Everyone likes plants, right? Many of us have accumulated a shed load over lockdown. They make a great addition to home office spaces, many (although not all!) are super easy to look after, and they don’t tend to be expensive either. What’s not to like?
While many of us associate plants with the elderly, who spend their retirement gardening and tending to their allotments, house plants are in fact growing rapidly in popularity among a younger audience. From gardening hacks on TikTok, to the hashtag #plantsofinstagram being used on Instagram 11.3 million times (and counting), it’s safe to say that plants are becoming more and more trendy.
In fact, the National Gardening Survey found that “18 to 34-year-olds now occupy 29% of all gardening households.”
But can we dig deeper into this? Why exactly are so many of us interested in horticulture?
One reason is due to the mental health benefits associated with plants. You might be thinking, ‘What, that cactus I bought 2 years ago, that I haven’t watered in forever, is benefitting my mental health? Really?’ But allow me to explain.
The concept of taking care of a plant, nurturing it, and watching it grow can be therapeutic in itself, for a start. If you’re struggling mentally – perhaps you’re going through a bad bout of depression, or you're suffering from burnout at work – being able to focus on something positive like gardening can in fact be very beneficial. A little project that keeps you going and adds routine to your day may only be something small, but it can certainly help. And watching a delicate seed develop into a bold, beautiful plant can give you a sense of accomplishment. It can be a reminder that things can always change and get better.
Perhaps you’re not buying it though. Well, let’s look at the science, instead.
There have been links made between plants and job satisfaction, believe it or not. A study involving 444 Amazon employees compared staff members who were surrounded by more plants and sunlight to those who weren’t. Surprise, surprise, the ones who worked around plants were overall much happier. They were more productive, less stressed, and were in overall better moods. So, bear that in mind next time you’re looking to add some succulents to your home office.
Plants can also help with anxiety. Many people use ‘grounding’ to help manage their anxiety, or deal with panic attacks. This is when you identify objects around you to help your brain to recognise where you are, and make you feel in control again. You might practise grounding by touching different objects, by naming different things you can see, or by focussing on how many different sounds you can hear around you. Plants can be a great opportunity to ground yourself because there’s so many different colours, textures, and smells to focus on if you need to calm yourself.
You can also look into the specific benefits of different types of plants. For example, jasmine and lavender have been shown to reduce stress. Lavender is also known to help with sleep problems. Having some in your room before bedtime might help you to relax and nod off quicker.
When it comes to horticulture and mental health, there is still a lot of uncertainty though. Experts are still debating over how much a plant actually does purify the air in our homes (not as much as we’d like to think, perhaps). And while a lot of investigating is going on between plants and mental health, a lot of this is still ongoing and not yet fully conclusive. For example, many people are trying to work out a link between gardening and a reduced risk of developing dementia. But while we may not have found all the answers yet, there’s plenty to feel optimistic about.
Nurturing a houseplant is something that most of us can do. It’s simple, and can be done very cheaply. Whether you have a huge garden full of home-grown veg, or just a couple potted plants on your windowsill, these offer a chance for you to do something meaningful and practise some mindfulness.
To say that plants can ‘cure your mental health’ would be rather exaggerated. It’s important to do other things too, whether that be attending therapy, taking medication, or simply talking to others. But whatever your experience with mental health is, gardening and having houseplants is unlikely to make it worse. You never know – you might actually enjoy it!