House plants provide a refreshing touch of natural beauty for people who spend most of their lives in office buildings and apartments, according to Dennis A. Brown. He is former director of horticulture, New York Botanical Garden, and later commissioner of hortimulture and forestry, New York City Parks Department.
Brown is the author of avery good new book, "The Encyclopedia Botanica -- The Definitive Guide to Indoor Blossoming and Foliage Plants," (The Dial Press, 304 pages, superbly illustrated, $30).
Go grow plants success fully indoors, it is important to understand what warmth, humidity, light and water plants need, he said.
The book includes basic botany, culture, seasonal care, propagation, pests and diseases, terrariums and hanging baskets, artificial lighting and hydroponics, herbs and other culinary plants, bulbs, corms and tubers, cacti, plus details about how to grow 300 different kinds of plants with attractive flower, 200 plants with attractive foliage and plants with attractive fruit.
Brown was born and educated in England, where he began his horticultural career at London's famous Kew Gardens. In his book he also provides an illustrated glossary and six appendices that cover plants for various exposures, gift plants, flowering house plants for each month, common and scientific plant nemes, and mailorder greenhouses and plant societies.
In the home, considerations of human comfort often make optimum conditions for plant growth impractical, Brown said. The temperature range may vary considerably from one part of the house to another.
Although a large window usually offers the most desirable conditions for plants, there can be a considerable loss of heat by radiation through uninsulated glass. Drafts of cold air also find their way around even the most tightly fitting sash. Severe damage can result if tropical plants are placed too close to a window when low winter temperatures prevail.
A piece of cardboard or newspapers placed bytween the plants and window on cold nights will do much to remedy this situation. When low temperatures continue for long periods, the best precaution is to move the plants to a warmer part of the room.
Generally house temperatures tend to be too high for the majority of plants, and even tropical plants will grow far better when the temperature range is 60 to 65 degrees F. with a corresponding higher humidity, than when an arid 70 to 75 degrees is maintained.
In years gone by, there were few households without a herb garden, he said. Dried herbs are better than none at all, but they are not to be compared with those that are freshly grown. Their notable inferiority is a good reason for attempting the cultivation of fresh herbs in your own home. Few household tasks are as gratifying as gathering, fresh from your windowsill, parsley for the salad and mint for the roast lamb.
Most herbs grown in the home should be those that add Flavor to food or those whose fragrant leaves or flowers provide a pleasant scent. However, consideration also should be given to the decorative value of herbs; many have extremely attractive foliage in a variety of shapes and textures.
One of the most successful ways of growing herbs in the home is with artificial light because this makes it possible for the plants to receive about 16 hours of illumination per day. Fixtures can be installed anywhere in the home where the correct temperature and humidity can be provided.