PLANTS OF THE RICH AND FAMOUS
WRITTEN BY KATHRYN O’SHEA-EVANS
The fact is, most of us will never be able to afford a spread like Spanish Revival-style Hearst Castle, built by publishing tycoon William Randolph Hearst on 40,000 seafront acres in San Simeon, California. Or Elizabeth Taylor’s 33.19-carat diamond ring, a gift from then-hubby Richard Burton, which recently sold for $8.8 million at auction. But we can tend the very same plants the rich and famous are besotted with in our own private plots. Here, a handful to know and love, ranging from a flower Mark Twain grew that only blooms by night to the palm the British royal family favors—plus care tips that will help them go the distance.
Kate Middleton’s Parlor Palm.
Victorians cultivated this lush palm (Chamaedorea elegans), which has been spotted in the background of Zoom calls with the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge, who likely love it for its elegant splay of stately leaves (so elegant, in fact, that it’s right there in the name). What better plant to zhuzh up the storied halls of Apartment 1A at Kensington Palace and the Sandringham Estate? Know to Grow: Indirect sunlight and lazy watering (once every week or two) can make this palm grow up to six feet tall.
Mark Twain’s Night Blooming Cereus.
As if a figment of imagination from Twain’s own literature, this ruffly, white-petalled flower (Epiphyllum oxypetalum), which the author grew in his Hartford, Connecticut Gothic-style home and therefore touts his name, only opens its bloom after dark, then shuts by daybreak. The Twain family had their own lush conservatory—a staple in many upper crust Victorian estates—attached to the library in their 1874 home (now the Mark Twain House & Museum). His daughters aptly nicknamed it “The Jungle.” Know to Grow: These plants prefer an east or west exposure, partial sun, and are happier when kept fairly dry.
Georgia O’Keeffe’s Geranium.
Before she passed away at the age of ninety-eight, the artist was so obsessed with the geranium plant (Pelargonium x hortorum) in her 5,000-square-foot, Spanish Colonial compound in Abiquiú, New Mexico—these days, perfectly preserved as Abiquiú Home & Studio—that she included its lush petals in multiple paintings. One of the most well known: Geranium Leaves in Pink Dish, painted in 1938. Know to Grow: These major sun lovers crave well-drained potting soil and deep weekly watering.
Frida Kahlo’s Swiss Cheese Plant.
The graphic, heart-shaped leaves of this Central and South American native plant (Monstera Deliciosa) give off major jungle vibes in the courtyard of Frida Kahlo and Diego Rivera’s former home, La Casa Azul (now a museum). No wonder it’s the pride of Instagram with more than 900,000 posts and counting at #monsteradeliciosa. If you have cats or dogs, stick to Kahlo’s artistic renderings as the plant is toxic to them. Know to Grow: Give this tropical flora a sunny spot, peaty soil, and plenty of humid moisture to keep it happy.
Dr. Martin Luther King Jr’s Red Carnation.
It’s a story that can give you chills: Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. often gifted his wife, Coretta Scott King, an abundant bouquet of fresh blooms of her favorite flower, red carnations (Dianthus caryophyllus). Not long before he was murdered, he sent her a faux bouquet she could hold onto forever . . . just because. You can still see the floral arrangement in the kitchen of the Dexter Parsonage Museum, the Montgomery, Alabama home where the King family lived in the 1950s. Know to Grow: These fragrant flowers are a summer favorite of gardeners, who plant the seeds in early spring just an eighth of an inch into the soil and water lightly until they germinate.
Lucy Maud Montgomery’s Bleeding Heart.
Leave it to the Canadian author of the Anne of Green Gables series to include this utterly romantic (and poetically named) stunner in the grounds of the brick Victorian home in Ontario where she lived from 1926 until 1935. The hearts (Dicentra) nod to her love of gardening, so strong she once said: “I love my garden, and I love working in it. To potter with green growing things, watching each day to see the dear, new sprouts come up, is like taking a hand in creation, I think.” Know to Grow: A shady spot is what these beauties find homey—all the better to brighten up your home’s under-bush areas.