Plant care basics

Tips for starting a houseplant collection

Though you may not think it when you buy your first one, collecting houseplants can become addictive.

This is especially the case , especially when fuelled by the ‘new buy’ and ‘cheap exotic plant in your local supermarket’ posts you often see on social media. In some ways that’s the small downside of the online plant community – it becomes very easy to get sucked into always wanting more.

I was giving some advice to someone who said they were new to houseplants, but wanted recommendations for ‘rare’ houseplants.

I quickly realised there was more to be said than could fit in a Facebook comment, so here’s my long version…

What is a ‘rare plant’?

Rare is relative, and it changes over time. It just relates to how many of a type of plant is available, how many people want it, and how easy or quickly it can be reproduced.

Obviously there are many thousands of plants that are unbelievably rare, existing only in one environment on the planet. But no one wants to buy them for their mantelpiece, so they don’t count. 

Meanwhile other plants are both hard to come by and in huge demand by houseplant fans, like the current fad for variegated monsteras. There’s not many of them, they’re slow to reproduce for the market, and everyone has seen them on Instagram and wants them and will pay lots of money.

So they sell for hugely inflated prices, which will come down over time as they become more available and less rare.

Jane Perrone’s recent blog highlights how some amazing obscure plants are incredibly cheap, though no one owns them.

What if a seller describes something as rare?

My main bit of advice is to pretty much ignore anything described as ‘rare’ – it’s usually a seller’s attempt at trying to upsell something that’s often not that rare. Just as if you see a ‘stunning, must-have dress’ listed on eBay – clearly only one word in that description is factual, the rest is opinion! 🤨 

Personally I prefer online sellers who factually and honestly describe the item so that you can make an informed decision. Any item description that’s padded out with opinion, is at best useless or at worst dishonest.

As an example I’ve seen plain monstera deliciosas, which you can currently buy in supermarkets for £10, described as ‘rare’ by some sellers.

Regular old Monstera Deliciosas are a dime a dozen, but some sellers describe them as ‘rare’ to try and entice novice buyers.

Ignore ‘rare’ – choose the right plant for you

My TLDR piece of advice is don’t get sucked into chasing what’s rare or popular, but instead decide what kind of plants are right for you.

More specifically…

1. Find a plant you like the look of. This is the easiest and most fun step, shopping around. Social media is great for inspiration, as is browsing your local friendly plant shop.

2. Research the plant’s care requirements to see if you have the conditions, time, equipment, space to keep it. Too often I’ve seen newbies buying a beautiful plant for a fair bit of money, only to feel stressed as it slowly declines, and devastated when it dies on them. 

I along with many other people have made the mistake of seeing something I like, spontaneously popping it in the basket, taking it home, and only later when I’ve parted with my money do I realise that it’s notoriously fussy, and I don’t have any space with the right light / humidity to keep it happy.

I now always ID and Google plants, while still standing in the shop, to figure out what it needs, and work out if I’m likely to be able to keep them alive. 

3. See what other owners say about the plant. Another good resource is one of the many Facebook groups dedicated to houseplants, such as Houseplant Swap Club UK. Even if you just want to lurk, the the search bar is an amazing tool to see what advice others have given in the past, and to find out which plants are just not worth the hassle. And everyone’s usually happy to help with more 👍🏽

4. Check the going rate for the plant. Take a quick look on different platforms like Google Shopping, eBay and Facebook to see what the going rate for a plant of that type and size is, and then decide if you’re willing to pay it in light of everything above.

A plant might be ultra fussy, but cheap, so it’s worth taking a punt – everything’s a learning curve. But it might also be a diva, really expensive, and won’t stay looking as gorgeous as it does in the pictures for long (looking at you, alocasias). 

Alocasia baginda (silver dragon)
This Alocasia Baginda is one of the few I own, but it was relatively cheap a it’s only a baby, so I was willing to take the risk.

Finding your balance

Ultimately my personal approach now is one of finding the right balance that makes plant care enjoyable.

For me that’s plants that are affordable, interesting, and likely to do well with our home’s conditions and the time I can give them. 

As a result, I wouldn’t give a variegated monstera a second look, but a £4 beautiful peperomia? Now you’re talking.