Houseplants for home decorating

If you would like to give your home a new look but feel you can't fit it into the budget, think again. There is one way to do it for less than you think. ``I spend nowhere near what most of our friends do when it comes to decorating,'' says Californian Ellen Arnold. ``Not since I developed a green thumb.'' She gestures toward a plant-lined window.

``We needed new draperies in here a few weeks ago but couldn't afford the ones I wanted. Then I realized that there are no neighbors on this side to see in the windows, so why not just put these bright curtains at each end and fill in between with plants?'' She had planned on the solution being temporary, but it has worked so well she was able to use the drapery money for other things.

If you haven't discovered what a decorative asset plants can be, drop by a nursery. You will find plants of all sizes and shapes to fit any space -- and probably your budget, too.

One woman, discouraged after looking for months for a table that would match her other furniture and still fit under the corner dining-room windows, solved the problem by turning the corner into a bower of greenery: small plants hanging in the window, larger ones from the ceiling, a larger fern on a marble stand in the corner. The effect is lovely, the cost far less than she had anticipated.

Another woman, realizing how much a custom-made shade to fit her odd-shaped service porch window would cost, hung a huge spider plant from the top of her window. Cascading gracefully down over the glass, it eliminated the need for anything else.

If you need something to carry out a particular theme, plants can be the least expensive way to go. Early American? Try grape ivy in copper or pewter pitchers. For a country look use bright painted pots of geraniums or daisies. Use ferns for that romantic Victorian effect.

If your budget is small, start with immature plants instead of full-grown ones. And give some thought to the containers. Almost anything can be utilized. Try baskets, a slatted wooden box, even a teakettle no longer in use. Use your imagination to create an individual look.

If you haven't had much success growing things, don't despair. Chances are you've tried the wrong variety. Ivy, asparagus fern, coleus, philodendron, or mother-in-law's tongue need no more than the right light, a little water, and an occasional feeding. Try dracena, too. It's amazing how something so beautiful seems to thrive on neglect.

Most nurserymen agree that people who have trouble growing plants either water them too much or not enough or else give them too much or too little light. ``All the TLC in the world won't help if you've put a shade-loving plant in full sun,'' says one, who is happy to help customers select the right species and to advise them on how to care for the plant.

There's no doubt about it. Developing a green thumb can save you a good many greenbacks. Try it. You'll know you're hooked when you find yourself slipping off a piece so you can give it to a friend who admired that gorgeous coleus in your entryway the other day.

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