Houseplants, Self-Care and Me
My name is Frankie and I am a quarantine cliche. Why? Because of houseplants. And specifically, how I made houseplants the ultimate self-care act, because truth be told, I think houseplants may have saved my mental health this year.
My love affair with house plants didn't start during this strange time, but it definitely did intensify. I've long had a houseplant or two in my home but I'm (now very!) ashamed to say that they never lasted very long. After every house move in recent years (there have been four since we moved to Amsterdam nearly seven years ago) very few plants made the journey with us.
In fact, I can't think of a single indoor plant that did make it to our new apartment from our last one; indeed, we didn't really have any houseplants in our old house. So it's very fair to say that I have never really considered houseplants as important, although as you'll know if you've read this blog for more than a minute, I've always maintained that self-care and self-love are VERY important.
So how did the two connect? And why am I now seeing houseplants as my favourite self-care activity?
How Did Houseplants Become My Ultimate Self-Care Act?
Well, before we talk about the self-care benefits of caring for houseplants, firstly, I think I need to talk about how I came to become so much more interested, AND invested in my houseplants.
At some point after moving into our current apartment, I had an urge to put more greenery inside our house. I think there was something about this new house that rather stupidly gave me more permission to have more houseplants. I suspect this is because we plan on being in this space for a lot longer than our previous homes, but also we were fortunate enough to gain twice as many square metres.
In our old home, we were so limited on space both on the floor and on surfaces that I daren't use any of it up with something non-essential like well, plants! It feels so strange to admit that now, as smitten as I am with my "plant babies". So not long after moving in I went to a garden centre, bought a handful of plants in varying sizes - picked because they looked interesting more than any other reason; I didn't even Google their names or care requirements - and I plonked one in each of the rooms in our house, not including bedrooms.
Fast forward a few months and they were all doing well apart from a couple of succulents I had on my office desk. For some reason, I decided that they probably needed more water, and when that didn't work (they just looked sadder a day later) I finally did a bit more research into how best to care for them (I know - talk about better late than never!).
A few months after that my succulents were dead (being two metres from a ground floor North facing window just wasn't going to cut it!) but my Yucca, Draceana and Pachira Aquatica plants were all doing pretty well. I'd also been gifted a Pilea Peperemioides (Pancake Plant) cutting from a friend that was producing leaves at a rate of knots, and I also treated myself to a beautiful flowering Clivia in the autumn of last year.
Come the beginning of this year, I found myself wanting to go back to the garden centre and buy more houseplants. We were finally finishing work on our kitchen (after living with open cupboards for 8 months) and I knew I wanted to see more greenery in my new beautiful space, which I now knew to have good light thanks to floor to ceiling south-facing windows. Still, I did next to no research on actual plants, and again I just went with what I liked the look of and what didn't cost an outrageous amount. And so gradually, I added another Pilea, a Kentyon Palm, a small Fittonia, and an even smaller Tradescantia nanouk, and a fantastically fun looking Monstera Adisonii to my collection.
It was that Monstera that really changed things for me. Marketed as the "Monkey Face Plant" in the shop, but also called the Swiss Cheese Plant in many circles, it was a sudden desire to keep this plant alive and growing and popping out new holey leaves that got me finally (FINALLY!) taking time to look up what I had to do to keep it alive.
Well, that really did. When you Google Monstera (because how was I to know that that was the name of the plants genus!?!) you find hundreds of thousands of web pages results, and nearly as many photos. And I sort of fell in completely in love. Well, I'm joking... or am I?
How Houseplants Became My Self-Care
Okay, so let's talk about the last five months. Haven't they been... errr, unique!?
Well, it's this uniqueness and frankly, oddness, that made houseplants become my greatest self-care tool recently. When this time of quarantine, social distancing and lockdown began in mid-March, I was quite scared, as we all were.
Staying at home with my two young boys, with no childcare, was quite a daunting prospect. Doing it without the possibility of going out to see friends and their kids, or even going to a park or an indoor kiddy cafe, felt very daunting. I have spoken openly about how I need balance in my life to be the best mother I can be, and this new scenario really played into that anxiety. Add onto that the general unprecedented worry and fear the global situation was creating at alarming speed, and I was feeling severe overwhelm even just thinking about embarking on this new phase, let alone actually doing it.
To make it a little more frustrating, this blog of mine, which I'd finally made profitable, went from earning around 50 - 60% of my income to earning exactly 0% of it. Furthermore, it very quickly transpired that the few freelance clients I had would not be giving me work, and those that did have projects for me, I had to cancel because I was going to be home with my kids all day, every day (and I am just NOT one of those parents who can juggle work with kids at home).
I am sure this all sounds familiar, because yep, this year has taken so much from all of us, so let me explain how and why houseplants came to the rescue.
As I spent more time in my home, I began to look at things around my home that I wanted to change or do. Most of them were too time- or money-consuming to do with kids at home all day, every day, so I switched my focus to things I could do easily. One of these easy things was move plants around, and also think about getting more plants.
I'm not sure what made me go to YouTube but one evening I found myself watching a couple of videos on caring for plants I already had, and that led me to watch videos about plants I didn't have. And the I realised I could get plants delivered if I bought them online, and well, before I knew it
Why Houseplants Are FANTASTIC For Your Mental Health
At first, the main reason I think my new houseplant habit really took off, and why plants became so good for my mental health, was that it was a new and different thing for me.
I have always been someone that can get very enthusiastic about new things once they spark interest, and I now also see that as being something that happens because I'm seeking - consciously or sub-consciously - for an escape. And that's exactly what houseplants have become for me; a new interest and an escape.
There is endless amounts of things you can learn about houseplants and there are 10,000s of plants in the world, 100s of which are available in shops or online, 1000s of which are available with a bit of extra research online, so there really is no limit to how much you can learn and how many houseplants you can collect - albeit I need to remember I have my own limitations! - so it really did feel like I was diving into a whole new world.
There are also many ways you can find out more about houseplants - on videos, in books, or just by doing - and I found great comfort in trying all of these to grow my knowledge and my plants.
And growth. Yes, growth. That word is so key here. When it felt like the world around me was shrinking and dying at worst, and changing drastically at best, to bring in living things that were actively growing in front of my eyes... It was pure joy, and literal therapy. I read an article about how particles in soil can makes us feel better in a way that is comparable with anti-depressants. And I remember one week in May, when my new Monstera deliciosa was unfurling a new leaf, the first to have fenestration, so I would check in on the new growth every few hours in between making yet another meal or snack for my boys, or cleaning up the mess from the last one. It was just a second or two looking over at my plant, but it was a second or two that I took for myself and for my joy.
This was obviously key for me. Getting into a new hobby that demanded hours of my time each day, or at certain times of the day, when I was with my boys was never going to work. My escape needed to be something I could do when the boys were sleeping (so in the evening) and it needed to be something that didn't take a ton of time; maybe just five or ten minutes some days, a bit more on others. It also had to be something I could do and enjoy at home.
Again, having houseplants as a self-care hobby fit this so perfectly - some days you don't need to do anything for them, and indeed some plants are actually better off if you leave them alone for many days at a time - so it's fair to say plants just ticked a lot of boxes that I didn't know needed to be ticked.
In short, I started to see houseplants as more than just a bit of green in a pot growing (or not!) in the corner of a room. I started to see houseplants as something new that I could learn about. I started to see them as something I could care for. I started to see them as so many things that I feel lacking in when my mental health dips: hope, patience, faith, calm, growing, thriving... or just surviving.
On a more basic level, there were also some days where having plants around me and caring for them simply reminded me to have a drink of water myself, and to give myself all the things I was giving my plants - love, attention, appreciation, care.
There is also the good that my plants are doing that has nothing to do with me. We need plants in our world for our world to be habitable. We need them to survive.
While it's been suggested that having plants in your home doesn't actually clean the air of toxins significantly, and also it's also not been proven how much good houseplants are doing for the environment or conservation, what I do know from my own experience is that I am a lot more aware and mindful of nature thanks to my growing houseplant collection (changing up my diet, actively making better decisions on products I use etc), and also I have seen how happy my own houseplants have made others in my home, including my partner and children. It may not be a world-saving self-care act, but it's definitely one that brings benefits to those around me, not just myself.
So yes, as a result of all these many benefits of having houseplants, I have bought a few new plants.
Well, maybe 100 new plants.
And no, I'm not joking. I did it gradually but I didn't do it very mindfully, if I'm honest, and in many ways I am appreciating now how this is not the best way to make houseplants a healthy self-care activity, as it sort of overwhelmed me at times, but now I have calmed down, stopped perusing online plant shops at night, and turned that love, care and attention back to my plants, I maintain that growing my houseplant collection this year, has been a true act of self-love.
If this has whet your appetite to try your hand at houseplants, please do go check out my list of top houseplant tips for beginners, which is basically everything I wish I had known from the first moment I got into plants.
If you'd like to save this post, here are some images you can pin:
Frances M. Thompson
Find Frankie on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Pinterest, and Google+.