The Connecticut Plant Whisperers Share Design Secrets
By Sarah Parker Young
Photo by Audra M. Viehland
Gardeners might think that they are the caretakers of their plants, but there’s another way to look at it. In some native languages, writes author Robin Wall Kimmerer, the term for plants translates to “those who take care of us.” Two women in the Rural Intelligence region, Stacey Matthews and Audra M. Viehland, combine their green thumbs with an artistic aesthetic that incorporates nature into interior design. These plants, now works of art, become caretakers of sorts. Who’s not happier surrounded by objects of beauty?
Viehland, a New Preston-based interior designer originally from the Gulf Coast in Louisiana, creates terrariums that are masterpieces of nature. Her new venture, Copper Fern Terrariums, creates vignettes with plants, organic material, minerals and found objects such as turquoise, brass buttons and even a toy cat. Whether wandering in a greenhouse or shopping in a flea market, she’ll pick up whatever she finds visually striking.
“I recently found a ceramic salt shaker shaped like a cactus and put it with an aloe vera plant because I liked the humor behind it,” she says, “I don’t know if my customer found it funny, but I definitely thought I was being clever.”
One of the designer’s favorite plants for terrariums is the Tillandsia Cyanea because it produces purple blooms on its pink quills. Viehland is partial to jewel tones because of the way they’re presented in nature; she also favors plants that contrast in color, such as the Siam Aurora Aglaonema (also called the red Chinese evergreen).
Unlike other home design features, there’s almost no place in the house that couldn’t benefit from these decorative indoor plants. Viehland [photo, left] advises her clients to consider the sunlight exposure in the home. All plants, even mosses, need some amount of light, so it’s important to know that a succulent terrarium, for instance, will need bright, indirect light while a terrarium composed of mostly ferns won’t need so much.
For Viehland, creating the terrariums is very much like working through a design exercise, one with instant gratification. She considers the elements and principles of design — specifically color, texture, balance, contrast and harmony — when she creates each piece. As she says, human beings have an innate need to be in contact with nature, so bringing some of that indoors is an automatic interiors upgrade.
Stacey Matthews, co-principal of The Matthews Group Real Estate in Washington, Conn., is to indoor plants what Rachel Zoe is to celebrities; the premier stylist. Succulents are among her favorite things and there is always a variety of them on her kitchen table. Matthews will group them together in pots of different types, filling in the blank spots with moss, shiny rocks, or by tucking in an air plant.
The color palette of plants make it easy to meld a terrarium with room design, she says. “Year-round houseplants are only green and green goes with everything. But I’m always tempted by something bright at the garden store.” With this in mind, she buys forced hydrangea in the early spring to put on her kitchen counters. (The Garden in Woodbury is her go-to store and has a great selection of these starting in early March.)
Like Viehland, Matthews [photo, right] believes that you experience the most joy by bringing plants and the narrative of nature into the rooms you use every day. Her final recommendation: invest in quality containers. That’s as important as choosing the plants because a good quality container can last for decades.
In the county that proudly hosts Trade Secrets, it’s no surprise that there is a plethora of resources to help novices get started on an indoor garden. Matthews points to Pergola Home in New Preston as the ultimate plant store.
“Be sure to consult with the owner, David Whitman, about what type of conditions you have and where you’ll put the plant,” she says. “He is a plant whisperer himself!”
Copper Fern Terrariums
Email Audra M. Viehland at