How to Cultivate a Beautiful Indoor Garden

Transform your home, lift your spirits, and improve your health with a beautiful indoor garden. Plant expert Jan Zainal shares her expert advice on creating your own green space, and how to actually talk to your plants to grow strong and live long.

By | January 10, 2021

With all the time we have been spending at home, it’s no surprise that the latest Scandi wellness trend Skogluft—“forest air” in Norwegian— is all about bringing the outdoors indoors with promises to boost our immune system and reduce stress through living plants.

While it has been well-documented that plants can improve air quality at home, studies have shown that being in an environment with plants can also boost productivity, as well as help reduce stress and improve health conditions such as lower blood pressure and heart rate. In a year filled with uncertainty, it’s little wonder that the number of “plant parents” has grown exponentially, so that we can all receive the benefits to calm anxious thoughts naturally.

We peeked inside the beautiful new plant cafe TamanHati x Planter Chin and asked Jan Zainal, the Plant Fairy, for her take on this wellness trend of growing a plant wall. She also gives us her pro tips for those new to adopting plants.

Dreaming about bringing the wild indoors? With a few tips and tricks, this is possible. Photograph: Brina Blum/Unsplash

How did you get started in this line of work to pursue your love for plants?

My love for plants started at a young age, when I was five years old. My family and I were living in Travers Hill in government quarters with a huge garden surrounded by lush greenery. We had all sorts of plants growing in our backyard, including edibles and we even had a chicken coop with baby chooks running around! My mum is a passionate gardener and she and I could often be found pottering around on weekends, planting seeds and tending to orchids. It was so rewarding to watch the plants grow and flourish, as well as to enjoy our own homegrown veggies at supper.

When I quit my IT job five years ago, I had more time for this hobby and started focusing on my home garden. However, due to the limited space, I started making terrariums and curated potted plants to place on my patio. My friends encouraged me to sell some of my creations and I started off as a home-based plant and terrarium business. I registered TamanHati Enterprise in April 2018, which has now grown into a physical plant studio and cat cafe in partnership with my friend Jeremy Chin of Outcast Coffee at a new location called TamanHati x Planter Chin at 6a, Jalan Kemuja, Bangsar.

Life is like a cactus, prickly but very beautiful (also applicable to the cats of TamanHati!). Photograph: TamanHati

Moving from your original shop into a beautiful new space must have been challenging with the pandemic thrown into the mix. What is your vision for this space?

The Covid pandemic has affected everyone in one way or another and for me, it was quite a challenge when the first movement control order happened. I had to suspend my business in April until the restrictions were relaxed. During the restricted MCO, I could only allow people to visit my shop in Lorong Maarof via appointment as well as halt my physical workshops and classes due to physical distancing SOPs.

In May 2020 when my previous shop lot tenancy agreement was about to run out, I had to make a decision on whether to stay in that space and remain a small outfit, or take a chance and move out to a larger space where I could run workshops and classes more comfortably.

I decided to take a leap of faith and moved out when an opportunity presented itself through Jeremy who had been offered a shop in Jalan Kemuja to rent. It was an offer too good to refuse so a partnership was signed and we moved into Jalan Kemuja on 1st August!

The perfect space for a quiet cuppa surrounded by plants and adopted feline friends. Photograph: TamanHati

The initial vision for the space was right out of Pinterest and was a cross between a Notting Hill plant shop and a Colonial plantation coffee shop! But, after we moved in and started to experience the shop’s actual vibe and personality, Jeremy and I realised that we didn’t really have to do much for the space to be alive. The plants and shop energy were already vibrant, so the only major thing we did was install a sunroof to allow natural sunlight in. This kept the plants happy and brightened up the shop so much that we hardly switch on the fluorescent lights in the shop unless it’s raining outside and it’s dark.

Now, I suppose the shop and cafe can be classified as British Malaya with a playful nod towards the space’s previous tenant—we’ve kept Nala Designs’ floral murals on the wall and Nala tiles in the bathroom.

A hidden gem in the heart of Bangsar, this joyful space is available for private events and workshops. Photograph: TamanHati

The idea of Skogluft is to create an indoor plant wall to enjoy the benefits of nature at home. How feasible is this?

Living walls are great for homes and offices with limited space. But proper irrigation and lighting have to be in place or the plants will not thrive. Another key element to consider is to develop a proper design to be functional. A lot of green walls get installed and only after the plants go up do people realise, “how do I water those up high …?” Or “where will the dead leaves fall and how to clean them?” Visually they are great, but a major pain to water!

Living walls are beautiful to look at, but difficult to maintain  only for the greenest of thumbs. Photograph: Scott Webb/Unsplash

Best low maintenance houseplants for newbies?

Sanseveria (snake plant): Low-light tolerant and doesn’t require much water. This plant is ideal for beginners and is suitable for homes and offices. It’s also an air purifying plant.

Peace Lily: Beautiful plant with white flowers. Good for homes but the flowers do contain toxins that are harmful to pets and small children if accidentally ingested.

Monstera Deliciosa: A favourite among plant enthusiasts. Beautiful fenestrated leaves. Suitable for homes with diffused natural sun or outdoors on a shaded patio or garden.

Boston Fern: Loves humidity and thrives in the toilet. Spray with water daily.

Purify even the darkest of rooms with a low-maintenance resilient Snake Plant. Photograph: Jake Goossen/Unsplash

The beautiful and dotty Begonia Maculata – a sturdy cane begonia that blooms delicate pink flowers. Does well indoors in bright, indirect light! Photo: TamanHati

We love how you create your flintstones air plants to pair elements of nature together. What are your favourite ways to display plants and what are the trends in design and plant arrangement?

Plant styling should reflect the person and the energy of a particular space. I love pairing plants with natural elements such as driftwood and crystals because there is synergy between these elements. Sometimes I also use draping plants like ferns and pothos (money plants) to give a planted pot some drama and movement.

Plants, as with fashion, have trends. Currently, aroid plants like anthuriums and philodendrons are enjoying an uptrend on both social media and in plant communities. They are relatively easy to look after especially since they are tropical plants. But their current popularity does mean some of these plants have also become expensive due to the high demand.

Plants make people happy, clean the air and reduce stress! Photograph: Brina Blum/Unsplash

What are your final words of advice on keeping an urban garden alive?

Treat plants like other living beings. They have their own needs and wants just like us. Some are introverts, while others are extroverts. Learn to observe your plants in their surroundings in your care. One rule cannot apply to all plants or even one plant in different situations because the light source and water dependencies may differ. At the end of the day, learn to enjoy plants and not fret too much over every yellow leaf or dried up flower. Sometimes it’s just nature taking its course. Give thanks and channel good vibes onto your plants. May they thrive under your care.

Taman Hati
1/F, 6a, Jalan Kemuja, Bangsar, 59000 Kuala Lumpur
Tel: 019-388 0808

Rebecca Jo-Rushdy

Rebecca Jo-Rushdy

The Tokyo-HK-NYC transplant is Malaysia’s first KonMari certified consultant, professionally and passionately dedicated to creating space for joy in people’s lives. Rebecca is also a mother of two daughters and a few dozen house plants.