Growing your own decor is the liveliest trend in interior design today. $1

Decorating with plants -- landscaping the living room or bathroom, or hanging vines instead of Venetian blinds -- became popular about two years ago, says Don Zygas, a designer with Space Interiors, which does both residential and commercial assignments in Chicago.

"Plants are something we consider immediately," he says. "I think we'll probably see an increase in the use of plants in interior design because of the winters we've been through. Plants are such a joy to come home to after slushing through snow."

While baker's racks and library steps are popular at stores for their plant-holding potential, people are not buying furniture just to hold plants or to go with plants as the house is built.

For example, planters with drains are built right into a floor or placed high on an atrium wall so a cascade of living green can trail down the bricks. Or a wall beneath a window has a shelf built into it for plants.

"Plants are an important part of design as a space filler. They also give you environment," he says. "They add life to a room."

Jon Cockrell, another Chicago designer, says, "I use plants because what they add most is softness to a room.

"You can fill a room that's architecturally severe with soft, squishy furniture, and then plants will add still another dimension of softness to it." f

Like many designers today, he likes to have one large plant in a room, "and let it be almost another piece of furniture -- to make one strong statement rather than a lot of smaller statements."

Many designers have the expertise to work with plants on their own, but others call in an expert such as Dan Waterman, of Waterman Tropical Plants, who not only provides and delives plants but who can tell the designer when a plant will not work in a particular spot.

"Plants work to give a more pleasing effect to a room by giving a flowing look to it," Waterman says. "When you walk into a room and it contains all low furniture, your eyes cast down.

"Yet, many ceilings are 9 feet high. A tall plant, or plants at different heights, will give a flowing lood, make your eyes glance up and down, and make a room more enjoyable."

He says that rooms with tall, vertical furniture will benefit by the addition of short plants with broader leaves, which will help cut the tall lines. Hanging planters also serve well in a room with tall furnishings.

Waterman makes his decisions on how to decorate with plants based on the furniture a client has, what their lifestyle is, what rooms they use as showpieces, and the children, pets and traffic in the household.

"If you have a lot of people in a household, you want to keep traffic areas open by using vertical plants," he advises.

Waterman is often called on to solve particular problems. For example, one client had a living-room that contained a big grand piano. He felt the room called for a tall, vertical plant that would not interfere with the piano, "something sculptured with a lot of character. I brought in a black aralia, a showstopper with a wooden, gnarly trunk and tufts of tight, curly leaves."

He says the trend now is toward more rare, exotic plants that people can't pick up at the local supermarket.

Nick Galatte, owner of the Flower Cart on Broadway, has worked with designer J. Neil Stevens on landscaping apartment living rooms and interior garden areas in apartments (another new trend). Galatte says people are using plants as art because real art is becoming costly.

"Some plants are like sculpture," he says. One example is cactus, which is popular and goes with the stark, clean look of contemporary rooms and works well as floor or table art.

Plants can add a new dimension to a room full of furniture and four walls. And, because they are portable, the room setting can be readily changed.