Living

Growth habit

A new apartment opened the door to a new passion for Ron Goh, who’s created a leafy haven from scratch.

When graphic designer Ron Goh moved into the inner-city Auckland apartment he shares with his partner Matt O’Brien last year, the first thing he bought to fill the large space was plants – the furniture came later. The novice gardener soon became an avid collector, transforming their home into a thriving greenery-filled sanctuary.
Plants hang at various heights, twist around stair railings and are arranged on every surface for maximum effect: in pots, on stands, on shelves and on tables. “I love my plants and spend a fair amount of time with them,” says Ron. “It’s surprising how often I find myself thinking about them.”

ABOVE Big plants such as the giant bird of paradise seen here work well in the high-ceilinged home. “On Trade Me you’ll find people wanting to get rid of massive or unkempt plants,” says Ron. “You’ll have to go and pick them up, but for a mature plant, it’s worth it.”

So what made your thumbs become so green? It started when I was looking for inspiration on how to decorate our new apartment; I suddenly had a bright, roomy indoor space I could play with and got really excited about it. I discovered that plants give our apartment a homey and inviting feeling and I don’t even notice how many I’ve accumulated – but it’s the first thing people comment on when they walk in the door.

What’s the best way to get started? If you’re not sure what to put in a space, try a plant – you’ll be surprised at how good it looks. It’s just about playing with your specific spaces and trying options out. Even a small houseplant in a bare corner has the ability to perk up an entire room.

ABOVE Natural materials such as cane, bamboo, seagrass and timber make great company for Ron’s
leafy greens, including a Philodendron xanadu (on the floor, far left), a young giant bird of paradise (on the stool) and cherimoya trees (in the window). The brass-effect watering can beside Ninny the dog is a Kmart find.

Your apartment’s full of light – is that the key to success? Different plants do better with different sun exposure, so it’s important to get to know the bright and dark spots in your home. What sort of light do your spaces get? Is it filtered or direct, and for how many hours a day? Most indoor plants like filtered sunlight, not direct. Strong light can burn the leaves, especially new growth.
If your place doesn’t get much light, you could choose plants that can tolerate low light conditions, such as snake plants, kentia palms or rubber plants. A climbing plant like pothos will also do great. If your home is quite bright, giant bird of paradise plants, cacti and succulents are good choices.

ABOVE Ron’s favourite urban-jungle haunts include The Raw Kitchen at City Works Depot: “I stole inspiration from the philodendron vines hanging down to the counter! Bestie café [in St Kevins Arcade] also has a cool selection of plants. It’s a magical place to enjoy a cup of coffee with the morning sun shining through the massive windows.” Among the greenery pictured here is a jade plant (on the table from Freedom, with Cesca chairs by Marcel Breuer for Knoll), a kentia palm (behind it), a Calathea orbifolia (on the white stand) and a rubber plant (on the timber stand).

What else have you learned about keeping an indoor garden alive? Humidity is another variable that can help or harm your plants; it’s important to mist when the air is dry. Take note of what type of environment your plants enjoy. If a plant needs a more humid environment, try filling its pot’s saucer with pebbles, topping it up with water then placing the pot on top. Don’t let the water sit for too long – you’ll need to rinse and change it often.
Don’t overwater, though. I only water my plants once a week. Different plants like different amounts of water, so read up. Some plants enjoy frequent watering but hate wet feet, so make sure water can drain out of your pots.
Dust your plants’ leaves, too, or it’ll block the sunlight and slow growth. Once every two months should be enough, or whenever you notice they don’t look glossy.

ABOVE A nook under the stairs has become home to (from left) a Philodendron selloum, a desert rose succulent, an orchid and a hanging heartleaf philodendron.

Which plants work well where? I’ve found a giant bird of paradise or a San Pedro cactus instantly adds a tropical vibe. These tall plants need a lot of space, so a living area is the ideal spot for these.
A snake plant in a case-study planter will add a mid-century touch. They’re good for hallways or beside a chair or couch as they’re not too tall or wide and can easily be moved around.
For bedrooms, I’d recommend monsteras and fiddle-leaf figs; they’re easy to maintain, look great and are portable. Bathrooms don’t usually get much sunlight and they can be quite hot and humid, but I’ve found my snake plant and devil’s ivy live happily in ours. Staghorn ferns would do well too.
I love a hanging basket in the laundry. I have a trailing cactus plant that I picked up quite cheaply and only need to water twice a week. Its pretty simple to take care of and adds a lot to an otherwise uninteresting room.

ABOVE This artwork is by Taiwanese illustrator Hsiao Ron Cheng. The vase was a lucky find from Auckland’s Takapuna Markets.

What’s the best way to arrange plants for maximum impact? In nature, it’s random, but organised at the same time. To replicate this, go against your instincts and what you think will look organised. You’ll be surprised how good different combinations will look.
Repeating the same kind of form can look too busy, so I like to arrange plants of different heights and with different-shaped leaves together. Aim for random gaps and uneven spacing and levels, as this lends a more natural look, and leave some ‘breathing space’ too. If you have a stairwell or a high alcove or platform, hang your plants from there for interest.

ABOVE In the bedroom, a hanging pot from Città teams with a macramé holder from Trade Aid and a heartleaf philodendron. An elephant ear plant stretches up to greet it, and on the gold Gava stool from Città is a devil’s ivy and a tiny cactus. Chain of hearts trails down the headboard.

Where do you get your greenery from? I’ve picked up plants from Trade Me and at weekend markets; occasionally stallholders will sell houseplants that aren’t doing too well for a bargain and they can be easily rehabilitated. Others came from local nurseries.
I found one plant at a lovely grandma’s garage sale out west. Walking into the garage, I spied an elephant ear growing rampantly through her raised garden, so I asked if I could pay for a cutting and she ended up bundling a heap into some newspaper for me for free.
I also stumbled across some cacti growing wild in the undergrowth on a hike around Mission Bay one day. I picked a couple and they’re doing great.

ABOVE “I really like the raw look of terracotta pots – they’re inexpensive, customisable and classic,” says Ron. “I also enjoy using natural-looking and pre-loved holders. It brings a beach feel to our space.” On the stand in the rear left corner of this room are (from top) a burro’s tail, cactus, jade plant and bear’s paw. Pseudorhipsalis macrantha (left) and a string of pearls hang in front of the doors leading to the deck, guarded by a skinny snake plant on the left and a monstera on the right.

What’s been your biggest plant triumph? The giant bird of paradise has been my best buy and greatest success. It was the first plant I purchased off Trade Me and a beautiful accident. When I went to pick it up, I realised how big it was – it couldn’t even fit in the car. Luckily, the seller offered to drop it off, but it was way too heavy to carry up to our apartment. Two men couldn’t even lift it, so I decided to trim the roots and remove some leaves. I thought I could divide it to make more plants, but it didn’t really work – there was only one central plant and the new growth didn’t have its own roots. But after butchering it, we managed to move it upstairs and repot it. I thought it’d die after the abuse, but it survived. Now it looks beautiful in our living area. I feel so proud of it.
@mrcigar

Words Lisa Morton
Photography
Michelle Weir