Legends of the leaf

By Jane Perrone

The story behind 25 iconic houseplants and the secrets to making them thrive

Nature | Environment
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If you’ve ever wondered why there’s a succulent that looks like a string of pearls, or pondered the purpose of the holes in your Swiss cheese plant’s leaves, this book is for you.

Houseplant expert and journalist Jane Perrone explores the native roots of the plants that fill our homes, from the fiddle leaf fig to the Chinese money plant. She tells the stories of 25 iconic species: where and how they grow in the wild, the ways they are understood and used by the people who live among them, and the journey they’ve taken to become prized possessions in our homes. By learning about their roots, Jane will help you deepen your understanding of your plants and unlock the care secrets that will help them thrive in your home.

Each plant profile includes detailed instructions for care and propagation, and is accompanied by a gorgeous illustration. The profiles include the plants you’ve been lusting after, including the maidenhair fern, Hoya linearis, string of hearts and Philodendron ‘Pink Princess’. If your heart has been captured by one of these plants but you are struggling to keep it looking as good as it did when you brought it home, it’s time to find out how to help your plant live its best life. If you’re about to add one to your collection, you’ll discover how to keep those new leaves coming. You may not be able to recreate the Amazonian rainforest or the South African karoo into your living room, but you can find the place in your home that best matches the conditions your plants have evolved to thrive in, from a steamy bathroom to a sunny bay window.

Legends of the Leaf will help you look at houseplants in a different way: with renewed respect, deeper insight and an even greater passion. So, join Jane as she put on her ‘plant glasses’ to discover the incredible stories our houseplants have to tell.

  • High quality, bespoke hardback edition
  • 25 original, full-colour illustrations
  • Approximately 45,000 words and 192 pages
  • Tons of amazing and exclusive pledge levels!

*Book designs, cover and other images are for illustrative purposes and may differ from final design.

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  • Jane Perrone avatar

    Jane Perrone

    Jane Perrone is the host of houseplant podcast On The Ledge and a freelance journalist. She writes a column on houseplants for Gardens Illustrated magazine and contributes regularly to other publications, including The Guardian and The Financial Times.

    Jane has been fascinated by houseplants since she was a small child: she got a free pass out of maths lessons to water the spider plants in her school library, and ended up with a bedroom full of terrariums, cacti and foliage. Four decades on and she’s delighted to share her accumulated knowledge with other enthusiasts.

    She lives in Bedfordshire in the UK with her husband, two children, a dog called Wolfie and a home full of houseplants.

    She is currently working on her Royal Horticultural Society Level 2 qualification, but she also has a BA Hons in English Literature and a Masters in Mass Communication. Under no circumstances challenge her to a game of Boggle.

  • Where it all began - an introduction to Legends of the Leaf

    “When did you first get into plants?” visitors to my home often ask, usually while struggling to disentangle a trailing vine from their hair.

    The simple answer is, I can’t remember when plants weren’t a source of constant curiosity and satisfaction in my life. Many people seem to latch onto plants when they move into their first home: before that, foliage of all kinds is often just a blur of greenery that means very little to them. Yet I have always had plants in sharp focus. I call it wearing my ‘plant glasses’: no wispy weed growing in the pavement, no pelargonium peeking from under a net curtain, no climber romping over a fence is too insignificant to escape my glance.

    As a small child, I remember sowing parsley seeds in the bed under the kitchen window: I must have been quite young at the time, as came back an hour or so later to see if they had sprouted. I sucked the sugary nectar from the flowers of the London pride (Saxifraga x urbium) that grew by our tiny pond, and stroked fat bumblebees as they fumbled around in the ranks of African marigolds in the front garden.

    But my heart really lay with houseplants. I was born in the 1970s, a period when indoor gardening was undergoing a renaissance. My parents grew prayer plants in a copper fish poacher and brought back ‘ti trees’ from foreign package holidays - a cylinder of seemingly dead trunk stuck to a card that sprouted into life when stuck in water. I started to build my own plant collection, using my pocket money to buy fat-bodied cacti that produced sudden and spectacular flowers that made me gasp, fleshy succulents that performed the wondrous trick of growing baby plants along their leaf edges, and softly hairy African violets glowing with pink or purple blooms.

    Searching for the roots of my houseplant obsession takes me back to primary school. There was a library draped in yellowing spider plants festooned with babies. My friend Ruth and I must have shown some kind of flair for horticulture, or at least a passing interest, as we were let out of maths lessons to water the spider plants back to life. It may have stunted my understanding of arithmetic, but it did set me up for a lifetime of love for gardening. In turn, the spider plants responded to our care by producing many babies at the end of long stalks I later learned to call inflorescences.

    That, and many other houseplant facts, I learned from my bible back then, The Houseplant Expert by Dr David Hessayon, published in 1980, is a book that remains a world bestseller to this day. I pored over its pages, circling plants I wanted to add to my collection. I still have that book now, and it doesn’t feel too much of an exaggeration to say holding it in my hands feels like a portal to take me back into my own childhood. I still frequently search through its dogeared pages in search of a particular plant whose name is eluding me.

    Forty years on, and houseplants - for many years resigned to the attic of interior design history along with antimacassars and hatstands - are suddenly and spectacularly popular once more. The distinctive leaves of the swiss cheese plant, the purple shamrock and the pancake plant are all over Instagram, snake plants are on sale everywhere from Urban Outfitters to Tesco, and being called a ‘crazy plant lady’ is a compliment, not a slur.

    Many other books on houseplants have been published since Dr Hessayon’s The Houseplant Expert, covering every aspect from propagation to styling. And yet most of most of them remain silent on the matter of where houseplants actually come from, and how they found their way into our homes. Why does this matter? Discovering more about the native homes of the plants we love fills in a rich backstory that links our specimens to history, culture, botany and horticulture. More than that, it deepens our understanding of their needs.

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