Limited to our homes, a pandemic is the perfect time to build green spaces indoors, as household plants are beneficial to our mental and physical wellbeing.
In these weird times, it’s likely we are going to spend more time at home. Therefore, it’s advisable to make your house comfortable: a couch with silky pillows, a good coffee machine, and plants, many plants. Academic papers show it is very beneficial to have a green space at home.
Last spring, in the midst of the lockdown, people went out to parks and community gardens. The waiting lists for council allotments got longer than ever. An allotment officer at Trafford Council in Greater Manchester said: “From my point of view, the allotments have been a lifesaver. Most people have taken the opportunity to get out into the fresh air.” Now, a dark and cold winter looms, and people would rather be indoors.
In the last years, the concept of biophilic indoors design has gained momentum. This means bringing a piece of nature inside. Over millennia, human beings have been connected to wildlife, but in the last century, we have drifted apart and dived in a concrete jungle; our 21st-century jungle. And this has deeply affected us.
Cary Cooper, professor of organisational psychology and health at the University of Manchester, thinks there is a lack of contact with nature nowadays: “Particularly young people,” she tells me. “It is important to commune with nature. It does reduce anxiety levels, refreshes people, and enhances mental wellbeing.
“When young adults go to university or to work in big cities like London, Manchester or Birmingham, they usually live in small flats. So, they need more nature to bring in because they don’t have enough green space.”
The benefits of indoor plants
Katie Cooper, a practising therapist and psychology lecturer, mentions in her blog some benefits of having plants at home, like how removing dust makes you feel calm or enlivened due to the pattern and colours of the leaves.
Although there is a broad belief that plants help improve air quality in the room, Dr Michael Waring from Drexel University in Philadelphia denies it. He says this myth came after NASA published a study in 1989. However, although plants indeed create oxygen through photosynthesis, Waring states its ability to clean the air is ‘vastly overstated’.
The key was that NASA did the study in a lab with controlled conditions: “They just didn’t take the analysis far enough to see what would happen in real life.” Dr Waring proved that it is much more efficient just to open the window to refresh the air and remove volatile organic compounds (VOC). Nevertheless, it has many other benefits, like good aromas, humidifying the environment, and mental wellness.
Therefore, Mark Frith, a community project been linked with gardening projects for over 20 years, advises creating your personal jungle with as many plants as you can. He virtually opened his home and showed me his sanctuary. His Jungle. His green space.
There, he showed me dozens of plants, giving me a tour explaining them. Firstly, he said, the key to look after your plants indoor is to control water, light and temperatures. He even advises drawing a solar map of your room to see what places are most suitable. For instance, against common belief, he suggests not putting plants next to the window, as the glass acts as a magnifying glass, which can burn the leaves.
Moreover, having control over the environment allows planting and propagating all year around. The most important thing is to do a bit of research where your plants come from and try to replicate the same conditions.
He showed me his aloe vera with endless health attributes to the skin. Also, he exhibits the most striking characteristic of the snake plant (also called the mother-in-law’s tongue) — its long and narrow leaves with white lines running lengthwise. Its patterns may change in the same plant, which enhances its connection with nature.
Cary Cooper stresses that indoor plants are good for mental wellbeing. If you have good mental health, it is easier to be physically healthier, and then your living standards improve. So, the pandemic can be a great time to start moving your green fingers.