Sydney’s latest lockdown feels a bit like Groundhog Day. Days blend into weeks into months, with the challenge of working from home and lack of human contact really doing a number on one’s mental health.
When Sydney went into lockdown over a month ago, I was originally confident that it would only be a fairly temporary measure. But once the first fortnight came and went with no hope on the horizon, I did something I never thought I’d do: I went out and bought a houseplant.
For some context, I’ve always hated gardening with a passion. I’m a bit of a clean freak, so getting dirty and sweaty in the garden never held much appeal. I also get pretty heinous hayfever, with even the slightest puff of pollen enough to have me in a sneezy mess for hours.
But I’ve written about the virtues of buying and keeping houseplants – I’ve even crafted listicles about the best low-maintenance plants for amateur gardeners. Inspired by this latest (and toughest) lockdown, I thought I’d finally put my money where my mouth is and heed my own advice.
In short? I should have listened to myself a long time ago.
While I’ve previously propagated succulents and clivias from offcuts I’ve got for free, I’d never actually spent money on a plant before, other than buying flowers as gifts, which isn’t really the same.
My choice for my first ‘real’ houseplant was a Spathiphyllum floribundum, better known as a peace lily, which along with a surprisingly stylish recycled PET plant pot set me back $15 at Bunnings. This wasn’t a random choice: peace lilies are incredibly tough plants that are perfect for even the least green of thumbs and they don’t emit a strong smell (so it won’t set off my hayfever). They’re also rather pretty. Men can like pretty flowers.
They’ve also been proven by NASA to be one of the most effective plants at cleaning air of pollutants like benzene and formaldehyde, and they emit a substance that suppresses the growth of molds, spores and bacteria. Seeing as it’s cold outside and I can’t have the windows open all day, I figured freshening up the air a bit in my room was probably a good idea, too.
Anyway, it’s been a little companion of mine during these weeks of working from home in lockdown, and I have to say, it makes a really big difference to your state of mind. When you’re cooped up in your room all day, even just looking at a plant can make you feel more relaxed; more human.
This isn’t just hippie nonsense, either. As this Horti article and this NBC News report both relate, there’s a mountain of evidence to suggest that the human body is hard-wired to react positively to the presence of plants. They can enhance your mood, reduce feelings of boredom and sharpen your focus.
It’s why wood is such a nice, soothing architectural material, too – it generates similar feelings. Human beings are just animals after all. It just clicks with our lizard brains.
The act of caring for houseplants can also be good for one’s mental health, too. I’ve always been somewhat skeptical of ‘mindfulness’, but one of the nice things about taking care of houseplants is that it’s a deliberative, relaxing activity that keeps you accountable and acts as a self-care reminder.
Again, there’s scientific evidence to back this up, too. A recent University of Technology Sydney study suggests that not only do houseplants reduce tension, anxiety, depression, anger and hostility, but “the simple, mutually giving relationship between a plant and its human caretaker fosters positive feelings of confidence, as you’re responsible for the plant’s wellbeing and keeping it alive,” The Sydney Morning Herald details.
Purifying the air, keeping you sane, making your room look like less of a hovel… Plants are great, hey?
All I can say is that even if it’s not been for very long – and one or two plants do not a ‘plant dad’ make – having the peace lily next to me whilst I’ve been working in lockdown has had an almost immediate positive effect on my mood. And in this tough lockdown, any little boost is worth it.
The challenge, of course, is to keep this bad boy alive until at least the lockdown lifts (which could be a while, all things considered). It’s not a succulent I can throw in some soil and leave to just vibe for a year.
Wish me luck…