Well-Being What’s the Secret to a Calm and Creative Space? It’s Plants

by Seth Putnam July 19, 2019

What’s a low-cost air filter and natural mood enhancer that can brighten just about any space? Nope, it’s not some sleek new high-tech device — it’s the common houseplant.

And it’s having a moment.

Just ask Nadia Suzanna. As the owner of an eponymous floral studio in Queens, NY, Suzanna has found that plants have the marvelous ability to transform both body and mind. “There are wonderful ways we can share emotions we don’t always express through flowers and nature,” she says. “And plants, like artwork, have the ability to transport you. You’re creating a space that is reminiscent of places, times or people that give you energy and power.”

A multi-degreed professional with a resume that reads like a who’s who of financial powerhouses, Suzanna pivoted five years ago from finance to florals. Not entirely new to this pursuit, Suzanna had practiced floral arranging as a stress-relieving hobby throughout her high-powered career.

But, as exciting as this professional reinvention was, it also arrived during a time of personal loss. “I had recently lost my stepmom to cancer,” she explains. “As you get older and have these turning points in your life that are sadly punctuated by pain or loss or hurt, it brings a lot of things into focus."

Suzanna realized that plants could be a form of therapy — not just for herself but for others as well.

Plants as natural mood enhancers


The idea that plants can provide a therapeutic and emotional boost isn’t just anecdotal; there's science behind it. One NASA study found that “plants can play a major role in removal of organic chemicals from indoor air,” in particular, chemicals that could be harmful. According to their findings, sansevieria, peace lilies, palms and ferns are some of the best indoor plants for clean air.

Another study by the National Institute of Health in 2015 examined the benefits of interacting with indoor plants and concluded that indoor plants can “reduce psychological and physiological stress.” And, may also result in the “promotion of comfortable, soothed and natural feelings.”

“Biologically, plants remove carbon dioxide and pollutants and produce oxygen in their place,” says Renee Costanzo, who holds a certificate in horticultural therapy. “Even having your hands in soil has been shown to boost beneficial minerals and vitamins in the human body.”

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Sansevieria, peace lilies, palms and ferns are some of the best indoor plants for clean air.
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Side by side images of plants decorating a living room. The image on the left is of a tree against a window; the image on the left is a close up of the same tree and a table in front with smaller plants on top.

Designing with plants


One way to bring more green into your life is to think of plants as an interior design element, like artwork or a comfortable chair. When Victoria Smith, founder of the lifestyle blog SF Girl By Bay, moved from her San Francisco, CA, apartment to a single-family home in Los Angeles, she immediately took advantage of her newfound space to create several vignettes with plants — both useful and decorative.

“I now have herbs growing on my window sill like rosemary, basil, sage and thyme,” she says. Suzanna agrees that herb gardens are an easy way to harness the benefits of houseplants. She points out that they add to the design of your home, and provide a triple plant therapy package that touches on the environmental, psychological and dietary.

“I also have a huge fiddle-leaf fig in my bathroom that stretches across the tub, framing a window that looks out over the trees in the yard. I can lie in the tub and literally feel like I’m outside,” Smith says.

A statement plant like Smith’s fig can add vibrancy to a vacant space like a blank wall. Other plants (such as orchids, rubber trees or nasturtium) can soften edges and lead the eye, creating a focal point compared to parts of your house that you're not as aesthetically in love with. Ultimately, the right plant choices can result in an area that feels more inviting or provides a burst of creativity and inspiration to a work space.

Smith also has myriad potted plants adorning her porch that add a natural and welcoming pop of color to the exterior of her home. Of course, trying to mimic the look created by a professional photographer and photo stylist might feel daunting, but don’t worry — just lean on the pros at your local garden center for help. “Find a nursery nearby that you trust — a small one if possible,” she recommends. “They’re not like the big box stores. I can ask them if one of my plants isn’t doing well. They’ll show you how to do things.”
 

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The right plant choices can result in an area that ... provides a burst of creativity and inspiration to a work space.
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Nurturing a green thumb


One such friendly resource is Sprout Home, a design-minded plant and home goods boutique with locations in Brooklyn, NY, and Chicago, IL. “Plants provide a commonality for all of us as well as a living, creative outlet,” says Stephen Hill, Sprout Home’s creative director and general manager. “Regardless of where we’re coming from with our past experiences in the garden, it’s a shared interest and something we can all learn from each other.”

Hill — who cultivates nearly 500 plants at his apartment alone — offers a few rules of thumb for those interested in developing a greener thumb:

  1. Consider your goal. Do you want to fill a blank space with a single large plant? Or line a window sill with a few small potted plants?
  2. Placement is key. All plants are light-dependent, so before you make any purchases, determine which direction your windows face and how much light they let in during the day, and build your nursery shopping list accordingly.
  3. What’s the light like? In filtered, natural light, try ferns like Pteris, Asplenium or Adiantum. For moderate light and drier conditions, Alocasia lauterbachiana, Dracaena gigantea or Monstera deliciosa. And for bright, direct sun, you can’t miss with succulents such as aloe vera or cacti.
  4. Water those plants. Aside from placement, moisture is an essential. A common mistake is too much water, especially if a plant is looking a little unstable. Be sure to check for other causes, too — pests or bad lighting.
  5. Consult the experts. There is a plethora of gardening literature (and online videos); but, don’t forget, chatting with the experts at your local horticulture center is a great way to make some gardening friends.
2 images side by side of an indoor herb garden. The left side is a close up of the various herbs like basil in small pots; the image on the right is a wider shot of the herb garden lined up against a window above a white tiled sink.

Benefits of reconnecting with nature


Over the centuries, humans have learned to build modern nests inside four walls, surrounded by sheetrock and a bit of paint. The need to touch dirt and the things that grow in it, however, is real and instinctual. It’s part of slowing down, logging off, and reconnecting with nature and where we come from.

When Suzanna takes a moment to consider the reasons behind her business’ blossoming success, she comes to two conclusions: First, customers use the arrangements as a way to communicate complicated feelings to friends or family. And, second, those recipients, in turn, boost their emotional well-being by caring for them. “It’s a powerful thing to realize that you’re being thought of — that someone is holding you in their heart,” she explains. “It really does something for a person’s mood and spirit.”

Ready to brighten up your home or work space? Consider these four pointers on plants from floral designer Nadia Suzanna.

 

  1. Short on space? Try containers or terrariums. These self-contained bursts of life often thrive in a closed environment without much care and — if you’re the redecorating kind — can be easily moved around.
  2. Use plants as artwork. Suzanna sees a huge trend toward hanging and wall-mounted plants. It gives you dimensional artwork and makes use of your vertical space.
  3. Get colorful. Many customers only think of green plants, but Suzanna nudges them to add a burst of colors and scents in the form of flowers — say, peace lilies, orchids and croton — as well as herbs such as lavender or ornamental oregano.
  4. Be focused. Create a singular focal point with your design. Suzanna loves to see a bonsai on a countertop, a large tree — such as a fiddle-leaf fig — near a window or even climbing plants shooting up a wall.

Seth Putnam is a Chicago-based journalist, editor, print consultant and publisher of the newsletter Shelter. He got his start covering politics for the Kansas City Star in Missouri before moving to the Windy City to write for magazines.

 

 

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