Bring Some Nature (& Happiness) Into Your Home
George Williams, CEO of the brilliant gardening app SmartPlant, writes about how plant-care has taken off during the pandemic - as both home-based hobby and mental health miracle.
I grew up surrounded by plants, and at the time I probably wasn’t aware of how lucky I was. From the sprawling family plant nursery filled with hiding spots and ‘secret’ passageways, to the extravagance of Chelsea flower show to the amazing, wild gardens of Cornwall. At that age, a tree is a tree and a wood is a wood, and I was completely unaware of how those experiences and environments, as opposed to city life, were providing me with far more than just a nice place to make a den out of sticks.
Fast forward a few years and surprise, surprise I have found myself working in the plant world, developing an app that helps people look after plants. At every juncture I have found myself gravitating towards plants, frequently unsure as to exactly why, but positive that that’s what I needed to do. Perhaps it was my own, distinct, lack of knowledge on the subject or, perhaps, something more innate.
Today I find that without some sort of botanical escape in the diary at least once a month, the weight of city living and working reaches an almost unbearable peak and life takes on a greyer shade; introduce a splash of green and my full colour vision is restored.
Fortunate enough to be locked down at the family plant nursery, my personal need for the outdoors into sharper focus. I was not alone in resorting to growing plants and vegetables, nor was I alone in turning a walk in the great outdoors into an hour long red chair session with my therapist, Mother Nature. These global events drove vast swathes of the world to the soil and to growing. This was made all the more apparent with the closure of the nation’s Garden Centres. Being locked at home without access to one of our staple pastimes – plants and gardening – left the UK crying out for plants. Moreover, it left millions of plants risking the skip with nowhere for them to be sold.
We decided to pitch in, using our app and its users, combined with our knowledge of the industry, to help shift as many plants as possible direct from the growers. Amazingly we managed to get 55,000 plants out to plant-hungry people across the UK in the space of just a month and a half and donated thousands to the NHS in the process. What was striking, and perhaps more touching, were the responses we got. The reaction from recipients was nothing short of ecstasy – cementing my knowledge that plants are so much more than a hobby to so many people.
It was at this point that a short and sweet message was received from Jack Gillespie, who had been observing horticultural events from his (WFH) desk, working in the advertising industry. Jack had concocted his own idea on how to solve the plant drought and raise awareness for mental health at a time when it couldn’t be more important.
Jack’s furlough and our increasing plant sales led to a the formation of a subscription box that encompassed the values we mutually held dear.
Plants and nature are crucial, not only for our planet, but for us humans and our mental wellbeing. Mind, Body & Soil is a seasonal selection of plants and locally sourced produce designed to bring plant-based positivity into homes across the UK.
World Mental Health Day 2020 coincided with a report from the ONS that as a result of Covid-19, levels of depression and anxiety are at an all time high, with the greatest proportional increase amongst those aged 16 to 39.
This, combined with the fact that on average we are all putting in an extra 28 hours of work per month in our ‘New Normal’, may explain why we have seen an unprecedented surge in hobbies such as cooking, baking that sourdough, knitting a hat, learning an instrument or dusting off an old one.
There is no doubt that any one of these things breaks up the day, allowing us to divert our attention away from screens and embrace the benefits of applying your brain to something new.
One of the standout winners in the new hobby department, 2020, has been plants – and for very good reason. Not only do they provide us with the aforementioned benefits of giving yourself a timeout, but we firmly believe that the humble plant and the act of caring for it, can function as a remedy for improving mental health and boosting positivity.
A notable advocate of the power of plants, was Florence Nightingale, who revealed in a study of two sets of patients, one with a view of trees and greenery, and the other a view of a brick, that those with a view of greenery had lower levels of stress, improved moods and were discharged earlier.
Jump forward into the 21st century and we have been able to shed some scientific light on why plants elicit such positive effects on us humans.
Typically, people view caring for plants as a) a terrifying confusion requiring bags of prior knowledge and b) another thing you need to do at home when we are all far too busy.
Whilst the former may be true for some of the more complicated plants available, we believe caring for plants can be straightforward and requires a level of attention and nurturing that brings us satisfaction when it goes right, and a moment to learn when it goes wrong. Additionally, those of us lucky enough to have a garden, will benefit from the exercise one puts in when doing the plant care rounds, increasing serotonin production and giving you a moment of peace from the daily work from home grind.
A recent and more surprising study (this really is quite unbelievable) showed that a microbe native to our soils may actually be responsible for an increase in serotonin. Activated by movement, the microbe Mycobacterium vaccae, is inhaled or absorbed as you go about your daily plant care duties and has been found to increase your serotonin levels thus, acting as a natural antidepressant.
One could also look to the, now extremely popular, Japanese art of shinrin-yoku (translated to forest bath), for scientific proof of the healing powers of plants. Having spent over £4,000,000 on research and incorporation of this art into their health system, the Japanese Government have found that some time in the woods and around plants increases immune function and aids in the prevention of cancer with the positive effects being compounded after multiple visits to a green space. It is not unheard of in Japan for your doctor to tell you to “Get out more!” and this is surely a sentiment we could all live by a bit more.
With plants becoming an integral parts of our homes and with home improvement becoming a necessity whilst we are all operating our lives from a single building or room in many instances, there has never been a better time to experience the healing power of plants.
Mind, Body & Soil is our manifestation of these benefits and principles. We aim to deliver self-care through plant-care in a neat monthly parcel and teach our subscribers how to care for plants and, in return, how their new plants may be caring for them.
Our October box, The Green Healer, embodies our ethos and is designed not only to bring a glorious splash of green into UK homes, but to share how plants and plant care can benefit you as a person. Additionally 5% of precedes are going to the charity Mind, in recognition of the importance of mental health awareness.
5 Tips from George & Jack to start with plants
Regenerate Spent Veg
One of the more useful tips that we can all make use of is verging on cheating. When you have finished with lettuce (gem, romaine etc.) simply place the uneaten base of the lettuce in a cup with water covering half the base of the lettuce and leave it. You will see that within a week or so your lettuce will start regenerating and you will be rewarded with a free salad in a few months time!
Take your supermarket basil to the next level
Ever found that your supermarket basil particularly short-lived? What you are actually dealing with is more than one plant in one pot designed to give a luscious display on shop shelves. Plants like a bit of space and the roots of these basil plants are actually too constricted. Next time you buy one of these, try slicing the soil into quarters and repotting each quarter into its own pot. You should find that you
Simple and Beautiful Houseplant
With thousands of houseplants out there it can be hard to know where to start. For anyone looking for an easy splash of green at home that won’t turn brown too easily I would recommend a Ficus. They have a wonderful architectural aesthetic and mine has lasted years of neglect and is still going strong.
Grow Plants Without Soil
You don’t always need soil to enjoy plants. English ivy is something you can grow indoors with a cup of water. All you need to do is take some cuttings from a healthy ivy plant, make sure there are some nodes in the stem, and then just put in a container with water. Ivy is super quick so you should have roots in around 3 weeks.
A Splash Of Colour Over Winter
Making your outdoor garden/window-box beautiful in spring starts now. To plant a daffodil outdoors, it could not be more simple. Just place your bulbs around 15cm under the soil (you can add some fertiliser) and then cover with soil, let nature do her work and wait for spring. Alternatively you can actually grow these indoors over winter very easily. By placing your bulbs in potting soil and keeping the top 1/3 of the bulb exposed and watering the soil without drowning your bulbs, you will be rewarded with a premature daffodil display to brighten your home over winter. This is one of the things we are looking to teach people in our October box so if you would like to give it a try, sign up!
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