COVID-19 has turned more of us into indoor green thumbs
By Natasha Chiam | April 14, 2022
Suzanne Pescod didn’t think she was a plant person, despite coming from a long line of plant enthusiasts. Her dad is the family gardener and “a plant salesperson’s dream.” She recalls her teenage summers grudgingly working in the garden with her father, not realizing his plant knowledge was seeding itself within her, waiting for the ideal time to blossom. Today, she continues her family legacy with a plant-filled home and is especially proud of the centrepiece of her collection, a nine-foot bamboo tree.
Her pride and joy, which she grew from two $1.99 IKEA bamboo shoots, lives in their home’s south-facing sunroom surrounded by windows. Plants dot most surfaces in the house: pothos vines climb along shelves, potted cacti double as bookends, a smaller bamboo is the backdrop for video meetings, and larger succulents live in the sunroom year round. Some of Suzanne’s plants have grown so much she has started giving away cuttings to her neighbourhood Buy Nothing group, sowing her own version of the family gardening legacy.
Pescod’s flourishing plant collection is just one example of how much indoor gardening has grown in recent years. Edmonton-area plant shops, self-proclaimed “plant parents”, and their plants are all thriving.
Before the pandemic, Hong Nguyen, owner of Botaniful Plant Loft in North Edmonton, was running her shop with the help of her husband and one staff person. They worked hard to create their new business, with each of them working in the shop on days off from their full-time jobs. When the shop temporarily closed its doors to the public due to COVID restrictions, Hong and her staff started doing Instagram Live shows to educate their growing audience about plants and plant care. The videos paid off, and their online presence grew along with their sales. Nguyen ended up hiring five more employees to keep up with all the orders coming in each day from Edmontonians inspired to add more plants to their lives. She admits the pandemic has helped their business thrive, and she is grateful for the community that continues to support them.
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When the pandemic turned our homes into all things work, school, play, and life, people all over turned to plants to beautify their spaces. Beyond the aesthetics of the growing houseplant phenomenon, there is science behind our yearning for greenery. In the March 2019 Journal of Environmental Horticulture, researchers reviewed the literature supporting the well-being benefits of plants and concluded that having plants in our homes has positive effects on all major aspects of a person’s quality of life. Plants have been proven to reduce stress and anxiety, increase creativity and productivity, lessen the effects of depression and PTSD, and even improve people’s cognition and memory. During a global pandemic that has affected every area of our lives, the plants we care for could very well be the relief we’re looking for.
If you need to be convinced that plants can indeed make people feel better, just walk into Glass Earth Plant Store in Kingsway Mall. With large tropical trees throughout the shop and plants of all sizes and varieties hanging from the ceiling and lining the walls, it feels like you’ve been transported to a lush tropical paradise. The desire to add to or start your own plant jungle is intoxicating. Owner Cynthia Booth explains this by way of the Japanese practice of Shinrin-Yoku, or forest-bathing.
“The human race belongs with trees and plants,” she says. “There is a beneficial chemical reaction that occurs between them.”
She is not wrong. Multiple studies have shown that plant hormones (phytoncides) interact with the human immune system and may help boost our immunity. Booth believes the current boom in the industry is here to stay, partly because people are valuing green life and environmental conservation more, and also because plants are playing a greater role in our overall well-being.
Back in Pescod’s sunroom, she too recognizes how much happier she feels surrounded by plants and says they provide her with something to focus on when she is feeling overextended. Caring for houseplants has been a way to not only curate her home and “exist around something living”, but has also helped her feel connected to her roots, both literally and figuratively.
How to Get Started
Edmonton’s houseplant scene has been b(l)ooming these past few years. Here are some helpful plant tips from the experts:
Start slowly, learn the basics, and trust the best plant tools you have — your fingers — to check the soil to know when it is time to water.~ Eric Gibson, co-owner of Little Plant Shop
Regularly check for pests, plan to maximize efforts by repotting several plants at one time, and most plants will appreciate extra humidity in our drier climate.~ Serena Tang, Edmonton artist and plant enthusiast.
My three favourite hardy plants to suggest for new plant parents are pothos plants, snake plants and ZZ plants.~ Cynthia Booth, horticulturist and owner of Glass Earth Plant Shop.