It’s a Jungle in There: An Indoor Gardening Adventure

Words by
Kaye Roberts-Palmer
Images by
Daniel Shipp
| November 10, 2017

When I bought my own house complete with wide sunroom window sills, I was excited to finally have my own 70s inspired abundant green jungle. I set about collecting my favourites including creeping Devil’s Ivy (Epipremnum aureum), Swiss Cheese plant (Monstera deliciosa), delicate Spiderwort (Tradescantia) and juicy orchids with visions of soothing plant life and oxygenated air. Instead, I learnt that caring for indoor plants far from being a set and forget situation had a unique set of challenges I did not expect.

I initially thought my indoor jungle would be free from pests that plagued the outdoor garden but instead tiny gaps underneath doors meant that unwanted visitors soon found themselves at a floral feast.

My first challenge was ants. Being food scavengers, body removalists and soil tunnellers; ants are one of the environment’s great cleaners and diggers. In my pot plants they caused havoc.”

Potting mix is all indoor plants have to draw nutrients and anchor themselves. Having to share this small space led to sickly plants due to ants nibbling roots to widen their tunnels, snacking on organic material in the mix and exacerbating the tendency for pots to dry out because the potting mix was riddled with tunnels. When I did water, no matter how slow I poured it shot through pooled in the dish underneath and instantly set off a mass of furious ants.

Worst of all, ants are perpetual travellers. What started off with a few scouts running around the terracotta rim of my orchid soon multiplied into lurking mini colonies.”

It was a sneaky invasion and I didn’t notice until one afternoon after enthusiastically watering five pots, the subsequent boiling masses of angry ants spilled out all over the window sill.

Once they had settled down again I whisked all the pots outside and thoroughly flushed each one. A benefit was that the plants got a good soaking and the ants quickly found a new home. Now a line of ants means a quick trip outside with the offending pot.

My other pest challenge was fungus midges – tiny black flies clambering all over the potting mix and flying up when plants were disturbed. These little bugs didn’t bite but the numbers were getting out of hand and their days were numbered when I found out that the larvae like to chew my plant roots. Over time I discovered a combination of yellow sticky traps for the adults and for the juveniles potato peel which they clung to and I was able to dispose of every couple of days. So far I have managed to keep populations under control but it’s something I keep an eye on.

It wasn’t all bad news. To my delight I discovered three young praying mantises in a recently purchased maiden hair fern.”

The first was brilliant green and perfectly camouflaged under the fern’s delicate fronds. Aware of their ferocious appetites I knew my window sill wasn’t going to cut it as an insect smorgasbord and gently deposited it on the backyard lavender bush. I only noticed the second when I saw one of the fern’s branches move, revealing another praying mantis glaring back at me, its sibling swaying on a bottom branch. They were both welcomed enthusiastically.

Now a year on I know when to water and when to hold off, I’m applying potting fertiliser three times a year and every week there is some small beautiful change to marvel over in close up.

Yes, I still have to fight the odd invasion but it was a jungle I wanted after all and I wouldn’t have it any other way.

PS. The images used in this story are from a bunch we shot for a new campaign and app, Plant Life Balance. Check it out!