Paint a Picture with House Plants

Gardeners do not need paints to make a picture. With a palette of living plants, they can paint a memorable composition, drawing from a wealth of material that is both old and new. With a small expenditure of time, effort, and money, many kinds of fascinating houseplants can be used to compose this masterpiece.

Paint Picture HouseplantPin

Begonia Varieties

Among the plants to use are the many kinds of begonias. In size, these vary greatly so that some are dwarfs, while others are giants with leaves a foot or wider. Exceedingly popular are the colorful rex begonias, with their leaves marked with silver, purple, red, turquoise, and other hues. 

Hundreds of varieties of this begonia are available which require the same culture as other fibrous-rooted kinds. In the summer, however, strong sunlight will burn the leaves.

For begonias use soil composed of two parts good garden Loam, one part leaf mold, one part sharp sand, and one-half part or more of well-rotted or dehydrated cow manure, with a generous sprinkling of charcoal.

Though the leaves of other fibrous-rooted kinds are less spectacular in color, they have a wide diversity of size and form. Then, too, the blossoms are often more important. Give them the same soil mixture and the same cool, semi-shady spot out of doors in the summer. Either plant them in the ground or leave them in their pots.

Window gardeners who are fond of variegated foliage will like the calla lily begonia. A sport of the wax or semperflorens type, it has unfolding pure white leaves, which resemble tiny calla lily blossoms. Older leaves are only partly variegated.

To grow this begonia successfully, keep it from damping off or rotting at the soil line, brought on by over-watering. To test the soil for moisture, thrust your forefinger into it about a half inch, and add water only when the soil is on the dry side. 

Always make sure that no excess water remains in the saucer. Clay pots require water more often than glazed containers, and small plants need daily checking.

Fascinating Vines

There is always space for interesting vines, such as Cissus discolor, a dainty grower with acute heart-shaped leaves, reddish beneath, green above, and lightly streaked with silver between the principal veins.

Parthenocissus Henryana

Parthenocissus henryana has showy flye-fingered leaves, purplish beneath and marked with white above. These two vines prefer a soil mixture consisting of two parts peat or well-rotted compost, one part loam, plus a fair proportion of gritty sand.

Zebrina Pendula

The plain green wandering jew or inch-plant (Tradescantia fluminensis) is well known but more attractive is its relative, Zebrina pendula which is well suited for hanging pots. Its striped leaves, purple beneath, are green and purple, with a frosty overlay. Another tradescantia with a similar leaf is T. reginae, an upright kind that makes an easy-to-grow houseplant.

Star Of Bethlehem

Among flowering vines, those that bloom profusely in proportion to the amount of foliage seem to be most preferred. The Star of Bethlehem (Campanula isophylla) is a perfect example. Though very dainty, it spills a veritable cascade of large white or blue star-shaped flowers over its container until it is almost concealed. Culture is simple, though plants like a rather rich soil on the sweet side since they come from limestone regions, plus good drainage.


Geraniums are never out of favor. Since first discovered over 200 years ago, they have been cherished by gardeners in various parts of the world. While we call to mind most easily the large-flowered zonal or garden type of the florist, there are enough different kinds to make collecting a lifetime work, or perhaps, a “life hobby.” 

Especially prized are those with leaves that are highly colored with rings or blotches. Also desirable is the ivy geranium, with its characteristic ivy-shaped leaves.

I recall excellent geraniums grown by farm women who simply went out and filled their pots with whatever soil was available. With the increase in nematodes and other soil-borne insects, it is better to give more attention to soil mixtures. 

This can consist of one part heavy loam, one part sharp, coarse sand, one part humus from the compost pile, plus a 3-inch potful of superphosphate for each bushel of the mixture. To a five-inch pot of soil, this would be a teaspoon of superphosphate.


The first crossandra I saw several years ago so impressed me with its beautiful Newport-pink flowers and shining. dark evergreen leaves that I did not rest until I had secured a couple of plants. Since then I have seen some with red and orange flowers, as well as white. Since the blossoms keep opening from the top, they always appear in fresh condition.

Here in Florida, we grow crossandras outdoors as tender shrubs, but in colder climates, they are house plants. To pot, use one part sharp sand, two parts loam, one part leaf mold or humus, 1/2 part dried cow manure, plus one five-inch flower potful of bone meal to each bushel of the mixture. Cuttings root freely at any time of year.


At a small flower show I attended in North Carolina last summer, I admired a single specimen of browallia because it was well-grown and covered with bright lavender, bell-shaped flowers. Then I asked myself why I do not grow this lovely annual. The answer may be that it needs an earlier start than most annuals, for it is easy to grow once started.

The Desirable Browallia

In the garden avoid setting browallia plants too closely, since they branch and require space. If you prefer plants more compact than the one in the picture, pinch three times during the season. As cut flowers, they are long-lasting and plants can be potted for the window garden at the end of the season. One of the most outstanding varieties is Browallia speciosa major.

No house plant in modern times has swept the nation with such a storm as the African violet. Those who never grew a plant before became intrigued with this so-called “violet” and started to collect varieties. Hybridists, both amateur and professional, responded to the fever by producing new varieties by the hundreds.

Starting with the single purplish-blue species, today there are varieties in many colors and shades, including pink, orchid, red, light and dark blue, and white. The doubles, which include the fringed varieties, are justly popular. 

Some with more luxuriant and thicker foliage have been designated “supremes”, while those with fancy serrated leaves are known as “girls”, such as Orchid Girl and Purple Girl. There are even miniatures for those with a leaning for small plants or who lack space for larger kinds.

Sterilized Soil

For healthy plants, certain cultural practices are needed. One is to use sterilized soil. For small amounts, treat with boiling water or bake in the oven. I use a large roasting pan in the oven for small amounts and maintain the soil, which should be slightly moist, at a temperature of 190 degrees for half an hour. 

This I check with a candy thermometer. Avoid higher temperatures, since they destroy the necessary beneficial bacteria.

For larger amounts, use soil sterilizers out-of-doors, according to directions on the containers. Always add fertilizers after sterilizing. Use boiling water to sterilize pots.

The tremendous popularity of African violets has stimulated interest in other plants belonging to the gesneriad family, such as episcias, streptocarpus, and kohlerias. The episcias are particularly striking with their colored foliage in tones of copper, bronze, silver, as well as green, and combinations of these colors. Most are trailing in habit, but they are sometimes grown on totem poles or bark supports.

Although in general, the culture is the same as for African violets, episcias are slightly more tender and must be carefully protected from drafts and temperatures lower than 60 injurious degrees.

Cape Primrose

The common name of streptocarpus is cape primrose. These large-leaved plants are low growing, but generally send up comparatively tall stalks of showy flowers, tubular in shape and blue, lilac, or pink in color. They thrive in any rich soil or compost and may be readily increased by division or by seeds.


Kohlerias, formerly called isolomas, are natives of the American tropics. They are upright, rather hairy plants, a foot or two tall, bearing reddish or orange flowers at the axils or the tips of the small branches. A well-grown kohleria will remain in good condition for two months or more if not over-watered and protected from chilling. 

With their bright cheerful flowers, they are especially appropriate at Christmas time. The creeping rhizomes can be dried off and repotted after the plant has been eased into dormancy.

44659 by Bess Shippy