Plants in the kitchen are a great way of lifting the spirits in autumn and winter. Something green or even flowering brings cheer into the house in the dark days and reminds you that spring and summer will come again. Plants improve your state of mind, can help to purify the air, and increase humidity (good for houses with fierce central heating). And having your own fresh herbs to use in cooking is always good.

What sort of a place is your kitchen?

It may come as a shock to those of you who believe your kitchen is the warm and welcoming heart of the home but kitchens are quite hostile environments for plants. Many plants just need to know where they are, environmentally speaking, and the heat, steam, grease and dust of the average kitchen, all varying wildly at different times of day does not cut the mustard. There may be poor light (not much good for many plants) or very bright light (plants don’t like being fried). And plants don’t appreciate being continually budged up to make space for more important things in a working kitchen.

You have a bright, airy kitchen?

Lucky you! If you’ve also got wide windowsills that can take plant pots, that’s even better. Do make sure that it’s not too cold on the windowsill which can be much colder than elsewhere in the room, especially behind curtains or blinds. It should be at least 7C.

The softer herbs usually struggle indoors in winter but chives will keep on growing if it has four hours of brightness a day. The green tubular leaves can be added as a garnish to most savoury dishes, and are great in omelette aux fines herbes.

You could try a small rosemary or lavender plant.

Or overwinter a pelargonium – a variegated one for a jazzy look or a scented one for uplifting smells. If it gets too leggy, prune it in spring.

Rose geranium (Pelargonium roseum). Kitchen

Rose geranium (Pelargonium roseum). © Neva Micheva and reused under https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.5/

Even if you haven’t got bright light and space so that fresh air can circulate in your kitchen, there is a plant for you. Read on!

Purify the air

Lush green or variegated ivy (Hedera helix) is so easy to grow up supports, cascading from shelves, or hanging from a plant holder. Just make sure it gets some time in direct sunlight. It’s a natural air freshener, absorbing benzene, formaldehyde and xylene, and mould and bacteria too. It's toxic to cats and dogs, though, so keep it out of their reach.

Choose a 1970s classic for areas of low light

Both the rubber plant (Ficus elastic) and the philodendron (Philodendron hederaceum) were very popular in the 1970s when houseplants were last very popular.

The rubber plant’s leaves are large and shiny with a good shape, usually green but there is a burgundy variety as well. This plant absorbs formaldehyde.

Tough and cheerful philodendron is often found on shelves where little light reaches, and here it can become lanky. To prevent this, pin the long vines down into the compost with hair grips or unbent paperclips. It does better with bright indirect light, and this helps to keep the variegated variety colourful.

Choose a imperturbable Victorian classic – the aspidistra

Providing you have enough room, the aspidistra is a great choice for the ups and downs of the kitchen environment. It withstands neglect, low light and a wide range of temperatures. It’s hard to kill but does even better with a little care and attention. Using good potting compost is a great start.

Long case clock and aspidistra. Kitchen

Long case clock and aspidistra, Chastleton House, Chastleton, Oxfordshire
cc-by-sa/2.0 - © Brian Robert Marshall - geograph.org.uk/p/4146356

Succulent?

Yes, I’m sure your cooking is but I’m talking about the currently very fashionable succulent plants. Succulents are neat and compact, which is an advantage in a busy kitchen.

African spear plant (Sansevieria cylindrica). Kitchen

African spear plant (Sansevieria cylindrica). © Jungle Rebel and reused under https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0/

I’m keen to try the African spear plant (Sansevieria cylindrica), cousin of the snake plant, whose leaves are cylindrical in shape. It’s from Angola and is very tolerant of drought, cold spells and low light. Water it very infrequently. Sansevierias grow up rather than out, good for restricted spaces.

Sansevieria trifasciata (snake plant, mother-in-law's tongue). Plants for the bathroom, kitchen

Sansevieria trifasciata (snake plant, mother-in-law's tongue 中文: 虎尾兰 ) Released by Mokkie into the worldwide public domain.

Plants are good in every room. I don't think you'll regret having a plant or two in your kitchen. Remember not to overwater them in winter.