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Lucian Freud: Meet the plants behind the paintings

Patch helps you discover the best plants for your space, delivers them to your door and helps you look after them. Bring the Freud exhibition home with living works of art – the plants themselves.

Howard the aspidistra

Aspidistra are sometimes known as the Cast Iron Plant because they’re almost impossible to kill. If you forget to water yours, give it a dark spot and it will merrily make do on its own.

They’ve built up that tolerance for poor conditions by growing in the shade under larger trees in China and Vietnam. Their resilience has made them an extremely popular houseplant.

Did you know?

The aspidistra was popular in Victorian times, because it easily tolerated the poor light and air quality of 19th century homes.

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Nicolau the strelitzia Nicolai

Despite the name, this is not a banana tree. Its leaves look very similar to those of a banana tree, but it does not bear any yellow fruit. Its other, more fitting, nickname is white bird of paradise, because of the enormous, exotic flowers that bloom on very mature plants in the wild on hot, coastal parts of Africa and Mexico.

It likes to bask in full sun, so when growing it at home keep it somewhere that enjoys lots of natural light and doesn’t get too cold.

Did you know?

It takes a very long time for wild bananas to flower. Typically a plant won’t bloom until it’s at least six years old.

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Musa the dwarf Cavendish

The plant that became known as the Cavendish banana was first brought to the UK in 1834, and gifted to William Cavendish, 6th Duke of Devonshire, who had them cultivated in his greenhouses.

They now grow all over the world in places with lots of sun and humidity.

It likes a lot of light and will even be happy with some direct sun. Let its soil dry out a little between watering, but make sure to keep it regularly misted as those giant leaves need a lot of moisture.

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Kai the kumquat tree

The kumquat is one of the more unusual citrus fruits. You eat the entire thing, peel and all, and it’s a bit of an acquired taste, a mix of sweetness and bitterness. Even if you don’t eat it, it’s a lovely plant.

Its leaves are a deep glossy green and in spring it will be covered in sweet-smelling blossom, which gives way to cute little fruits, about an inch long. The fruit should ripen through summer and they’re ready to eat when their skins turn deep orange.

Native to China, it was brought to Europe in the 1800s and has been popular ever since. A kumquat tree would be a prized plant in a Victorian conservatory.

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Bertie the Boston fern

You’ll find Boston Ferns in the wild in humid, shady areas, like swamps and forests, in South and Central America, the West Indies and Africa. As a houseplant, they really became popular with the Victorians, thriving in the poorly lit, likely damp homes of the 1800s.

The rule is to never let a Boston fern dry out: keep soil moist and humidity high. Try to resist touching their fronds as it might turn them brown.

Did you know?

The Victorians consider ferns a symbol of humility and sincerity.

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Vinnie the cyclamen

Cyclamen is a flowering perennial plant. In the wild, you can find it growing in Northern Africa, then right across to West Asia and Southeast Europe. Because of its heart-shaped leaves, many cultures believe the cyclamen is a symbol for a devoted heart; you might see it planted next to monasteries and Mediterranean churchyards.

Its sweet-smelling flowers are a treat for the bees, but they’re toxic to both humans and animals if eaten.

Did you know?

During the Renaissance, the leaves were thought to heal earaches. Although we haven’t tried it ourselves, we hear it’s best to stick to more traditional treatments.

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Francisca the Christmas cactus

The Christmas cactus, scientifically known as schlumbergera, earned its name because it flowers right around the festive season. It’s also known as Thanksgiving cactus and holiday cactus for the same reason, erupting in pink buds that turn into red flowers to cheer up winter.

Unlike a lot of cacti, this plant doesn’t naturally live in hot, dry conditions. In the wild you’ll find it growing in shady spots in humid forests, generally in crevices in rocks or trees. Try to imitate those conditions in your home to keep it happy.

Did you know?

In the wild, Christmas cacti are largely pollinated by hummingbirds.

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