The Giant Houseplant Takeover: A Review With Pictures

Bath and shower in a tall room hung with plants
An outdoor bathroom, but indoors

RHS Garden Wisley’s houseplant exhibition is kooky and wry: an elaborate conceit. A Victorian house has been abandoned to the houseplants which, in the absence of humans, have made themselves at home.

Four-poster bed with colourful flowering bromeliads
Bromeliads fill the bed, trunk and leafy plants tumble down the walls

An abundance of greenery may convey a derelict feel as visitors enter, but it soon becomes clear that everything is carefully arranged and tended. We’re visiting the best-behaved invasive houseplants in the history of mankind. My own ‘triffid’ is much less mannerly.

Upholstered chairs with plants growing from them
Upholstered chairs used as planters

Soil that falls on the floor adopts an elaborate swirl pattern. Where plants spill (i.e. everywhere), they spill artfully. Visitors should prepare to see Instagram-ready vignettes wherever they lay their eyes.

Chessboard with cactus playing pieces
Plants playing chess with cactus chess pieces

Cacti have been repurposed as chess pieces and a pair of variegated Swiss cheese plants (Monstera deliciosa ‘Variegata’) are engaged in a game. A giant staghorn fern (Platycerium bifurcatum) is taking a bath while a plant pours down from a shower head. Vines are climbing bark-mulched stairs.

Staircase with white bannister and trailing vines
Epipremnum aurea invades a staircase

When we’ve heard experts talk about garden rooms, this was not what they meant.

A white pedestal sink filled with plants
Pitcher plant in a gleaming white pedestal washbasin
Plants inside a picture frame on a windowsill
Is it a frame of plants, a mirror or a windowsill?
Copper pans, antique scales and clock with houseplants
Trailing pitcher plants create a living dial design for the kitchen clock

There isn’t much cooking going on in the kitchen, which is liberally loaded with moss, hanging vegetation and insect-eating plants in a nod to the carnivorous lifestyles of many of us.

Giant Houseplant Takeover kitchen overgrown with plants
The kitchen is overwhelmed by greenery

On the dining table, more carnivorous plants are set out in a silver tea pot, sugar bowl and milk jug on a tea tray. The feast includes a cake stand full of throat-threatening cupcakes.

Dining table and chairs at the Giant Houseplant Takeover
Dining table and chairs occupied by cacti

Sitting at the table has become equally challenging for a human.

Wooden board in the kitchen with moss and plants
Mossy kitchen counter with antique board

Victorian antiques add period character, such as this wooden board. I haven’t a clue what it is, as with most of the houseplants, but it looks great.

Telephone stand at the Giant Houseplant Takeover
Rhipsalis (mistletoe cactus) grows around an old telephone

And there’s the point. I’m not confident that my lifestyle suits houseplants and, even if it did, I tend not to find them exciting. I do own a few, but none of them thrill me: some worry me; others make me feel guilty if I leave them for long. Despite all this, I found the exhibition fascinating, so much so that having gone round once, with a whole garden to see, we turned right round and went back in again.

Globe drinks bar with string-of-pearl plant
Plants guard the gin on the globe drinks bar

Plants of all shapes, colours and sizes poke out, cover, cascade, lean, explore, creep and grow tall: this string-of-pearls plant (Senecio) appealed to me. I’m sure almost every visitor will see something they desire in this indoor garden folly, even those of us who find that gardening outdoors comes more easily.

For The Giant Houseplant Takeover exhibition is not just entertainment, but has a practical purpose. Sales of houseplants at Wisley’s plant centre have been soaring and the team want to maintain the momentum by encouraging us to loosen up our ideas when we choose containers for our houseplants, and inspiring us to grow more of them. Come to think of it, I do have a pair of shoes that has seen better days…

Red shoes planted with bromeliads
Cryptanthus (Earth Star Bromeliad) growing in shoes

It all reminded me of seeing Little Shop of Horrors at the Royal Exchange Theatre in Manchester some years ago where the baddie was a new breed of blood-eating plant, Audrey Two (has anyone seen their interpretation of Wuthering Heights yet?) Some events and exhibitions have an ability to live on in our imaginations though individuality of spirit and excess. I suspect this is one of them.

Information About The Giant Houseplant Takeover

Dates: the exhibition is on in the glasshouse at RHS Garden Wisley and runs through to 1st March 2020. Please double check details online or on social media before travelling, especially if the weather threatens to be bad. The garden had to close for Storm Ciara the day after our visit.

Prices: normal garden admission applies which means it’s free for RHS members. Non members can book online ahead of time for a 10% discount.

Hours: the garden opens at 9.30, the exhibition at 10; last entry to the exhibition is 3.45. Pre-booking a slot is recommended, although we didn’t.

For more information, visit the RHS website.

59 Replies to “The Giant Houseplant Takeover: A Review With Pictures”

  1. What a fantastic exhibit—thought-provoking, haunting, and beautiful! I would have gone around again, too. I bet there is no way you could see everything the first time around. Probably not the second time around, either. Thanks for sharing this!

    1. It is ordered disorder, that’s for sure! The RHS has the resources to do things well and the brand demands it. If it really was abandoned, even just for a few months, the effect would be very different.

  2. This is brilliant, hilarious, witty, and certainly solves the mystery of the “abandoned” copper pans. I think my favorites are the bromeliad quilt and the cactus petit fours. I have to think that the people who put this together had a roaring good time, prickles notwithstanding. Thank you so much for posting this — I am in need of ideas!

    1. I’d bet they had a roaring good time too. I’m not so sure about notwithstanding prickles. Prickles always demand attention is paid to them. My hand bears a nastly reminder of tangling with Mum’s roses yesterday, as always happens when I venture close.

  3. Thank you for taking the time to share these photos and your experience. I enjoyed seeing a different part of the world and their creativity using plants!

    1. I don’t know if your duties would allow time for this, but you’re within striking distance of it, aren’t you? It’s not particularly easy to access by public transport, unless I’m missing a trick. We thought about walking from West Byfleet station, but decided to save our energy for exploring the garden. I’d like to think that the RHS will address this at some stage as part of their environmental policies.

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