Apartment Therapy Complete and Happy Home (2015)


setting up your home



Judy Kameon + Erik Otsea

Landscape Designer + Outdoor Furniture Designer

son, Ian

If you’ve got style, you have fresh flowers in your home.

If you’ve really got style, you have cool plants growing inside and out. Heck, if you’re superstylish, there might even be a tree growing in your living room.

Plants can be one of the most challenging things to keep up with at home, but the benefits far outmeasure the time commitment. Growing things brings out your nurturing side, whether it’s a single succulent in your kitchen window or a whole garden in your backyard. Plants add clean air and healthy humidity and contribute fascinating and intricate organic shapes and colors to your landscape.

On Apartment Therapy, we’ve written for years about the pleasures of caring for plants. Here, we’re condensing it all down to the essentials. The homes you see throughout this book range from warm climates to cold ones, but each owner has found a way to live with plants. In states like California they surround themselves, inside and out, with remarkable shapes and colors year-round. In the Northeast, they look forward to letting their yard go crazy in spring, while taking satisfaction from the small houseplants they nurture through the colder months.

It boils down to one simple lesson: something leafy and green and happily growing is the sign of a home that’s truly alive and cared for.

5 (semi-) indestructible houseplants

(air plants)

LIGHT: Bright, indirect light is best.

WATER: Soak in water for 20 minutes per week, or mist lightly more often.

MAINTENANCE: These require no soil to grow. However, they won’t survive in frost, so keep them away from windows come winter.

SPACE: Each tillandsia will bloom once in its life (midwinter to midsummer, depending on the species) but only grows a few inches per year.

EXTRAS: Because they draw moisture from the atmosphere, make sure your tillandsia vessel allows plenty of air circulation.


jade tree

LIGHT: Moderate; several hours of indirect light per day is ideal.

WATER: Once every two weeks; allow the soil to dry completely between waterings.

MAINTENANCE: Little. Prune dead leaves intermittently; repot when necessary (usually every two years).

SPACE: Jade trees can easily grow up to 4 feet in height and width.

EXTRAS: You can mold the shape of a jade tree by pruning it in spring or early summer, when the plant is actively growing.


cast-iron plant

LIGHT: Filtered light (or even shade) is ideal. Avoid full sun.

WATER: Does best with consistently moist (but not soaking wet) soil.

MAINTENANCE: This plant isn’t picky about soil conditions or fertilization but should be repotted every other year.

SPACE: They typically grow to be between 12 and 15 inches in height and width.

EXTRAS: Cast-iron plants also make excellent outdoor ground cover. Just be sure to space them 1 to 1.5 feet apart to allow for growth.



LIGHT: Bright, indirect light is best.

WATER: Only when soil is dry, about once a week. Avoid wetting the leaves or blooms.

MAINTENANCE: When the blooms die in summer, the plant is in a resting phase. Move it to a cool place until the next season, when this perennial will bloom again.

SPACE: Most cyclamen are happy in a small to medium-size pot.

EXTRAS: Cyclamen bloom in cool weather, so they’re a perfect, leafy complement to most other flowering plants that blossom in summer.



LIGHT: Full sun.

WATER: Let soil dry between waterings, and make sure the pot has enough drainage to prevent rot.

MAINTENANCE: Rosemary doesn’t like temperatures below 30 degrees, so keep it away from windows in winter.

SPACE: Unchecked, a rosemary plant can reach up to 3 feet but can also be easily pruned to accommodate a smaller space.

EXTRAS: A young rosemary plant takes time to get started, so don’t expect major growth in the first twelve months. Year two is when this herb really gets going.

OUTDOOR GARDENS what to consider before planting a thing …

HOW MUCH GRASS DO YOU WANT TO MOW? Come spring and summer, having a lawn means racking up some major mower mileage. If you can dedicate the time to maintaining it, divvy up your outdoor space with lots of grassy areas (a plus if you have children who need a place to play). If, however, the upkeep feels like too big a commitment, consider creating easy-to-maintain islands (well-defined areas with a specific type of ground cover, like pine straw, moss, or bark).

HOW MANICURED DO YOU WANT YOUR GARDENS? The symmetry of a manicured garden requires constant upkeep. (It’s not in a shrub’s nature to grow in a perfect square!) The visual beauty of a yard well kept, however, can only by outshined by your own sense of gratification in your accomplishment. Our advice: start small and build slowly, adding new beds as you get more comfortable with the amount of work it takes to care for what you’ve already planted.

WHAT PLANTS WILL THRIVE IN YOUR YARD? Don’t make a beeline for every pretty flower at your local nursery. The truth is, though beautiful, they may or may not be compatible with your yard’s soil and light. Instead, start with some research. Check out what’s growing in your neighbors’ yards. Have your soil tested, so you know what type of plants will work well for you. And, if you have pets, double-check that what you want to plant isn’t harmful to them (some plants are poisonous).

DO YOU WANT TO EAT WHAT YOU GROW? If you have the space, growing herbs, veggies, or fruits is a supersatisfying way to get the most out of your yard. These days, people are planting cauliflower, kale, cabbage, and the like in their regular gardens not only for consumption but also because of their colorful foliage. One note of caution: city residents should test their soil for contaminants before growing edibles. If your soil proves unfit, build a self-contained bed with a liner and new soil.

WHAT’S THE 12-MONTH PLAN? It’s easy to get carried away with planting in spring and summer. With all the gorgeous flowers in full bloom, you just want to inject as much color as possible into your yard. But planting with only one season in mind means your yard is bare the rest of the year. It’s a much better idea to think in blooming cycles, picking a handful of plants and flowers that will thrive in each of the four seasons. This guarantees that there’s always something new and interesting popping up.

the no-lawn garden


No lawn? No problem. Consider one of these small-space alternatives.

vertical garden

Going vertical means lots of plant real estate in a very small footprint. Hanging systems can use an existing fence or railing, or, if you have a little more space, a vertical planter, shelving, or trellis will give you plenty of decorative and organizational options.

container garden

Great for decks, patios, or balconies of any size. Small plants live in portable vessels (on their own or creatively grouped) so they can easily move into sunny spots or indoors if it gets chilly.

upside-down garden

Who says your garden needs to be right-side up? Common for tomatoes or herbs, inverted planters are clever contraptions that allow your plant to grow while hanging upside down.