Yes, You Have a Green Thumb
Jamie Garbutt/Getty Images

One of my favorite design elements is something your grandma probably had all around the house like mine did—lively green plants. Instead of nana’s philodendron that grew out of a coffee tin and took over the staircase, you can enrich your personal spaces with architecturally interesting and visually texturizing living decor. As a designer, I often get resistance from clients who swear they can’t keep a plant alive even if their own lives depended on it. Thankfully, there are many potted beauties that require little maintenance. Here are my favorite options for people who think they kill plants. 


Cacti are like the mythical Twinkie of plants: word is they cansurvive nuclear war. The trouble is not all cacti are created
equal. The type you choose to plant can really set off your decor. Try potting smaller versions in cute mugs or old earthenware to fill in the blanks within your bookcases or for some greenery at your desk. If you’re feeling really gutsy, pot a large Pilosocereus cactus and pop it in the corner near a window to get the most bang for your buck. Add to your calendarto water it once weekly. Saturate the soil but don’t get it soggy. 

Areca Palm

There’s nothing I love more than a sexy palm plant in my surroundings. Not all palms are the same, however. I personally love the Areca palm as an eco- nomical alternative to the more expensive and much larger banana palms. Their stalks grow clustered and, for me, add a bit more girth, and their sprays (that’s palm tree talk for leaves) have a bit more movement and can be more visually appealing. Getting a 5-foot, 7-inch-tall tree for less than $50, you’re winning no matter what. Just keep her watered once weekly. 

Ficus Pandurata 

Open any design magazine and you’ll likely see a large glossy-leafed tree, Ficus pandurata, called the fiddleleaf fig (aka Ficus lyrata). These trees are gorgeous, substantial and come with a hefty price tag of $100 or more. I advise my clients to maintain a much more affordable and smaller version and that’s where this baby comes into play. The broad, waxy leaves mimic the nuances of the taller sizes and the shorter stature allows this plant to go anywhere. Put it in a cute pot or decorative basket and set in an office, nursery, kitchen or even laundry room. Just be sure to place it somewhere with good lighting and keep the soil moist and drained. 


The bromeliad should change its name to Beyoncé, because honey, it always wakes up like dis! The easy- to-find and always reasonably priced plant maintains an evergreen blossom that comes in a variety of star- tling tropical colors. It thrives as a potted plant, and can grow in the sun, the shade and even luminescent light (hello, office cubicle)! The way to ensure the queen remains happy? Keep the soil moist and pour water into the little “cups” the petals form. That’s how it retains its healthy shine. 

Snake plant 

This champ, also called mother-in-law’s tongue, is a supersleek genus that looks incredible practically anywhere. The two-toned leaves make it extremely versatile and appealing to any design style. This sturdy specimen has an uncanny ability to thrive in very dark or low light conditions—making it one of the hardest things to kill on the planet. 

This article originally appeared in the May issue of ESSENCE.