Senses of Living® Décor

May 2005
© 2005 by Bret S. Beall


With spring upon us, and summer around the corner, it is time for me to prepare Casa Beall for visitors and guests. Lots of factors go into proper entertaining of friends, visitors and guests, and I have discussed many of these in past columns. Because so much of my home is like a greenhouse, this column involves getting the plants into a condition where they will enhance my home; they have struggled through the less than ideal conditions of winter here, and now it is my responsibility to give them the encouragement they need at this time to flourish through the warm growing season. Here is an overview of what I’ll do for them, and with them, to make Casa Beall comfortable and inviting not only for me, but for my friends, visitors and guests when I entertain!


I recently wrote extensively about the redesign of my solarium, or sunroom (http://www.god-dess.com/services_sensesOctober04.html). This extension of my living room was a great, inviting, invigorating space during the winter. During the intermediate temperature swings of spring (blazing sunshine alternating with snow), I need to do some rehab of this space to continue to make it inviting.

The room is full of dozens of tropical plants. These plants grow year round, but when temperatures and light levels are down, as they are during the winter, the new growth tends to be leggy and unattractive. Time for trimming! Most of the plants in the solarium are members of the aroid family (Araceae), so they thrive on being trimmed. I have one huge Philodendron radiatum that I acquired 8 years ago as a single stem, about 6” long, and through growing, trimming, taking cuttings, rooting, repotting and other nurturing, it is now a magnificent specimen in the solarium, about a yard around in all directions. This is just one example of the myriad plants adorning the windowsills and central redwood table and freestanding pedestals of the solarium that began as tiny cuttings and eventually became robust, dramatic, gorgeous examples of their species due to some mindful pruning and careful maintenance. I KNOW how to grow plants, and can help you do the same.


Another great entertaining space is my back porch (to continue the pretentiousness of using “solarium” for my sunroom, I could call the back porch my “veranda,” but I won’t). I wrote about this at http://www.god-dess.com/services_sensesAugust04.html, including mentioning plants. I won’t repeat myself, but I did want to point out another benefit of having a lush, plant-filled porch space. Abundant plants, as they transpire as part of their natural metabolic processes, create a microenvironment on the porch. Not only do they release oxygen as a waste product, but they also release moisture that can cool their immediate vicinity, which can really help on a hot summer night. Many of my plants enjoy an outdoor vacation during the late spring and summer, and end up extra healthy and robust, better able to survive the cool, dry winters inside my home (though I have also written about enhancing humidity in the past, such as at http://www.god-dess.com/services_sensesFeb04.html). Just as important is the plants’ value for creating a wonderful ambience for entertaining. Visitors tell me how relaxing my back porch is during the summer, whether they are sitting out there at dusk, enjoying a glass of wine and some hors d’oeuvres, or having a late morning continental breakfast with French-Italian roast coffee, artisanal cheeses, some homemade gravlax (http://www.god-dess.com/services_recipesDec04.html) or smoked salmon, sourdough bread, and some great fruit salad (http://www.god-dess.com/services_recipesJuly03.html); we do live well at Casa Beall. And with the backdrop of beautiful plants that sway and rustle in the breeze while providing a panoply of color, the experience of entertaining just gets better.

Dining Room

I have a number of plants in my master bedroom, and my guest room, and bathrooms, and they need some rehabilitation, but in my personal case, these plants are still in fairly good shape, and are only doing better now that temperatures and light levels have increased. The dining room is another story, however! Because of all of the cooking I do developing my Simple! Sensible! Sensational!® recipes, as well as experimenting with new entertaining ideas that I can then pass on to my clientele, the dining room gets quite a workout from time to time. The room has a western exposure, so that entire window is adorned with a diverse variety of plants. Given that the room is decorated in a southern/southeastern Asian theme, the plants really enhance the environment. However, the dining room is often overheated, so some of the plants have suffered from dry air, and are on my schedule for rehabilitation.

Sometimes, though, the environment needs even more enhancement when I entertain. To that end, when I’m doing a tropical “theme” dinner, I will bring in plants appropriate for the meal as centerpieces or similar table décor. Healthy plants lend an ambience of realism when I do meals featuring the cuisines of Indonesia, Mexico, the Caribbean, India, South America, even Morocco. I usually cluster plants at the end of the table, rather than in the true center of the table, because otherwise they would interfere with conversation with my guests, and that is NOT a good thing when entertaining.

Over the winter, the table was adorned with the very dramatic cuttings of Zamiaculcus zamiafolia, yet another aroid. For the next few months, the table will feature cuttings of my miniature Schefflera, and other species. I use simple, elegant, straightsided glass containers to root my cuttings; when they are clustered on the table, the arrangement looks rather sophisticated while at the same time being calming and welcoming. That’s a win-win-win situation!


Again, I’ve addressed the regular maintenance of plants in previous columns, such as http://www.god-dess.com/services_sensesMay03.html and http://www.god-dess.com/services_sensesJune03.html. There’s no need to repeat myself, but I do want to give you some general rehabilitation tips.

Sometimes after a long winter, some of the plants are just too sorry to keep. In my opinion, life is too short to spend it playing “plant doctor.” I don’t discard plants that have true potential (or are rather rare), but sometimes radiator heat, or being next to a poorly insulated window, or a misstep by a clumsy cat will take its toll on a plant, and it just isn’t worth the effort to rehabilitate. Begin your botanical spring cleaning by purging the hopeless specimens.

Next, begin fertilizing to give plants that much needed food to grow with the increasing light and temperatures; they really do need those extra minerals. That said, try to find an organic fertilizer. In the past, I have used (and sadly, recommended) Miracle-Gro, but a recent conversation with Mayo Underwood, owner of Underwood Gardens (www.underwoodgardens.com), source of fantastic, organically-grown, natural heirloom seeds and plants, reminded me of the toxicity of this product, so I am now seeking a new, organic fertilizer that won’t stink up my home. If I find a good one, I’ll report it in my free e-newsletter (if you are not already receiving it, just send me an email).

Now, start trimming. This actually requires some botanical knowledge, as some trimmings can be rooted, while others don’t have the right kind of tissue distribution to allow this type of reproduction. Some plants send off shoots (spider plants and bromeliads are prime examples), so take off the shoots and root them (some may already have incipient roots, making your job easier). Divisions are another way to increase your plants and give them room to flourish during the growing season.

If you have extra divisions or cuttings or unwanted (healthy) plants, give them as everyday gifts to friends. I have plants from as far back as 1975 that have yielded cuttings that are now scattered all over the United States. Instead of tossing those trimmings into the trash or compost bin, let them be the foundation for a friend with a brown thumb to begin the learning curve to greening his or her home.

Botany is where I can help; advice on indoor gardening is one of the many services I offer to help people live better lives. Call me at 773.508.9208 or email me to book an appointment that will make your entertaining with plants easier.