Having heard Prime Minister, Teresa May, speaking earlier this week about her plans to ‘transform’ attitudes to mental health and to provide improved support to sufferers, I was remembering that someone told me once that spider plants were great to have around, at home and in the office, as they could help lift mood and alleviate depression. We’ve all heard about the therapeutic value of gardening and I even heard on the radio recently that some enlightened GPs are actually giving suitable patients prescriptions for mental health-promoting gardening projects.

I wondered if there was any scientific evidence that supports the idea that plants are good for mental health. Certainly, when I did an internet search for ‘mental health and plants’, it threw up a long list of articles, research and advice. The general consensus seems to be that having plants in your home and in your work space can really improve negatives such as anxiety, depression and tension, whilst improving productivity and reducing fatigue.

The areas in which plants can have a positive effect on our mood and productivity are many and varied according to the Royal Horticultural Society (RHS). It appears that the benefits of living and working around indoor plants have been shown to include:
– Improved mood
– A reduction in stress
– Increased productivity
– Improvements in attention span and concentration

Physical health improvements have been shown to include:
– Reductions in breathing problems
– Reductions in blood pressure levels
– Reductions in levels of fatigue and headaches

And the fact that patients in hospital rooms with plants report better pain tolerance is a bit spooky, but brilliant! There’s science to prove this; research from Kansas State University in 2008 showed that hospital patients treated in rooms where plants were situated, needed lower levels of pain killers

It appears that the plants trap and filter air pollutants in the home – kitchen products, air fresheners, faulty boilers – and at work – bacteria, dust, cleaning products, creating better air quality. Apparently just one plant per 3 employees can improve air quality in an office and can reduce CO2, dust and bacteria. I even found a study by NASA no less, saying that they’d found that plants are able to absorb and break down even quite harmful chemicals in the air through their leaves, creating a healthier indoor eco-system.

It sounds like a no-brainer! If we’re going to be happier and healthier in the home or at work if we import a few plants, let’s do it! Obviously we don’t want to live and work in a semi-forest environment, but within reason, it’s not difficult or costly to bring a bit of greenery into your life.

It seems that the visual benefits – and hopefully the health benefits too – of bringing plants inside is being recognised by retail companies and restaurants. We’ve noticed that various eateries and shops seem to have jumped on the vertical garden trend bandwagon. Here’s a fabulous wall of greenery that we spotted in west elm on London’s Tottenham Court Road.

Leigh Hunt, one of the authors of the RHS paper which discussed the benefits of bringing plants inside, said that you don’t need to surround yourself with exotic or expensive plants, ‘a spider plant is a good choice, or even common English ivy’. I can’t say I’d want ivy growing in my house – I’m in a long-running battle with ivy growing over our shed – but it was good to read that Mr Hunt has confirmed my long-held, but unsubstantiated view that the humble spider plant was thought to be a good mood-enhancing house plant to grow.

Prime Minister, Teresa May’s speech also emphasised the need to provide more help and support for young people with mental health issues. Having read about research showing that plants and greenery can help to reduce stress and blood pressure in students and young people whilst encouraging their concentration, I plan to continue with my practice of giving my children and their friends a home-grown spider plant as a ‘going off to university’ gift.

I love spider plants. Not only do they have a kind of ‘70s kitsch thing about them, which adds a bit of nostalgic fun, but they are incredibly easy to grow and seem to be virtually immune to neglect. And I should know! I don’t remember to water mine as often as I should, but they still seem to sprout their ‘babies’ at the ends of their long tendrils. They look great perched on a shelf at home or at work, and if you need a new one (for aforementioned students or others in need of a mood lift) you can just snip off one of the ‘babies’ and stick it in some compost in a pot, water it when you remember and hey presto! a new spider plant grows.

Other plants that are suitable for indoor growing, and which would suit an office environment too, are aloe, cacti, succulents, ivy, rubber plants and peace lilies. These are generally fairly low maintenance and should support conditions produced by air conditioning and possible neglect during times when the office might be empty.

I’ve got a spider plant positioned on top of my in-tray on my desk at work now, so I’ll have to let you know if I notice marked improvements in my productivity and general cheeriness!

Sonia Mermagen

Sonia returned to Thompson & Morgan in the role of marketing copy writer in 2016. She is a self-proclaimed ‘reluctant’ gardener and is generally amazed if anything flourishes in her garden. Sonia is a big fan of plants marked ‘easy to grow’, ‘drought tolerant’ and ‘no pruning necessary’. In her own garden, Sonia has a ‘hands off’ approach and believes that this encourages bees, butterflies and other wildlife. (That’s her excuse anyway!)

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