Experienced Plant Enthusiasts Share Their Tips and Favorite Plants
by LEXI BROWN
According to a recent survey, an estimated 33.1 million U.S. households participated in indoor gardening in 2019. As we have all spent the last year in-and-around our homes, the interest in the hobby has drastically increased. There has never been a better time to consider a facelift for your front yard’s landscape or to spruce up empty corners of your home with a few tropical plants. We recently spoke with two plant enthusiasts, Sarah Hendley and Barry Schwartz, who provided expert advice for either plant-related activity you decide to take on.
For Hendley, growing up in a family nursery wasn’t initially the coolest thing she ever did.
“Working in the heat and humidity was the worst, especially in Florida,” she says. It wasn’t until one morning when she glanced over her plant collection that it clicked. “‘Wow, this has gotten out of control, but maybe this is in my blood and I should do something with it,’ ” she thought.
Hendley and her husband, Daniel Reyes, began attending farmer’s markets, including the Winter Haven Farmers Market, and opened their first brick and mortar, Lida’s Jungle in St. Petersburg. They have extensive knowledge regarding indoor and outdoor gardening while making the best plant decisions for each type.
“The most breathtaking plant for outdoor landscape use is any Alocasia. They range in size and there are so many different varieties,” she says. Regal Shield, Elephant Ears, Boa, and Odora are a few popular choices commonly seen accentuating the tropical look in Central Florida.
When using Florida-friendly plants for your yard, it’s not necessary to be an expert gardener or landscaper, but rather to have the willingness to learn and a desire to maintain what’s planted.
“It’s important to consider the sun and shade you have available and to choose plants accordingly,” Hendley says. Make sure to check periodically for pests under leaves or along the stems and water a plant more regularly if you recently put it into the ground.
However, if outdoor landscaping isn’t what you crave, you may find fulfillment in trying indoor plants instead. Not only are they beautiful, but they also have been proven to purify the air, increase productivity, and reduce stress.
“More people are becoming interested in inviting plants indoors due to these reasons and more. They give off such a calm vibe and bring a lot of life to any room they’re placed in,” Hendley says.
If you’re new to houseplants, it’s essential to start with ones that are easy to care for.
“Plants like ZZs, Sansevieria, Pothos, and Bird Nest Ferns are awesome beginner plants that don’t require too much attention,” Hendley explains. By watering your plants when the soil becomes dry and placing them in a spot where the sunlight is not directly on the leaves for hours at a time, they’re apt to be successful.
Schwartz, a tropical plant expert in Lutz who goes by the name Mr. Schwartz, began his journey as a young boy engaged in the amazement of nature around him. His father was a hard-working chef but found time to grow a few vegetables in their back yard.
“I remember planting a delphinium and when it grew a 6-inch’ blue flower, I was hooked,” Schwartz says.
His interest has expanded into many families of plants, but he has spent more than 50 years collecting, breeding, and propagating unusual aroids. Schwartz admits his love for tropical plants has turned him into a hopeless, self-described phytomaniac from which many of his art pieces are derived.
“I learned a lot through trial and error, but I was stubborn to succeed,” he says.
“Small plant groups formed clubs and fellowships developed on learning from each other by sharing plants and seeds knowledge.”
To landscape on a budget, he believes that it’s best to drive away from developments and into areas that contain outdoor landscaping nurseries. “Plants in gallon pots are inexpensive, and so much is available,” he says. Personal taste also dictates what you would like to grow, and this relates to what plants you decide to bring into your home, too.
“Each plant has a specific light requirement. Most indoor plants require shade and the easiest ones that are the best to start with are aglaonema, aspidistras, philodendron, and syngoniums,” he said.
Hendley and Schwartz have high hopes for the future of budget landscaping and indoor gardening. Both expect aroids to gain in popularity because they are icons of the tropics while interest in high-maintenance lawns that waste much-needed water dwindles.
Hendley also expects to see an uptick in the popularity of “food forests” and turning our lawns into gardens.
“There is something about creating your own food forest that is extremely rewarding,” Hendley says.