering Kalanchoe come with vibrant leaves and blooms. You can also make the most of your space by investing in a window box for sun-loving plants. Houseplants don’t need to be purely decorative: you could also grow herbs, great for saving money and making tasty meals.

Light

A tricky hurdle when choosing houseplants can be figuring out how much light your home gets. If you’re looking for plants for your home or office, you’ll probably need to find plants that thrive in low light or artificial light. While all plants need light to photosynthesise and grow, there’s still lots of plants on the market which are great for homes with low lighting levels or offices and workplaces with artificial light.

Aglaonemas are a hardy, leafy plant that copes well with low light. These plants can also grow quite large – great for filling a lot of floor space if you only want to buy one or two house plants. Devil’s Ivy, so-called because it can grow almost anywhere, will also thrive in the shade and is small enough to fit on a shelf or desk. If you’re after a plant that’s super-hardy and easy to grow, then Spider Plants are great for window sills and mantelpieces. If you’re looking for a way to brighten up your space at work, Bromeliads can survive on fluorescent light alone.

potted succulents

Non-Toxic Plants

A big concern for households with pets or babies is toxicity. There’s lots of pet-safe plants on the market, and it’s a good idea to look up a plant before you buy it to double check if it’s safe for your family. There are a number of household and garden plants and flowers which are harmful to cats, so it’s good to check before introducing any if you’ve got cats or kittens.

To save having to google every plant that piques your interest (only to find that it’s not safe for Fluffy), we’ve put together a list of indoor plants that are both non-toxic and easy to care for:

  • Spider plant – also known as chlorophytum comosum, Spider plants are a great choice for novice gardeners thanks to their bouncebackability.
  • Chinese money plant – chinese money plants are easy to care for and requires less watering than many other houseplants. They’re also said to bring wealth if you plant a coin in the soil!
  • Kenita Palm – a large palm great for growing indoors thanks to being super durable. When grown indoors, Kenita palms can grow up to 12 feet tall!
  • Bromeliad – a colourful, trumpet-shaped plant that’s great for growing on a windowsill or mantelpiece. Bromeliads are non-toxic and can be found in most garden centres.
  • Donkey’s Tail – also known as Sedum Morganianum, Donkey’s Tail is a small but hardy succulent that thrives best in a sunny spot, great for desks or bedside tables. It can also be hung from a hanging basket.

hanging pot

Hardy Plants

If you’re more worried about practicality than aesthetics, then simply buying the hardiest plant you can get your hands on might be the right direction for you. By investing in an easy, durable plant you can get used to sticking to a watering routine and gain more confidence before moving on to plants that are more impressive – but also more difficult to keep alive. Here’s a list of some of the hardiest plants that we’ve found that are great for first-time indoor gardeners.

  • Aloe Vera – as practical as it is tough, the gel inside the aloe’s succulent leaves is great for treating burns.
  • Zanzibar Gem – also known as ZZ Plants, Zanzibar Gems are incredibly hardy and make an impressive statement in your home. Be warned, though: these plants are toxic to humans and animals so aren’t suitable for houses with pets or young children.
  • Snake Plant – this spikey plant is also called “Mother-in-Law’s tongue” due to its sharp shape. This plant needs little watering and grows very tall, great for adding colour to small spaces.
  • Peace Lily – a popular houseplant, Peace Lilies are easy to care for and fairly low maintenance. They come in a lot of sizes, too, so they’re great for small and large homes alike.
  • Devil’s Ivy – also known as Scindapsus, this trailing plant is great for hanging from a ceiling or placing on a tall shelf where it’s heart-shaped leaves can cascade down.

Jenny at PrimroseLotti works with the Primrose Product Loading team, creating product descriptions and newsletter headers.

When not writing, Lotti enjoys watching (and over-analyzing) indie movies with a pint from the local craft brewery or cosplaying at London Comic Con.

Lotti is learning to roller skate, with limited success.

See all of Lotti’s posts.

Garden Tools, Lotti

In the June of 1994, Alvin Straight, veteran of both WWII and the Korean war, was facing a tough decision. His 80-year-old brother Henry had suffered a stroke and was incredibly ill. Straight, aged 73, hadn’t spoken to his brother for nearly a decade and decided that now was the time to make amends…but he lived in Laurens, Iowa and Henry in Blue River, Wisconsin: 250 miles away. Alvin’s age and failing eyesight meant that he didn’t have a valid drivers license and he had a deep distrust of the public transport system.

So what could he do? This could be his last chance to see his brother alive. By July, he’d finally made his decision. He loaded up his trailer with food, water, petrol and camping equipment and hitched it up to his reliable ride-on lawnmower and set out to see his brother.

straight story
Alvin Straight, played by Richard Farnsworth in David Lynch’s ‘The Straight Story’

Alvin Straight had only travelled around thirty miles on his lawnmower before the engine blew. He was towed home, the lawnmower a write-off and the trailer still full of provisions.

Maybe it was a sign; perhaps the universe was sending him a message to invest in a bus ticket instead. Or perhaps it was sending him a message to buy a more reliable lawn mower.

Upon returning home, Alvin bought a 1966 John Deere riding lawn mower and once again set off at a whopping speed of 5 miles per hour on the 250 mile journey to Blue Water (roughly the same distance from Portsmouth to Leeds). He waved goodbye to his wife and daughter and headed down the U.S. Highways, shunning the winding country roads that he’d favoured before.

This time, it took four days (and only twenty-one miles) for Alvin to once again run into troubles as he plodded down Highway 18. The John Deere mower had a slew of mechanical troubles which he was forced to stop in West Bend, Iowa for repairs, paying around $240 for a new generator, starter, and spark plugs. But Alvin was stubborn and would not be deterred, and after paying for the various repairs once again set off.

long road

His next bump in the road came 90 miles from West Bend when he ran out of money. The veteran lived off of social security cheques, and his next installment wouldn’t be for two weeks. With a tiny engine that only held around 5.6 litres of fuel, petrol was one of the highest costs of the journey. Undeterred by this seemingly minor setback, he parked his lawn mower and trailer at the side of the road and camped out while he waited for his money to come in. With a trailer packed with groceries, a foam rubber mat to sleep on and a camping stove, Alvin spent two weeks in his makeshift camp, waving to the cars that passed him by.

If it wasn’t faulty parts or money stopping Alvin Straight, it was the weather. Just thirty miles from Wisconsin torrential rain forced him to stop once again. Nearly blind already, the poor conditions made driving impossible. In an interview with the Washington Post, Straight said “I’m not crazy enough to drive in the rain…If you can’t see, get off the damn road.”

Finally on the home stretch, with the weather cleared and his money woes behind him, the road ahead seemed clear for Alvin: but there was one final moment of bad luck in store for him. A mere two miles from his brother’s home, the mower broke down for the final time. A passing farmer helped him push the Deere and the trailer the rest of the way, arriving at the house on August 16th, six weeks after setting off.

John Deere tractor

Alvin Straight stayed with his brother and family for several weeks. During this time, news of the lawn-mower road trip had reached national news organisations and offers were pouring in for interviews and TV appearances. He turned down the chance to appear on the Late Show with David Letterman and The Tonight Show with Jay Leno, choosing rather to stay away from the spotlight. He did, however, accept a fee to appear in a local John Deere dealership’s advert. He also traded his 1966 mower for a brand new one worth $5000 with the owner of the Texas Equipment Company, who displayed his old one as a curiosity.

Several weeks later, Alvin Straight reluctantly accepted a lift back to Laurens with his nephew in his truck. After his recovery, Henry followed his brother and moved back to Iowa to be closer to his family.

You’d think that his six week, 250 mile trip was enough adventure for Alvin, but nearly two years later he set off again (on his new mower) for Idaho. At 1100 miles, the trip was nearly four and a half times as long as his journey to Wisconsin. He made it 400 miles before being found in South Dakota, suffering from sunburn and dehydration. Straight returned home but never fully recovered, and passed away after a stroke in November 1996. True to form, his funeral procession was accompanied by a John Deere mower.

Jenny at PrimroseLotti works with the Primrose Product Loading team, creating product descriptions and newsletter headers.

When not writing, Lotti enjoys watching (and over-analyzing) indie movies with a pint from the local craft brewery or cosplaying at London Comic Con.

Lotti is learning to roller skate, with limited success.

See all of Lotti’s posts.

Christmas, Decoration, Lighting, Lotti

history of christmas lights

It’s Christmastime: you and your family are gathered in the front room, a log fire gently heating a pan of aromatic roasting chestnuts. Ancient Auntie Annabelle is playing some old tune on a grand piano decked with red, orange and yellow flowers and an indeterminate number of children bound around in their Sunday best, teasing a small dog wearing an oversized blue ribbon.

It’s the perfect picture of festive bliss.

Until, that is, the Christmas tree sets on fire.

One hour, a ruined tree, several disappointed children and some very burnt chestnuts later, the fire has been put out and the soggy remains of what was once a mighty spruce now lie steaming on the rug.

Martin Luther Tree
An engraving from 1860 showing the story of Martin Luther, who was said to have been the first to bring a Christmas tree inside.

Having a Christmas tree in the 1850s was a dangerous business. Illuminated with candles, households with a tree ran the very real danger of it setting alight. The felled evergreen, drying out more and more every day, was perfect kindling. To prevent this, most families would only light their trees for half an hour or so at a time and would ensure that buckets of sand or water were close to hand at all times should the worst happen.

The Christmas tree has been a popular staple of household festivities for hundreds of years, and the illuminated tree was (and still is) an icon of the wintry season. Like trees, candles have played a key role in Christmas and solstice celebrations for just as long. For Christians, the candles represented Jesus Christ as the light of the world and they were particularly popular in early modern Germany. One of the earliest recorded use of candles to celebrate Christmas was in the middle ages where a lit candle represented the star of Bethlehem, shining the way to the baby Jesus. The candle was also an important aspect of advent, starting with German Lutherans who lit Advent wreaths on each Sunday leading to Christmas day. For Pagan communities, a burning candle represented the light of spring during the long winter solstice. Candles are also a key part of Hanukkah and Kwanzaa celebrations.

It made sense, then, to combine the tree and candles for a real Christmas treat. Despite the obvious dangers, people insisted on keeping the tradition alive, leading to a group of insurers in the US refusing to pay for damages caused by Christmas tree fires, stating that policyholders “knew the risks” of having them in their homes. The Christmas tree, complete with lights and garlands, was found all around the world – particularly in the homes of the rich or influential.

Queen Victoria tree
An engraving from the 1840s showing Queen Victoria’s household and their Christmas tree, lit with candles.

In the 1880s, electricity was beginning to make its way into homes and businesses around the UK and the US. With this, came the widespread distribution of electric lights; a safer way to illuminate buildings. In the UK in 1881, the Savoy Theatre was the first building in the world to be lit only using electric lights, and the next year its owner Richard D’Oyly Carte took it one step further by illuminating the principle fairies in that year’s production of the opera Iolanthe. Each fairy sported her own miniature electric light designed by Joseph Swan, the pioneer of the incandescent light bulb, which some claim led to the use of the phrase “fairy lights”.

It wasn’t until the Christmas of 1882 that electric lights made their way onto the Christmas tree. They were introduced by Edward Hibberd Johnson, a partner of Thomas Edison who had demonstrated his electrical light’s power two years previously in an impressive outdoor Christmas display. Johnson hand-wired 80 red, white and blue lights (which were described as being around the same size as an “English walnut”) which he strung around his own Christmas tree that he displayed in his Fifth Avenue home. His tree was even mounted on a rotating pinebox, spinning around to show off Johnson’s innovative idea. At first, the lights were seen as little more than a publicity stunt, until a reporter from Detroit picked up the story and Johnson was flung into the limelight.

Edward Hibberd Johnson’s illuminated Christmas tree
Edward Hibberd Johnson’s illuminated Christmas tree.

While electric tree lights had suddenly burst onto the scene, they were still far too expensive for the average homeowner. The miniature lights needed to be wired individually by hand, and so would often need professional electricians to install. This could cost up to $300 per tree – that’s around $9000 today! The first electrically illuminated Christmas tree made its way into the White House in 1895 with President Grover Cleveland, whose tree had over 100 multi-coloured lights. The first commercially available string lights were manufactured by General Electric in 1903, but at $12 for three festoons (with a grand total of 24 bulbs) it was too much for most shoppers.

The cost of Christmas lights wasn’t the only thing preventing them from being embraced by typical consumers. By 1925 only half of homes in America were powered by electricity and while the first stages of the National Grid were opened in the UK in 1930 only 1 in 3 houses had electricity by 1933. The expense, relative scarcity and lingering mistrust of electricity meant that it wasn’t feasible for families to replace dangerous wax candles with strings of electric bulbs.

An advert for electric Christmas lights from General Electric published 1901
An advert for electric Christmas lights from General Electric published 1901

While General Electric introduced the first string lights to the market, it was a teenager named Albert Sadacca in 1917 who really popularised them. The story goes that after a devastating house fire caused by candles hung on a tree in New York, Albert (aged only 15) repurposed the novelty lighting that his parents sold to be used on Christmas trees, swapping out the white bulbs for brightly coloured ones. His family’s company was just one of fifteen selling Christmas lights, and in 1925 they formed the NOMA Electric Company, which quickly became the largest manufacturer of Christmas lights.

As Christmas lights became more popular, manufacturers began to experiment more with different colours and shapes, pathing the way for novelty Christmas lighting. Bulbs shaped like popular figures, flowers and fruit were also sold alongside “matchless stars”, which were common during the Great Depression. Now-iconic bubble lights were particularly popular in the 1940s after WW2, which contained (an often carcinogenic) liquid that boiled and bubbled at a low temperature to create a flickering effect.

vintage christmas ads
Left: 1950 advert for NOMA bubble lights. Top Right: 1904 advert for General Electric. Bottom Right: 1949 advert for General Electric.

Today, Christmas lights (and fairy lights of all kinds) come in hundreds of different shapes and sizes, and thanks to improvements in waterproofing can be hung all over your house as well as your tree. You can string miniature Rudolfs from your fireplace and deck your halls with giant LED snowmen. Traditional filament or wired bulbs have been replaced with LEDs, which are safer, longer lasting and more energy efficient. If string lights aren’t your thing, you can even get laser projectors! Check out our range of garden lighting to see if you can add some extra twinkle to your garden this year.

Jenny at PrimroseLotti works with the Primrose Product Loading team, creating product descriptions and newsletter headers.

When not writing, Lotti enjoys watching (and over-analyzing) indie movies with a pint from the local craft brewery or cosplaying at London Comic Con.

Lotti is learning to roller skate, with limited success.

See all of Lotti’s posts.

Celebrations And Holidays, Halloween, Herbs, Lotti

samhain

There’s a frost on the ground this morning, and crisp autumn leaves crunch beneath my boots as I walk to work. For a few weeks the mornings will be light again, but the evenings have been plunged into darkness. Yesterday evening I stood outside and felt the chill in the air, smelt the telltale aroma of a bonfire burning somewhere far away. The moon has been bold and bright these past few days, and while it’s waning now it still manages to light up the sky.

Halloween is upon us.

This special time of year has been celebrated in one way or another for hundreds, if not thousands of years. It marks the halfway point between the autumn equinox and winter solstice as communities prepare for the long, dark months ahead. During this time, the boundary between the worlds of the living and the dead is said to weaken, allowing spirits (both malevolent and benign) to slip into our world. Celebrated in one of its earliest forms as Samhain (pronounced “sa-win” or “sow-een”), this marrying of our world and the otherworld was an important part of Celtic calendar.

halloween ritual

Many modern Halloween celebrations originate from Samhain and other gaelic festivals, and it’s believed by some scholars that the festival was Christianized into Halloween by the early church. Samhain focused on remembering and honouring the dead while harmful or mischievous spirits were warded off. It involved lighting bonfires and preparing meals using the recent harvest, setting a place at the family table for the dead. Often, people would dress themselves and their children in disguises to confuse any evil spirits who may have crossed over during this liminal time. In Ireland, offerings would be left for the aos sí (spirits or fairies) in exchange for their careful watch and blessings during the winter.

Samhain is the time of year where people celebrate being at one with nature’s rhythms as part of the cycle of life and death. As the cold creeps in, plants and flowers in the garden begin to wither and die and the harvest is over, leaving the fields bare. In early cultures, cattle were brought back from summer pastures at this time and livestock was chosen and slaughtered ready for winter.

Early celtic people had to be in tune with nature all year round and pay close attention to the changing of the seasons so they could better prepare their homes, livestock and farms. Today, most of us have the luxury of central heating and a local supermarket, so the changing of the seasons can often pass us by. Farming has modernised to make overwintering animals easier, and produce which cannot be grown in the UK during the winter can be shipped in from overseas. Samhain, which once served to remind us of the encroaching winter and the impact the season has on the world around us, is now more widely celebrated as Halloween.

pentacle symbol

If you’re feeling a little traditional this year, why not take part in some Samhain celebrations as well as apple-bobbing and trick-or-treating?

Start by taking a nature walk somewhere near your home. A forest, wood or patch of wild land is a perfect place for a spot of natural contemplation. Observe the changing world around you, take note of the colours of the leaves and keep an eye out for wild birds and animals. When you place yourself in a wild space like this, you remind yourself that you’re a part of nature just as much as the trees growing around you or the animals scurrying through the brush. If it’s permitted, collect some objects to bring home with you.

autumn forest

If it’s safe to do so, you could light a bonfire in your garden or kindle flames in a fireplace. The bonfire mimics the sun and its power to hold back the darkness and death so closely associated with winter. In later traditions, bonfires were said to have protective powers. When your bonfire is lit, write a habit you want to break out of or rut that you’ve found yourself stuck in and throw it into the fire as you imagine yourself adopting a new, healthier way of life.

Because the boundaries between worlds is thought to be thinner at this time, many people hold séances or practice divination using runes or tarot cards to seek guidance for the year ahead. This is also a way people give thanks to and remember those who have passed on.

You can also prepare a celebratory meal. A Samhain meal should focus on fruits and vegetables, wild game (if available) and foraged foods. All the food should be served at the same time complete with candles and a centerpiece and a place should be set and food should be served for the memory of the dead. Get some traditional Samhain herbs and spices to add some flavour to your meal: Rosemary is said to be a herb of remembrance: perfect for observing the tradition of remembering loved ones who have passed away. It’s also often used as a smudge for protecting magic spaces. Mugwort is another herb used by different magic practitioners who believe it encourages lucid dreaming and healing.

If you’re not feeling convinced, it’s always helpful to remember that you don’t have to believe in magic to grow useful, practical plants in your home or garden. Here’s a list of things you can grow yourself which are thought to help with a variety of illnesses and ailments.

Aloe Vera

aloe vera

Aloe Vera has been grown in homes and gardens for years thanks to its healing properties. The clear, sticky gel found inside an aloe vera plant is believed to be a effective moisturiser and is thought to relieve pain and speed up healing time for minor burns. Ancient Greek physician Dioscorides wrote what is thought to be the first written account of the supposed healing properties of Aloe Vera around AD 41 and by the second century it was an important component of the physician’s pharmacy.

Aloe Vera is an easy, stylish plant which is great to grow indoors. To harvest the gel from the plant, you need to remove a mature leaf from the plant by cutting it as close to the base as possible. Let the yellow sap drain from the leaf, then give it a quick rinse. Using a sharp knife, remove the serrated edges of the aloe leaf then remove the top and bottom pieces of skin (similar to filleting a fish). You should be left with a leaf-shaped sliver of translucent gel, which can applied to the skin. The easiest way to store aloe gel is to cut it into small cubes, where you can keep it in the fridge for about a week or freeze it for a month.

Lavender

lavender

Lavender is famous for its relaxing aroma and has been used for thousands of years all around the world. Lavender oil is said to have antiseptic and anti-inflammatory properties which can help bug bites and even minor burns and one study noted that wounds treated with lavender oil closed faster. Lavender is most popular, however, for its calming effect and the benefits it can have for those suffering from restlessness, insomnia or anxiety.

Lavender can be grown both inside and outdoors. Lavender should be harvested when the buds have formed but the flowers haven’t yet opened. Cut a good bundle of lavender, tie it together then hang the bunches upside down in a warm, dry spot. After 2-4 weeks, you can simply rub or shake the lavender buds off into a bowl or tray then store them however you like. Lavender is great for putting in mini drawstring bags to be tucked beneath pillows to aid sleep or even placed into a draw to keep your clothes smelling fresh.

Peppermint

peppermint

This popular garden herb has been used in alternative medicine for years to treat a wide range of illnesses and ailments. Peppermint is one of the most widely consumed herbal teas (also known as tisanes) and is said to ease the effects of nausea, cramps, diarrhea and even morning sickness or period pain. When applied as an oil, peppermint is said to help relieve headaches, muscle pain, toothache and itchiness. This versatile herb also contains menthol, which makes it a natural decongestant.

You can make your own mint tea at home with just a few ingredients. Rinse off your freshly harvested mint then give the leaves a gentle crush to release the flavour. Peppermint tea is best made with hot but not boiling water, so boil a kettle and leave it to cool for a few minutes. Place 7-10 leaves in your mug then pour the hot water over them, making sure they’re completely submerged. The tea then needs to steep – the longer you leave it, the stronger it will be! You can add extra flavour with honey or freshly squeezed lemon juice.

Chamomile

chamomile tea

Like peppermint, chamomile is an enduring medicinal herb which is most popularly consumed in tea. Chamomile is said to be great for tackling period pain, reducing inflammation and encouraging sleep, and the oil can assist healing and help relieve eczema.

You can also brew your own chamomile tisane at home by following just a few easy steps. An infuser teapot is ideal for this, but if you don’t have one you can make makeshift tea-bag from cheesecloth or pour the tea through a fine strainer when it’s ready. If you’re using freshly picked flowers, you should use them right after harvesting. Each cup requires around two heaped teaspoons of flowerheads (or more for a stronger infusion) which need to be steeped in boiling water for around ten minutes. You can add honey, mint or even apple slices to your tea to give it more flavour!

Lemon

lemon tree

Lemons have been a staple of cold and flu remedies for many years. These bitter fruits are a great way to ease the pain of a sore throat or a cough during the winter. Simply mix the juice of a freshly squeezed lemon with hot water and honey for a quick and easy homemade cough mixture.

While not the hardiest plant, lemons are one of the most popular citrus fruits to grow in the UK. They should be grown in a pot and can stay outside during the summer then brought in over the winter. You can also buy miniature lemon trees which are great for keeping on a windowsill.

Jenny at PrimroseLotti works with the Primrose Product Loading team, creating product descriptions and newsletter headers.

When not writing, Lotti enjoys watching (and over-analyzing) indie movies with a pint from the local craft brewery or cosplaying at London Comic Con.

Lotti is learning to roller skate, with limited success.

See all of Lotti’s posts.