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Why plants are more important for our mental health than ever

By Mikaela Fowler

For something that was once dotted around the house by many of us without much thought besides the odd splash of water, plants have certainly gained popularity in recent years.

No longer serving as idle greenery, plants are now part of the family, with “babies” just one of the terms of endearment we’ve bestowed upon them.

The latest nursery and garden statistics from Greenlife Industry Australia confirm 2 billion plants were sold across Australia in 2019, totalling $2.44 billion, with 2020 undoubtedly hitting similar figures.

More is more when it comes to plants. Photo: Ross Caddaye

And it seems our plant preoccupation is here to stay. According to a recent report, almost 60 per cent of Australians believe getting outside and connecting with nature is more important to them now than before the pandemic struck. Over half (54.4%) have a greater desire to bring nature into their homes.

“Simply spending time around our plants is proven to improve our wellbeing,” explains biophilia expert and lead researcher for Plant Life Balance, Dr Dominique Hes.

“Our brains evolved in nature, so when we are surrounded by greenery, the fight or flight and emotional parts of the brain are less on edge – an innate affinity to nature called biophilia.”

For their 2021 Plant Trend Report, Plant Life Balance surveyed 1000 Australians aged 18-65, to find out how COVID-19 had redefined our homes, and what we want from them now.

After months of working from home, our partners are now fully-fledged colleagues.

For most of us, 2020 was the year our homes became the central place in which we worked, relaxed and socialised, with the way we function daily adapting at a record pace. Considering access to the outside world was drastically limited, it made sense that many of us tried to bring the outside in.

“Our relationship with plants has been re-established as a crucial part of our lives, and now that we’ve brought them into our homes and experienced the health and wellbeing benefits first-hand, we won’t be giving them up any time soon,” says University of Western Sydney biophilia and pedagogy academic, Professor Tonia Gray.

Studies show that time spent in nature and the outdoors can lower stress, improve your immune system, optimise mental alertness, wellbeing, and productivity.

“You can reap the benefits of nature simply by getting outdoors and into the garden, which has been proven to lower our stress levels and even bring about social benefits. If that’s not possible, bringing plants indoors is restorative as it promotes relaxation and creativity.”

In addition to the survey, the company also consulted with nursery industry experts, academics and interior stylists to forecast five major trends we’re likely to see this year.

The first – “greening where we work” – comes as no surprise, as many of us continue to work from home. According to Dr Hes, just one plant is enough to get those feel-good chemicals flowing, but more is definitely better. She suggests clustering small plants in the corner of your workspace or using a windowsill to free up precious desk space.

Studies show our productivity is increased when plants are introduced to the workplace. Photo: Unsplash/Andreas Dress

“You can also try adding a series of shelves to the wall and filling [them] with trailing plants. Look at them throughout the workday for an instant creativity boost.”

Other predictions include a rise in integrating plants into our wellness routines, an increase in growing our own edibles and food and “plantertaining”, which involves putting our best plants forward through recipes and styling when entertaining at home.

The final trend – encouraging children to learn more about nature – has a twofold positive effect on children and parents.

“When kids learn amongst natural environments such as the garden or a leafy park, it encourages self-regulation through risk-taking, resilience, experimentation, mastery and self-discovery, which can be both empowering and liberating for a child. Likewise, for adults, there are many benefits too: increase in productivity and creativity, improved wellbeing and reduction in stress, for instance.”

Regardless of whether it’s starting a small herb garden on the balcony or going for a bushwalk, make sure you pencil in some green-time this weekend.


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