Some of the most successful (and easiest) houseplants come from the tropics, so it makes sense for beginners to opt for a collection of low-maintenance foliage plants. Fill any watertight container -- in this case, a glass candy dish -- with plants that can tough it out even in the shadiest corners of your house. Add stones or minerals such as quartz as light-catching accents.
In a large Chinese soup bowl, create a miniature hill of potting soil covered in moss, and top it with a woody Chinese elm trained to look like a small, twisted tree. Creeping fig and a variegated fern spill over the edge. You might also add a companion planting, such as this heart fern grown in a ceramic teacup.
Strangely shaped plants inspire an undersea garden that may look aquatic but is actually drought-tolerant enough for busy homeowners who might miss a watering or two (or three). Succulents such as spiked aloes, crassulas, and echeverias mimic branchy corals and mix easily with a collection of seashells. A few ceramic starfish on top of the sandy cactus potting mix complete the illusion.
Why isolate each of these prima donnas in separate pots? Instead, combine several orchids in a low pottery planter with ferns and other blooming houseplants. They will love the added moisture they gain being grouped together. Use a well-draining soilless orchid mix, and leave the plants’ aerial roots exposed and not smothered by the top-dressing of moss. (Never overwater orchids since they hate wet feet.)
French glazed green bowl, from L. Becker Flowers, 212-439-6001. Peekaboo clear console, cb2.com. Orchids Wallpaper, Bamboo, in Ivory/Yellow (#20205-03), cowtan.com (to the trade only). Assorted orchids and houseplants, logees.com.