In attempts to curb feelings of quarantine loneliness, many people turned to plants and other greenery as a healthy hobby and a distraction during self-isolation. While some adopted only a few to brighten up their living spaces, many discovered their bedrooms quickly turning into plant nurseries within a couple of months. What used to be dull and sterile home environments are now ecosystems for social distancers and plants alike.
Many people that care for plants find them to be like a pet, and the connections between them are similar. Much like pet ownership, plants rely on their owner for physical needs while the owner receives psychological benefits. Especially during a time where feelings of solitude and isolation were heightened, plants offered emotional support and company without the extreme attention that a pet requires.
Plants have found a place at Sequoia other than our beautiful outdoor gardens. Through his past few years at Sequoia, Cory Ward invited greenery indoors in his English classroom, now taking care of more than five plants while teaching.
“You know, it’s really interesting because you do form an attachment to plants as, you know, as crazy as that sounds,” Ward explained. “When they’re not doing well […] you want to respond as quickly as possible. You know, I’ve had pets in the past and you have similar attachments and bonds with plants as you do [with a pet].”
Following the growing passion for plants came a sense of community; many people even consider themselves “plant parents,” a label that gained attention and popularity from the Millennial Generation and publicity from Generation Z.
“I would definitely consider myself a plant parent. I would say that the connection is very symbiotic,” senior Megan Kelly said. “Because, again, it’s just a very mindful practice to take care of plants and just see them grow. So I feel like I’m almost helping my own mental health by providing care for the plants.”
Some even take their “parenting” to the next level, referring to their plants as their “children” and find a family in their greenery. By naming their plants, owners can find deeper connections with them.
“Yeah, I call Kevin my son. All my friends call him that too,” junior Eva Smith said. “Sometimes they’re like, ‘How’s your son? Have you been watering him?’ I’m like, ‘yes, Kevin’s doing great, thank you.’”
From plant lovers to plant parents, the relationship between owner and plant has proven to be reflective; if the caregiver is doing well, the plant’s health will match. But, if the owner is experiencing hurt in their life, then the plant is likely to be neglected and mirror the health of those around it.
“It’s been a tough year coming out of the pandemic. Students just, you know, are sort of reeling from the change,” Ward recalled. “And if you notice, you look around [the classroom] at all these plants, the ones over there [by the windows] are doing pretty well. [The one closest to me] is losing a lot of color and a lot of leaves, and I wonder if maybe I am negatively affecting that one just with my, you know, personal everyday stresses and everything.”
During a time where everything was uncertain, plants provided a sense of stability and company. The COVID-19 pandemic showed a major increase in plant adoption and provided a new hobby for those riddled with boredom.
“It started in quarantine when I got [Kevin] and then I was just like, ‘I need to have more of them because I just like taking care of them,’” Smith said. “[It’s] something to do also, you know, with all the nothing. I get to take care of something and I get to have a little collection of them.”
“I got a lot more plants during quarantine because I was just so bored and I had nothing else to do,” Kelly said. “I got more pets, more plants, more everything.”
The color green has proven to increase creativity and performance, especially in workspaces. Through its calm, tranquil appearance, green can relieve stress, improve reading ability and promote a need for achievement, according to the mental health advocacy website, Very Well Mind. Plants increased productivity and motivation in distance learning for many students during Zoom meetings.
“I always keep one on my desk just because […] like the taking care of myself thing, I look at the plant and I’m like, ‘You know what the plant is doing well. I’m taking care of the plant. I can do well,’” Smith expressed. “That’s why when I’m having a Zoom call or school or whatever and it was really boring– I don’t pay attention but, the plant is doing well, and so can I.”
While the pandemic prohibited people from maintaining many of their typical lifestyles, it also gave an opportunity for people to grow and create new rituals, often traditions that better their life or living situation while remaining indoors.
“I went from like, I think six or seven at the beginning of the pandemic and then I made a pact with myself: every time I would go out grocery shopping, I’d buy one plant,” Ward revealed. “I would forgo buying one item that wasn’t necessary, and instead buy a new plant. At my home now, […] it’s closer to like 30-35 plants.”
The responsibility of maintaining the life of another organism can improve the self-care of the owner; the declining health of a nearby plant can prompt the owner to take care of themself.
“If I’m forgetting […] to take care of myself, sometimes I forget to take care of the plant and then I look at the plant and I’m like ‘oh he looks like he’s dying,’ and it’s kind of a reminder like ‘okay, I gotta water my plant and I gotta not do self destructive things,’” Smith said.
Plants have shown to improve the emotional well being of those around them, as stated by the mental health magazine, Psychology Today. Symptoms of depression, stress, anxiety and low mood can be uplifted by spending time around greenery. Especially during quarantine, those who spent time around plants found hope through the pandemic and saw their mental-health improving due to their green environment.
“They’re very calming to take care of and just nurture them over time, so by providing care for them I’m also providing care for myself,” Kelly noted. “I just [enjoy] having a little piece of nature in my room, I think it’s really fun to have.
Passion for plants moved from Ward’s home to his classroom. With the introduction of greenery in his learning environment, Ward was able to feel more comfortable and concentrated through a time filled with distractions.
“Last year, it was a little harder to focus, it was a little harder to feel comfortable [in my classroom [without plants], and I think part of being productive is you know, feeling comfortable in your environment so that you can focus on whatever tasks you have in front of you,” Ward said.
Ward’s decision to introduce plants into his classroom was influenced by his students; an environment where he could be comfortable should be one where students feel welcomed as well.
“Part of my teaching philosophy [is] that it’s important for students to not dread coming into this place, and to feel like it’s, you know, like their classroom as well,” Ward said. “When I’m in a classroom that’s just sparse and bare, it makes the time go by so much more slowly. If I feel comfortable in that space, then I feel like I can be more productive.”
Ward invites his students into the care process for the plants, and in return creates connections with them that reach beyond the standard student-teacher relationship.
“I’ll have students go and fill up the watering can, and even students asked me if they could water some of the plants. So when they become part of it, that’s awesome. I’ve had students asking me where I get my plants and I’ll give advice. Any connections you can make with students is […] really important,” Ward stated. “Students can sometimes have a hard time seeing their teachers as real people. Anything that might humanize me or, you know, personalize students’ perception of me is worthwhile.”
Plant lovers express their advice for those who are new to plant life and are interested in creating a greener lifestyle. From researching what plants you purchase to finding costly and ethical nurseries, there are many resources to beginning a greener lifestyle.
“I would just say go for it, because it’s just like a really fun hobby to get involved in,” Kelly added. “It doesn’t matter if you kill plants all the time, because eventually you’ll find one species that works for you.”