In this episode, I’m exploring our relationship with houseplants and how they can benefit our mental health. According to the Royal Horticultural Society, research has shown that plants can positively impact human health most through well-being and productivity improvements. While there is some support for an effect on our physical health, the most significant evidence is for that positive impact on our mental health from improving mood and reducing stress that can increase productivity and concentration, even increasing pain tolerance from studies done in a hospital setting.
My guest is Liv, co-owner of Fancy Plants, an independent plant shop in Bristol, England. They have two shops and are very close to their third birthday.
My home environment has always been very precious to me, my little haven, and plants have always played a big role in that, so I was fascinated to talk to Liv, who has daily contact with so many different people who love plants and want to care for them.
Best houseplants for beginners
I began by asking her if somebody wanted to start a plant collection, where would you suggest they begin?
Liv said “I think people think that they just need to put a house plant on a windowsill and it needs sun all day and that's how you'll keep it alive. And actually lots of plants don't want direct sun and the direct sun is the trickier end of the scale to find a house plant to suit that environment. So we tend to suggest things like Snake plants, ZZ plants, Devil's Ivy, so lovely trailers are happy in a sort of lower light and are very robust and forgiving to the under waterers, and sometimes the over waters, as they a very obvious about what they want. So they'll drop a yellow leaf if you're giving them too much water and their leaves will curl and if you're under watering. Also lovely things like Philodendrons - basic Heart leaf Philodendrons are really great”. And if you are really fond of the attention-demanding Calatheas, Liv recommends you start out with the less expensive and easier to care for Maranta to begin with.
Cactus and succulents are often perceived as being easy plants to care for because they don't need much water, but they may not be so suited to your home as Liv explained, “They need loads of light, which lots of people don't have in their houses. You know, lots of people live in student accommodation that's really shady or garden flats or basement flats and so cacti and succulents just wouldn't really do a lot, you know, they wouldn't necessarily die, but they wouldn't give you any exciting new growth.”
Plants to suit your home and lifestyle
Liv told me that often in the shop they are playing detective to find out what sort of conditions people actually have at home so they can recommend the right species of plan: “A lot people, oh, my room's really dark and you know, it's really shady, but actually because they're thinking this plant needs to be in full sun, when absolutely that's not the case. And we look at it and go, Oh, that's quite a bright space to us. You've got loads more options than what you think you do.”
And it's not just your home environment that you need to think about, but your habits too. Liv asks her customers “Do you go away and are you home all the time? Do you have time to mist it every day or would you rather something that you're literally checking once every couple of weeks? It's kind of finding that level of not commitment by any stretch, but that kind of interest, I guess in every day or every week or every month, even it's normally on the end of the scale of I need something quite straightforward or at least something that's going to tell me what's up and what it needs. You have to kind of play a bit of detective at home and move it around a little bit until it finds its right house, the kind of right place in the home. But most people generally want a plant that they know will be OK and that doesn't need too much love”.
Liv continued ‘If you're a nurse or a doctor, you're doing five night shifts a week and the other days you're obviously catching up on sleep or with family or whatever, and you don't want to have to do misting when you get in and 7 a.m. after your night shift then, absolutely, the Calathea isn't the right choice for you. In the same breath, things like ferns are so popular, and I think that's a sort of common misconception that they're mega easy because everyone has one. But again, they need to be slightly damp. They want to be misted, not so fussed about the tap water, they are cool with that. But again, it's that the minute they dry out, they can deteriorate really quickly”.
Water doesn't always equal love
Liv recommends that to make your houseplant journey as easy as possible, make sure you get good advice on the right plant to suit your environment and detailed information on how to care for the species you have: “If you're going to go to big supermarkets or big hardware stores and just pick up a plant from there and it just has a tag that has a watering can symbol and a little sun with a cloud behind it or whatever it is, then that doesn't actually give you any information. And Google can be so conflicted as well. So going into a local independent houseplant shop near you and getting care advice from them is number one, definitely, because that is going to give you the best start regardless. So we give out care cards with the full Latin name, the common name, and then watering and light needs and then any extra information that we can give you too. But it's just quite a nice way to start off. So you're kind of at least starting on the right foot and then whatever happens from there, you can contact [the houseplant shop] afterwards.”
“I would say that most people think, me included, that water equals love. People just think, ‘Oh, it looks a bit sad. I'll just give it some more water’...giving the end of your water glass on your nightstand after a night's sleep, every morning, and it's just kind of the opposite a lot of the time - that can actually encourage kind of pests.”
More from this Episode
Do you want to find out how to pair plants and grow your collection to create an indoor jungle or to learn about the Plant Rescuer initiative and how Fancy Plants is involved? Listen to Liv and I discuss these topics in our full conversation by playing this episode on Apple podcasts, Spotify or Stitcher.
You can follow Fancy Plants on Instagram
Follow the Plant Rescuer initiative on Instagram
Grow your own Indoor Jungle
Liv and I have put together a special guide to you to successfully start your own journey with houseplants. This guide comprises 10 top tips for thriving houseplants and 5 easy species for beginners.