Houseplants have become the hottest home décor accessory, thanks in part to their reputation to improve air quality and boost mental health. We spoke with Dr Katie Cooper, founder of BloomBox Club, a plant delivery service, to find out why she made the career change from psychologist to plant company owner and how plants can make our homes and ourselves healthier places to live.
You are a qualified psychologist who practiced in London for several years, why the leap into starting an online plant delivery service?
It was an experience with a client that inspired Bloombox Club, actually. I witnessed, first-hand, the transformative effects of plant-care on mental health during my time with this particular client. She suffered from quite severe mental health issues – which I won’t go into now – and it was through plant care that we began to have major breakthroughs in therapy. I feel passionately about the power of plants and Bloombox Club is a means of sharing that far and wide.
How can houseplants help improve our mental health?
Time and time again, scientific studies have shown that houseplants reduce stress levels, and boost our wellbeing – along with a whole host of cognitive benefits. The reasons this happens are still being debated, but I suspect it arises from some combination of biophilia (humans’ innate affinity with plant-life), increased urbanisation (depriving us of the former), and the elements that plants absorb and release into the environment.
How can houseplants help improve our physical health?
Well, firstly, I think it’s wrong to draw a strict line between mental and physical health: they overlap and influence one another. But there are also several ways plants directly contribute to improved physical health. Plants improve the quality of the air we breathe by removing harmful pollutants and re-circulating oxygen. This benefits our respiratory health and makes us less susceptible to conditions like asthma, flu and the common cold.
Is there much evidence-based results on the health benefits of houseplants or is it more anecdotal at this point?
The evidence base is strong, consistent and has a relatively long history at this point. The relationship between plants, stress-reduction and increased wellbeing has been found in both controlled and natural settings. It’s important to point out that these findings are consistent between studies that measure the bodies response, and those that use self-reportage. Research on this subject has come from across the globe, indicating that the relationship between plants and wellbeing is innate rather than cultural. A 2017 meta-analysis of the literature, conducted by Sago et al., concluded that the research up till now shows a significant relationship between active plant care increased wellbeing.
When it comes to noticeably improving your health through houseplants, is it about quality or quantity of plants? Do we need a mini-jungle to start seeing some results? Or is it more about selecting the right plants for the right spaces?
It’s tempting to say more is always better, but I don’t think that’s necessarily true. From what I’ve observed and studied, it is when we interact with plants that we experience the greatest health benefits. This might be getting your hands dirty and repotting plants, carefully pruning leaves, or wiping away dust and dirt.
There hasn’t been enough research yet to say which plants have the most profound effects on our wellbeing, but some posit that the best air-purifiers also make the best mood-boosters. Honestly, I wouldn’t come at it from that angle – choose the plants you like!
Many people struggle with keeping houseplants alive, which doesn’t exactly help boost mental health – what do you recommend to get off to a confident start?
Less is often more with houseplants, which tend to perish when we fuss too much. Start by considering your environment; the temperature of your house, how much sunlight it gets, humidity-levels and where the drafts are. Then find a plant to suit the environment you have – much easier than the reverse!
In terms of easy-care options, I would recommend something in the Sansevieria family, such as a Mother-in-Law’s tongue (forgive the name), or something sturdy, like a Stick Yucca.
How can we get the whole family benefitting from houseplants? And get kids involved?
There are lots of good (and fun) ways you can introduce your kids to plants! Teaching your kids about propagating can be a nice way of turning plants into a family activity. We are about to release a series of videos, with easy-to-follow instructions on propagation, plant-care and more, so watch this space.
Of course, even without active-interaction, the whole family will experience the benefits of sharing the same environment as houseplants, which include improved air-quality and better moods.
Why are houseplants particularly important for us city folk in London?
Air pollution in London is well above the legal standard, and contributes to tens of thousands of deaths every year. This is a scary thought for parents bringing up small children with small lungs. The air-purifying qualities of plants are thus particularly valuable in urban environments. Houseplants also offset the alienating potential of our concrete-laden capital; so different from the environments we adapted to as a species.
What is your favourite houseplant and why?
Alocasias are my favourite, especially large leaved varieties such as the Calidora. Their large leaves make me feel like I’m truly in a jungle. I have a very large one at home and I’ve placed a rocking chair under one of the large leaves. This is where I have my mini time-outs when needed.
What is the top selling houseplant on BloomBox Club?
Our stock is always changing, so it’s a little difficult to tell. Money-plants are firm favourites, as are our hanging plants, such as the Hanging Hearts and Hanging Hoyas. Of course, our biggest selling product is our monthly plant subscription, which consists of a surprise plant and pot, sent directly from Holland and always at the cutting edge of plant trends.
Thank you Dr Cooper!