FOR years now, my foyer has been a halfway house for indoor plants — that is, halfway between a cozy berth in someone else’s home and a pauper’s grave in my backyard.
I killed some of these plants gladly. Before leaving Minneapolis for New York, my friend Julie bestowed on me a 12-foot-long asparagus fern with wicked spines and an anger management problem. Meanwhile, the spider plant she left seemed to drop another clone every time I slept. (Out-of-control asexual reproduction is surely the stuff of nightmares.) By the time Julie moved back to Minneapolis seven years later, I’d terminated them both. Plants need water, you know.
Other houseplants were beautiful — until I got my blundering hands on them. A jade plant dropped its emerald leaves, as round and smooth as river stones. A Dracaena marginata with a mop top rotted from the soil up. My mother-in-law, her rooms overflowing with verdure, passed along a parlor maple (Abutilon striatum). It had flowers like crepe paper, the color of a Cape Cod sunrise. This one I drowned.
When I learned that I would be moving last August, for the first time in 11 years, I took stock of the survivors. What did I find on the radiator cover? A pair of umbrella plants that counted a dozen leaves between them. A ficus with something like psoriasis and another with a stoop. I felt pity, and I felt shame.
It was time for a clean break.
A month after moving into my new home, I phoned three experts to ask what new houseplants I should draw close to my bosom and adopt as my own. They suggested plants for shady windows and plants for dry winters. They shared their best tips and their favorite catalogs. They prophesied plants that cannot be killed. Their greatest hits are below — with a star next to the indestructible plants.