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Nell’s Horticultural Adventures: A Love Affair With Houseplants

Gardening is in my genes! My love affair with houseplants began over 50 years ago. Here's my history with houseplants. I thought you'd like to know my experience & background because I plan on sharing a lot more houseplant care & growing posts here.

nell foster with joy us garden is holding an aglaonema & a trailing pothos

I was unsure what to title this; should it be “my journey with houseplants, my history with houseplants”, “my background with houseplants”? I thought the title should be a bit more catchy, but none of those appealed to me. My love affair with houseplants started in my childhood (a long time ago!) so love affair it is.

After all, I write mostly how to’s. But, this first post of the new year, is personal for a change. I’ve been posting quite a bit about indoor plants over the past few years. So I thought you’d like to know how my love of houseplants began and why it continues!

I’m not an expert in houseplants by any means. I’m really sharing what I know & what’s worked well for me!

If I’m learning something from someone I like to know what their background is. I don’t claim to be a houseplants expert (what qualifies an “expert anyway?!) but I sure am an aficionado with almost 50 years of growing them.

What I’m sharing with you is a bit of what I learned in school but much more importantly, what I’ve learned from working with houseplants in various capacities and also growing many of them in my homes.

nell foster of joy us garden is in a pink dress underneath spider plants with babies

Do you long for a Spider Plant fascinator? Here’s a preview of what it looks like!

This is where my journey with houseplants began…

I grew up on a small farm in a small town (and I mean small – the population was 892 when I was born) in Litchfield County, Connecticut. It’s the rural, bucolic rolling hills of the Berkshires dotted with lakes, rivers, stone walls and a couple of covered bridges.

Gardening is in my genes. I got my love of the outdoors and gardening from my dad. His vegetable garden was about 30′ x 50+’ and food was grown to be canned, frozen and fermented along with the root crops which were stored in the cold cellar. We only had 4 or 5 indoor plants but that all changed when he built the greenhouse off of our dining room.

I was 11 years old when the Lord & Burnham kit arrived and the construction began. My dad primarily wanted the greenhouse so he could start most of the vegetables from seed. It slowly got filled with houseplants and I spent many hours caring for and propagating them. Yes, this is when they edged their way into my heart.

nell foster of joy us garden is looking at a curtain of hanging air plants

So many Air Plants to choose from. May I please have them all?!

My dad developed quite a fancy for ornamentals like Wax Plants, Creeping Charlie, Wandering Jew, Philodendrons, Streptocarpus’, Gloxinias, Begonias and Gardenias. This was long before the internet and there were only a couple of places within a 2 hour radius to buy houseplants. One of them was Logee’s Greenhouse which you should definitely check out if you haven’t already because they sell indoor plants online.

Thanks to dad, I found my love for gardening!

We had 2-4′ Avocados started from the seeds which he wheeled out to our pool every summer. My pride and joy was a 3′ Jade Plant which I swabbed with alcohol once of twice a year to get the mealybugs off. Many years later I moved to Santa Barbara, CA where Jade Plants grew as 6′ hedges. Boy, was my childhood bubble burst!

Off to college I went where I intended to major in landscape architecture. I soon decided that was too much drawing board and not enough plant action. After taking a year off and living in Paris I decided to come back to The States with a new major and a new school. I got my degree in landscape and ornamental horticulture so I’m actually one of those people who actually works in the field they studied.

nell foster of joy us garden sits in a chair in a greenhouse amongst many schefflera amates

Drifting away in a sea of Schefflera amates …

I started my horticultural career in Boston as interior plant maintenance technician caring for plants in offices, lobbies, banks, malls and even the airport. In a nutshell, I ran around town with huge canvas bag, watering can, pruners, scissors, a small sprayer and a few rags to make sure all the plants stayed alive and looked good. As you can imagine, I quickly learned which plants did the best and had longevity in those tough environments.

After maintaining plants for almost 2 years, I was offered a job with a large architecture firm in New York.

Off to the Big Apple I was!

I specced all the interior plants for their projects and worked closely with the architects, designers and installation crew. It was indeed indeed a fun and exciting time and I learned even more about plants and design. But then 5 years later came the call to head west once again!

I moved to San Francisco and began working for a very large floral and event company which had just bought a plant rental company. They not only offered long term plant rental and maintenance but also short term for events like weddings, conventions, corporate meetings and the like. We also provided and installed all the plants and floral for the Macy’s Flower Show every Spring.

Later I started working the Marshall Field’s Flower Show in Chicago. We filled both the State Street and Water Tower stores with greenery and flowers. We did a Monet theme for 2 years as well as other themes for 11 more years. I stayed on to maintain and replace all the live materials. Tip toeing through store windows is no easy feat!

nell foster of joy us garden looks at a wall of hanging boston ferns

Boston Ferns: fun to look at & they make a great back drop but difficult to grow in our homes. We used them a lot in the event business though.

After years of being in the interior plant biz, I found myself uttering the phrase “if I put 1 more dracaena in 1 more office I’m gonna scream.” Eventually, I had the brilliant idea to start a Christmas decorating business! A year or 2 later, it expanded to garden design and maintenance.

This is where I got away from interior plants except for the 3 or 4 which were in my home. To be honest, I never disliked them at any point. But, an ambivalence towards them set in and exterior plants became my jam for 15 years.

It was time for my next adventure…

I sold my business and warehouse because the both aspects of my biz were physical. It didn’t take long for me to see that I could see burnout coming in fast as I got older. Who wants to be 60 and climbing up 10′ ladders? Sounds like a disaster to me! The almost always present San Francisco fog and 55 degree days in July were getting to me and I craved more sunshine. A move south was in order and off to Santa Barbara I trotted.

Santa Barbara is the land of growers, both plant and floral, so I got back into houseplants in a big way. In the meantime I’d done a 180 and started Joy Us garden. It began as a women’s gardening accessories business but gradually steered into the informational hub it is today. This is when I wrote my houseplant care book Keep Your Houseplants Alive based on what I’d learned in college but mostly on my experience over the years.

nell foster of joy us garden is looking at & touching ruby rubber plants

Pink on pink. I blend right on in with these Ruby Rubber Plants.

And now I live in Arizona – a dry desert, sure, but the landscape, plants and sunsets are out of this world!

I now live in the Sonoran Desert city of Tucson where my passion for houseplants still burns strong. My home is filled with natural light so it’s wonderful for growing houseplants. I’d have lots more but I travel a lot and nobody takes care of like I do!

Oh yes, I’ll definitely be getting more indoor plants but have to take my enthusiasm down a notch or 2 and be mindful of my purchasing. It’s not unusual for me to come home from the greenhouse with 15 plants! One every now and then is just fine but remember, I have a garden to take care of too!

Despite the dry climate here, all my houseplants are doing fine because I’ve put a few “care tweeks” into play. I’ve learned over the years which plants do the best and are the toughest so those are the ones I have in my home. No Ming Aralias, Areca Palms or Ferns for me in these desert parts!

looking down on dracaena warneckei green stripes

Enough pictures of me, I think you get the idea by now! I haven’t done a post on these Dracaena Green Stripes yet so I need to put them on the list.

This in a nutshell is my long running love affair with houseplants. I just wanted you to know what my experience and background is because I brush over it in many videos and posts. I’m always happy to share what I know and have learned with you. I plan on doing many more posts on houseplants so please stop by again soon!

Don’t forget to check out houseplant care book: Keep Your Houseplants Alive.

Please check out the “Houseplants” category for lots of care & advice tips.

Happy (indoor) gardening,


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  1. Hi Nell! Happy New Year!
    Wonderful site, I love it!! Thank you for all the tid bits and huge amounts of much needed info.
    I am currently changing over my email and I didn’t want to just unsubscribe. So, how do I do this?
    My new email is:
    Thank you, hope to hear from you soon!
    Sincerely, Alice

  2. Tawny Leste-Carlson Taw

    Thank you for sharing your story with us. What an exciting journey your life has been ~ being able to do what you love and love what you do is EVERYONE’S dream but so few of us are ever able to actually do it. You are so very lucky, as are we ~ your followers, fans and readers, as we get to learn and enjoy the fruits of your labors.

    Over the past 2 years I have become the “go to” around here for anyone having problems with their houseplants, seeking advice as they enter the world of succulent obsession (inevitable after seeing and purchasing your first one lol), or looking for general gardening information and most of MY knowledge has been learned from YOU! I always give your name and website to these people, and tell them you are MY plant guru, encouraging them to find you. From the day I brought home some weird looking cuttings received from a co-worker (she had no idea what it was), did a little googling and discovering they were Sedum Morganium (OhMyDog WHAT THE HECK IS A SUCCULENT EVEN AND NOW WHAT DO I DO WITH THIS THING?!?!) I was led to you. And guess what? I propagated 73 Donkey Tails from the leaves of those cuttings! All beautiful, healthy and growinglikecrazy to this day! Of course, since then I’ve had to scoop up every new and different succulent I’ve laid my eyes on, then run right to you to learn how to give it the best care I can.

    I appreciate you and all the hard work you put into Joyus Garden more than I could ever out into words. May your journey always be as fulfilling and blessed as it has been for you.

    Lots of hugs, Tawny Leste-Carlson

  3. Thank you for sharing your story! Love your website and appreciate all of the advice and info. Keep it up!

  4. Hi Lon – Thank you so much! I just wanted to share my experience with all. Nell

  5. Hi Alice –
    Happy New Year to you!
    Glad you’re enjoying all the info.
    I’ll pass your info on & you’ll be all set up for the newsletter with your new email. Best, Nell

  6. Hi Tawny –
    I was happy to share my story but even happier to get your lovely comment!
    I’m so glad you’ve been finding the posts to be helpful because that’s why I do them.
    Plants are an addiction; but if you’re going to have one, plants aren’t at all a bad one.
    I love fleshy succulents but have had to curb my enthusiasm for them a bit because I now live in the desert. Cacti are becoming my latest obsession & there are certainly plenty of them around here.
    Lots of hugs back to you!!! Nell

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