Plant care or gardening — more technically known as horticulture — is not exactly a new hobby. In fact, even as early as Ancient Egypt and Rome, preference for ornamental horticulture is laced throughout our history. As humanity thrived and technology advanced, our relationship with nature started to dwindle. That somehow changed when the world was forced to be in a standstill due to the pandemic. Suddenly, plant parenthood, or the act of cultivating plants at home, became at par with activities such as quarantine baking and taking courses online. We investigate the benefits of plant parenthood for our personal wellbeing.
The science of plant care or horticulture
Gardening or horticulture therapy is said to help improve both mental and physiological health as it encourages positive thinking, improved cognitive skills and of course, physical movement meant to enhance endurance and general mobility. It even paved the way for collaborative careers between practitioners in the medical field and professional landscapers.
On an environmental front, studies have suggested that homes with more plants — be it indoors or outdoors — tend to have less allergen-prone surroundings, mediate indoor humidity, purify the air, and in some cases, even provide quick medical remedies when needed.
Singapore-based counsellor Dr. Maria Micha weighed in on the advantages of plant care: “Horticulture can be used to take care of one’s mental health because by engaging in something ‘earthly’, we are also reminded to be grounded, to slow down, and to let go of certain worries or anxieties.
[Through this activity], we connect with how processes can be gradual but certain. It shows us how if you do the right preparation, if you take the right action, if you’re in the right frame of mind, and you take some things slowly and take time to coordinate your mind and body with the environment, you can have the results that you want.”
She stressed that because the pandemic is a period of uncertainty for many people, plant care has turned mainstream because of these very reasons.
Do you need to have a green thumb?
With more than 650,000 tagged posts on Instagram and a bunch of other related hashtags on the platform alone, plant parenthood has certainly become a global phenomenon. For Hazel, who started adopting plants in 2017, the fascination with things that are "cute" led to her collection of succulents and small potted plants. As the years progressed, she “shifted to bigger plants” as she claimed that smaller flora tend to be a bit more high maintenance than bigger ones.
Still, because of the limitations of living in the city, Hazel shared that there is very little freedom to take plants outdoors, leading to a personal preference for indoor potted plants. However, having a green thumb is more than just innate talent.
“Every plant needs love and special care. Research, apply, and be gentle.”
As a content creator, plant parenting “really contributed a lot” to her wellbeing, since according to her, looking at foliage in her home helps “trigger creative juice,” “increase productivity,” and help her “forget uncalled worries,” especially during the time of the health crisis.
On top of that, plant parenthood helped her “filter the air inside naturally” which is beneficial for everyone in her household, including her fur babies.
Joyce, on the other hand, shared that she’s quite lucky to be leading a suburban life, which allows for more space for gardening. Even so, as a self-confessed horticulture addict, their current home is “already looking like a jungle” and is still in need of additional space for “new plant babies”.
As for the concept of a green thumb? She’s a non-believer.
“For starters, it’s normal to have plants die under your care. Just like any other skill, you just have to get a hang of it. Research, look up books on gardening, and there’s now even a thing where you can join Facebook groups that are related to gardening and plant care.”
Her current collection has been growing with rarer flora, including the “Monstera Deliciosa, Rhapidora Tetrasperma, Fiddle Leaf Fig” and more. Varieties of Pothos are her favourite since they are “super easy to take care of and are so pretty when they get super long and bushy.”
“Having plants made my life better. Especially when I get a new rare plant, it feels like there’s a sense of accomplishment. It’s the same feeling when I see a new leaf or new leaves forming. It’s really awesome to see plants grow,” she quipped.
The love for plants even led Joyce to open her new plant shop business. “Gardening takes time and patience. If you are a busy person, you should start with plants that are ‘hard to kill’ such as the snake plant, ficus nana, Pothos, etc.”
An environmental advocate's take on plant parenthood
Speaking of busy schedules, environmental advocate Anna Oposa — best known for her work as the Chief Mermaid of Save PH Seas — shared that the pandemic rekindled her relationship with flora in the most interesting way. With an environmental lawyer for a father, her love for botanicals started “even before she could walk”, which led to an unbreakable bond with plants and the environment as she grew older.
“When I moved into my own apartment a few years ago, I knew plants would make it cosier, so I became (a little bit) obsessed with buying pots and plants. And I still sing for them and stroke their leaves.”
But because of certain work commitments pre-pandemic, she had to get her friend to “plant sit” for her to keep her plants alive whenever she had to be away for weeks on end. “This kind of lifestyle drew me to more low-maintenance plants, i.e., those that don’t require frequent watering or pruning.”
With the stay-home period allowing her to spend more time with her plant babies again, she understands why there is a sudden boost of interest in horticulture.
“You’re at home more, which means you generally have more time to care for plants. You can’t go outside, so you bring nature inside. You also notice empty spaces that would look better with plants. Plants are really soothing to be around because they give off oxygen and they look great. I don’t know if this sounds weird but I love the smell of soil. It brings me comfort!”
As an environmental advocate, she strongly supports the growing trend of plant parenthood: “I support it 100 per cent! I love that people are also getting into edible home gardening because we’re learning to become more self-sufficient.”
She cautioned to steer clear of getting endangered plants from the wild or buying from black markets that often sell “carnivorous plants” or illegally cultivated “orchids”, as this will deliver a reverse effect on the environment.
Plant parenthood for everyone
Hazel expressed that while people may see their city-life limitations as a way to turn away from plant parenthood, they should “not be discouraged as there is a plant suitable for every lifestyle and space.”
However, both she and Joyce advised that because of the growing demand for plants during and post-quarantine, prices have certainly increased and maintenance can also be a bit heavy on the wallet. This aside, it all boils down to whether or not you’re willing to commit to the role of a plant parent.
Dr. Micha shared that while horticulture is generally good for everyone, she highly recommends it for people “who have experienced loss” — be it a job, a loved one or a certain passion — as it allows for feelings of security and growth often needed in the time of a loss.
“Horticulture brings hope back in people and through the slow but steady process of watching a plant grow from nothing to something — that slow, gradual but certain progress — makes us feel in control again,” said Dr. Micha.
“Through this method, people can cultivate their needs through their own efforts. Vegetables for cooking, herbs, etc. and it becomes a rewarding experience. Like how a seed that’s so small becomes something, it’s very similar to how our hopes, efforts and projects are like, whether it be on an emotional, personal, professional, familial level."
On a final note, Anna reminded that practising sustainable and responsible plant parenthood must also be observed so that this ‘hobby’ would deliver ‘the good’.
“Support small and local suppliers, don’t overwater, and share the plants you’ve propagated. And most importantly, enjoy the process!”
Speaking of greens, find out how Green Yards' Wen Shin Chia is inspiring communal change through sustainability here.