Just about everyone can remember his or her grandmother having a windowsill full of plants — African violets in the kitchen window, common houseplants crowded together in front of a south-facing window in the winter. They grew the plants just to grow them, not necessarily because they used them for decor or design in the home.
These days though, the practice of incorporating plants into interior design is not just trending in the home, but in public buildings and even hospitals. Plants are part of the new design aesthetic.
But why is it such a growing trend these days? Not only are plants considered an attractive addition to a design, they impart a touch of nature that helps promote health and well-being.
We may take it for granted here in our tree-covered Mountain State, but many people lack a connection to nature. Research shows that regular interaction with nature, even if it is just by looking at a tree out the window, reduces anxiety, stress and depression and improves behavior. It can be hard to imagine that plants can play such a role on the human psyche.
Incorporating living plants into living quarters and public spaces, it seems, instills a sense of calm in those who interact and even just look at them and can go a long way to improving both mental and physical wellbeing.
I was on a garden tour during our national annual agriculture agent conference this past summer in July where we visited a large cancer hospital. The whole atrium of the hospital, which spanned several hundred feet, was developed as an indoor river surrounded by trees and plants. The result was beautiful — a waterfall, moving water, large boulders and trees. But the purpose was to improve the mental health of patients receiving treatments and improving overall wellbeing. Patients and visitors would interact with the area as they entered the hospital, but it didn’t stop there. The special quarantined room where patients would receive treatments featured full, clear glass walls that overlooked the trees. The rooms were even designed to have the patient beds face outward over the trees. Plants can indeed improve our wellbeing.
Many homeowners are bringing the benefits of plants into the decor they put throughout their homes. We’re not just talking about plants collected together around a window, but into the actual design of the home. To make this incorporation easier, some of the more popular plants are low-maintenance but very interesting. There seems to have been a resurgence in the popularity of succulent, cactus-like plants and air plants. Air plants, most of which are in the genus Tillandsia, are usually found in trees in warmer climes like the rainforest, though Spanish moss, that wispy growth that hangs from most of the trees in the south is also a Tillandsia that is just a mini version of its relatives that grows in clumps.
Since they hang out in trees, these plants don’t actually grow roots to pull water and nutrients from the soil but collect what they need from rain. They may have small roots to attach themselves to trees, but we don’t usually see them when they are grown as houseplants.
The presentation of these plants has evolved beyond just putting them in pots. Small matching planters with individual succulents in them are all the rage, as are hanging planters and terraria. I’ve even seen tiny succulents in magnetic holders to stick on your kitchen fridge.
As for air plants, one common way they are displayed is by hanging in terrarium globes. Grouped together in random formations, these hanging planters can be used as hanging artistic expressions.
Now, I do have to admit that I have a whole utility rack in front of a window, crowded full of plants. I don’t know if it is my houseplant clinic or houseplant purgatory. These plants are in their “off” season or are just grouped together to make them easier to water.
There are other plants that are featured throughout the living areas of the house, but my most recent plant project has been installing a number of those hanging terrarium globes with air plants. I’ve taken to collecting different types of these little marvels on my travels as living souvenirs (they don’t need water or soil in a suitcase, usually wrap up pretty easily, and can hold up in a suitcase across country). I’ve combined my collection with some bits of stained glass and origami to fill my front windows with a personalized plant installment. So far, so good.
If you are feeling the need to connect with plants during the long winter, consider trying out an air plant or succulent container. Who knows, maybe that plant can help you through the winter doldrums and improve your overall wellbeing. It’s worth a shot.