Green therapy: nurturing plants for mental wellbeing

May 25, 2022

Toni tending to her plants – photograph by Jamie Aldridge

Toni Rowe explores her love of plants and plant swapping

Over the course of the pandemic, many people have struggled with isolation and mental health issues. The Office for National Statistics (ONS) reports that 20% of adults experienced depression in early 2021 – more than double pre-pandemic levels.

The response from many was to take up a hobby or new interest to occupy them and give their day structure, as all the Instagram posts about sourdough starters can attest to! What excited me the most was that many people picked up my favourite hobby: houseplants.

Cultivating houseplants have been proven time and time again to benefit their owners mentally and emotionally. The Royal Horticultural Society (RHS) notes a few, including better mood, lower stress, lower blood pressure, and a better attention span.

While people faced a pandemic nobody was prepared for, it’s hardly a surprise that a number of people turned to plants. As an avid indoor gardener, I was thrilled to see so many people getting into the hobby and finding the personal reward in it. I love to see people able to bring joy into their worlds.

While life moved more slowly and being at home more, nurturing something can give you a lot of hope. Seeing a new leaf pop out can be enough to brighten your day.

My grandparents’ love of plants piqued my interest in gardening from a young age. Here they are at Kew Gardens.

What I love about houseplants is that you get out what you put in. How well they do is usually proportional to how much you’ve researched your plant. When to water them, how much fertiliser to give them, how much light they need. The sense of accomplishment is incredible.

Plants just have an incredible will to live. They will sulk and look sad if mistreated, they’ll lose leaves and go brown, but they hang on. They always have a new bud or offshoot that wants to live.

I also love that you can share them! Something that I have invested time, energy and love into can be freely shared between friends. Taking cuttings from stems or leaves or dividing shoots means that one plant can become many.

Gifting a plant is, to me at least, a physical representation of my affection. Here is something that I’ve spent time, energy and love into nurturing. I want you to have it.

If you’re thinking of getting your hands dirty and delving into the wonderful world of houseplants, here are some ideas:

  • if you have bright windowsills and not much time to take care of plants, consider a golden barrel cactus, or a succulent like aloe vera;
  • if you’d love to hover over your plants and constantly check how they’re doing, take a look at Boston ferns or asparagus ferns;
  • if you want your plant to make a bold statement in your living room, but don’t want your life to revolve around plant care, consider getting a dragon palm or Swiss cheese plant.

Prior to the pandemic, a big part of my love for the hobby was the community feel. I studied Horticulture at Capel Manor College, where I talked to plant lovers nearly every day.

My grandad grows most of his own food and loves to teach me, and my grandma loved flowers and making flower arrangements.

The way to improve a community is to provide opportunities for it to grow. For individuals to make connections with each other and take up practices that benefit themselves as well as others.

In a time of increased mental health issues like anxiety and isolation, plants aren’t the solution, but nurturing them can go a long way to giving people a sense of purpose. I want to play a role in creating more space for that and I enjoy plant swapping.

A plant swap is when everyone brings a plant or cutting to swap for another. It’s a chance for people to make like-minded friends and learn from others’ experiences.

New research by Mind shows the nation’s mental health has benefitted from spending more time in nature since the pandemic. With 63% of people finding that spending time gardening or in nature helps their mental health; taking in the sights, colours and smells of the outdoors was found to lower stress levels. It’s not only those with gardens who reap the rewards, 43% found growing food or plants in window boxes or looking after houseplants also improved wellbeing.

To remind us of the importance of connecting to nature for our wellbeing, Mind has a garden (The Mind Garden) beautifully designed by Andy Sturgeon, installed at the RHS Chelsea Flower Show 2022. You can check here to see the garden being built and a list of all the plants used to restore calm.

Toni is an aspiring horticulturalist who enjoys reading, drinking tea and dabbling in the occult. He is primarily focussed on issues of identity and culture, and the interplay between these issues and modern life.

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