Biophilia for beginners: How to fill your home with plants you’ll love

The best way to freshen up your home for spring is with a new indoor plant, or 10. Here’s what you need to know.


From giant monsteras to tiny air plants, sinuously vining philodendrons to fragrant potted herbs, houseplants are proven mood lifters, de-stressors and all-natural air purifiers. And they just look so good in every room in the house. 

No wonder biophilia, which means “a love of living things,” has been trending in interior design, especially over the last few challenging years. “People are definitely decorating with plants,” says Bethany Garant, owner of VI Plant Shop in Victoria. “Having houseplants is definitely a trend, and I don’t see it going away — it’s gratifying to see things grow.”

As with so many things, social media is at least in part responsible for the trend. In the 1990s and 2000s, indoor plants had actually been getting less and less popular. But then, says Kevin Tholenaars, founder of the Vancouver-based online plant store Plantsome, “In 2015, 2016, as social media played a more important role in lives, stylists began using greenery, plant influencers appeared and it started a boom cycle. And the pandemic was like rocket fuel.”

Once COVID hit, he says, “Houseplants became so popular, we couldn’t meet demand, couldn’t get inventory. Now that we’re out of the pandemic, it’s correcting a little, but plants are still very popular.”

Whether you’ve been meaning to incorporate some green living things into your own space or struggling to keep your leafy friends alive, here’s what you need to know.

Choosing Your Plant(s)

For Garant, the challenge is to help customers find the right plant for the right place. It all comes down to a few basic questions:

• How much light will the plant get?
• What size plant are you looking for?
• How much effort are you willing to expend on your plants?
• Do you have pets?

“The majority of our customers are new or had never been interested in keeping houseplants. We answer a lot of questions,” Garant says. “We want people to be able to care for their plants and we want the plants to live long and healthy lives. We don’t want people to leave with a plant and not know how to keep it alive.”

As with anything else, trends in houseplants come and go. But just because, say, fiddle-leaf fig trees are all over Pinterest doesn’t mean they will work in your home.

Irene Blazich, co-owner of Treefrog Tropicals in Duncan, says she spends a lot of time helping customers new to buying indoor plants determine what they want in a plant. “The biggest question is ‘What won’t I kill?’ ” she says, laughing. “The second question is whether it’s pet safe.”

Many common plants, including English ivy, pothos, tulips and lilies are toxic to pets if ingested. But there are lots of cool pet-safe plants to choose from. Peperomia is one interesting option, as well as calathea, and both have many different varieties, which is great for collectors.

Sean Partlow, a Victoria landscape architect and owner of Back in Five plant shop, says larger plants and trees are popular, especially with people who want a statement tree rather than a collection to care for. Many of his customers are asking for olive trees, “but that is a mistake,” he says. “They don’t do great indoors — but interior designers bring them in for magazine photo shoots.”

A better choice would be dracaena or a variety of fig tree such as Ficus Audrey. But be prepared to pay for larger specimens.

In any case, Partlow says, “There is a huge spike in interest in plants. You see them more in design magazines, restaurants. And then COVID — everyone wants plants.”

Caring For your Plants

It’s been said that, especially for younger generations, pets are the new kids, and plants are the new pets. And like your fur babies, your plants need to be cared for.

Plants have their own special needs, depending on the variety, and the best way to learn is by asking the experts at your local plant store. Understanding what your light conditions really are is important. For some plants, direct sunlight can be just as damaging as too little light. All plants like light, but bright, direct sunlight is not necessary for most of them.

Sterilized potting soil is also important and some plants, such as orchids and cacti, need specialized blends. Fertilizers are most useful — but used sparingly — when plants are actively growing, from spring to summer. 

Learning how to water plants properly takes a little effort. Some like moist soil, but others prefer the soil to dry out between waterings. Again, talk to the experts about your particular plants.

When it comes to containers, just about any vessel can become a good home for a houseplant, as long as it has drainage holes in the bottom. Plants grow best when the container is not overly large for the existing roots; when it’s time to repot, choose a container that is just a couple of inches wider and deeper.

Decorating with Plants

Adding to a room’s décor with plants can be as simple as placing a single plant in a pretty vessel on a coffee table or entry shelf. If you’re short on floor space, installing brackets for hanging plants or floating shelves for a potted grouping brings life to any spot in a home. And a collection of plants in similar pots is great for styling bookshelves or a repurposed bar cart.

“Hanging plants are really popular, but recently more people are coming in looking for plants for shelves,” Blazich says. Haworthia, especially the zebra variety, and smaller cacti are beautiful and dramatic choices for shelves, and pothos varieties never go out of style. They can trail along shelves or hang down from them.

Once you have one plant, you will almost certainly want more.

“People love variety, especially as their collections grow,” Garant says. “They look at leaf textures, variegation. There are so many different varieties, different looks and colourations. It’s nice to mix it up.”

She adds, “It all depends on your style.” If you like a clean, modern look, you might choose a ZZ plant or a striking yucca. A palm is a softer, more romantic style of plant. Or maybe you prefer plants with pink stripes or super-shiny leaves. There is truly a plant (or 10!) to suit any décor.

But whatever your style is, it should include plants.

“Plants really turn a house into a home — it sounds cliché, but it’s true,” says Tholenaars. “When you decorate interiors, they look so much better with greenery. It’s something living and growing, and you are caring for it.”

Plants to Bring Home

There’s a plant for everyone, even if your thumbs are more brown than green. (In that case, try the ZZ plant — it is slow growing, drought tolerant and can take bright sunlight, but will survive even in low light.) And once you succeed with your first plants, you will probably want to add to your indoor gardening collection with plants like the seven on this page.

Plant Why you will love it: Good to know:
1. Pothos • Fast growing
• Several varieties
• Drought tolerant
• Grows in low light conditions
2. Alocasia • Sturdy leaves
• Architectural appearance
• Stunning foliage
• Needs indirect light and frequent misting
3. Succulent • Lots of varieties for every décor style
• Drought tolerant
• Needs bright light
4. ZZ plant • Striking green foliage or, in the case of a newer variety called ZZ Black Raven, dark purple-green foliage that darkens as it ages
• Drought tolerant
• Hard to kill
• Thrives in bright light, but also tolerates low light
5. Hoya • Many varieties 
• Easy to care for
• Trailing
• Fragrant flowers
• Pet safe
• Prefers medium to bright, indirect light
6. Ficus Audrey • Elegant fig tree
• Similar to the fiddle-leaf variety, but more resilient and less work
• Matte green leaves
• Prefers bright, indirect light
7. Peperomia • Low maintenance
• Slow growing
• Varieties that are so different, it’s hard to recognize they are the same plant
• Tolerates low light, but prefers medium or bright, indirect light