• Daily Stress ReLeaf,  Plants & Happiness

    #8 Just One Houseplant Can Heal You

    Social media is jammed with dreamy images of perfect people with perfect houseplant collections, but the truth is just one houseplant can heal you from the stresses of the day. There are a lot of myths in those images anyway, some of which I’ll write about in a future post. In the meantime, consider choosing and growing one wee houseplant to reap its destressing benefits.

    Which Houseplant is Best?

    Not too long ago, I wrote a post on the five easiest houseplants to grow. These are the low-maintenance, starter houseplants that nearly anyone can keep alive. They’re tough and forgiving of most conditions. While these plants are enormously useful and I love all of them, I actually recommend, if you’re going to grow a plant for the mental health benefits, you choose a houseplant that makes your heart soar. That way you’ll be more inclined to take the time to care for it.

    My First Houseplant

    When I was in my early twenties, I roomed in a house with three other women. Above the sink on the window ledge was a glass block with a hoya vine in it. It was a beautiful variegated variety, though at the time I had no idea it was Hoya carnosa ‘Tricolor.’ I just knew it was gorgeous. I asked my roommates who owned it but no one claimed it. So I started caring for it.

    About a year later when I moved out, I took the plant with me. It was a part of my life for the next 15 years (before the cat chewed it away), through three different homes, all kinds of good and bad events, sadness and happiness, triumphs and losses, and all else. All the while, the plant grew new stems and showed off its pretty pink, green, and white colors.

    What that plant offered me the most though was stability. During the most stressful times of my life, I could always come home to it. It didn’t care whether I’d had a good day or a bad day, it was just there for me. It didn’t care whether I’d been at my best or worst. The plant simply gave me its beauty and silence. It softened the hard edges of my life.

    Your First Houseplant

    So if you’re interested in trying your hand at growing a houseplant, I encourage you to visit a nursery and buy the one plant you fall in love with. Which one takes your breath away? Which one sends a surge of wonder through you? Find the one you will always want to look at. As I’ve said looking at plants is a significant way to reduce stress. So which plant do you want to look at after you’ve had a tough day? That one is the one to adopt and give a forever home.

    How to Decide

    But with little to no experience, what if you don’t know which one makes you happy? Well, you must be drawn to one plant in particular. And if it’s a high-maintenance plant like a String of Pearls or an orchid, that’s okay. You’re only choosing one. And if you only choose one, then you won’t be overwhelmed if it takes a little extra care. That care builds your relationship with it and the ritual of loving the houseplant will ultimately heal you.

    But you have to put in the time. If the plant needs a lot of light, then buy a grow bulb and turn it on for a few hours a day. If the plant likes a dry environment, make sure to put it in a sunny window. Get the right soil and container and set it in the right conditions. If you’re unsure about what those are, check out the internet. Google of course is a wealth of information. And if you’re too pressed for time with that, you can always contact me through this website.

    Quieting the Mind

    The point is to incorporate a little green life into your world. Use it as a momentary refuge. Turn off your screens and visit it in silence. Let your soul leave the chaos and chatter of the hectic modern world. As you look at it, remember its innocence and simplicity. Smile. Breathe a deep breath. Study its unique attributes. Its arrangement of leaves, its overall form, its colors. If it’s not a cactus and your hands are clean, gently touch its leaves. Yes, like petting. How do the leaves feel? Does it smell at all? It might smell like freshly watered soil. Take in its little green wonders. Relax into the moment. All it takes is one houseplant to heal. Then you’ll be a bit more ready to deal with real life again.

    Photo by Veronique Trudel

  • Daily Stress ReLeaf,  Plants & Happiness

    #7 How to Relax With a Saturday Morning Plant Ritual

    Man With Houseplants, How to Relax With a Saturday Morning Plant Ritual, Daily Stress ReLeaf, Karen Hugg, https://karenhugg.com/2021/02/18/morning-plant-ritual/, #dailystressreleaf #houseplants #relaxation #Saturdaymorning #ritual #plants #destressing #stress #mentalhealth #MarieKondo #houseplantcare

    If you like houseplants, you may have a particular day you like to care for them. I’ve found it’s easiest for me to relax with a morning plant ritual every Saturday. After I wake up, I eat a light breakfast and, if I’ve slept well, ride my exercise bike. Then, the real fun begins: I visit with my houseplants.

    Saturday mornings are my favorite time to tend plants because I’m not working and the weekend is still new. I get to look at greenery while enjoying the peace and hope of a free open day. I don’t feel rushed. Near the plants the light’s usually bright, maybe even sunny. And oftentimes with late-sleeping teenagers, the house is quiet. I have this time all to myself. It’s just me and my plant pals.

    What Comes First, Second, Third, etc.

    I have to confess I use a system. It’s not really a system but a ritual with a set of steps I prefer. As I arrive at my plant cluster area, I take a deep breath and soak in the sight of the various foliage. Already I feel a touch better. Usually, I greet them out loud because well, I’m weird and I like talking to them. They’re my little green babies and I want to make sure they know I’m there for them. Also, if I’m in a lousy mood, I tell them what’s on my mind, which surprisingly makes me feel better afterward.

    Scanning the Collection

    First, I scan an overview of my plant collection. I have the ones that like similar conditions clustered together. For instance, I have about five African Violets. Because of this, I can easily see when one is yellowing or sagging or blooming. Plus, this cluster of similar looking plants pleases me. When they’re blooming in unison, the area bursts with deep purple, pastel pink, strong magenta, etc.

    Health Check

    Second, I examine the leaves of each plant for pests like scale and mealy bugs, which have been most common for me. You may find other insects depending on where you live. You may have spider mites or aphids. If you’re not sure what you have, here’s a list of the most common houseplant insects. If after reviewing the upper and lower surfaces of the leaves, I douse a Q-tip in rubbing alcohol and gently rub the leaves so the alcohol kills the bugs and they stick to the Q-tip. It may take several Q-tips but after I’m satisfied any insects are gone, I toss the Q-tips in an outdoor yard waste bin. Some experts recommend dumping the top layer of soil as well. I don’t. That’s too much work so I simply monitor the situation.

    Tidying as Honoring

    As I check the leaves, I of course find several browned or broken leaves and stems. Also, spent flowers. With houseplant snips (though clean scissors will do), I cut off any brown material. This also discourages pests and keeps the plant focused on putting energy toward its healthy stems only. Also, you’ll be left with gorgeous healthy leaves that gleam and please the eye. This in turn creates a visceral sense of satisfaction. You’ve honored your plants by taking care of their needs. And by tidying up, you’ve honored yourself. Just ask Marie Kondo.

    Who Needs What?

    After I examine and check and tidy, I assess any overall issues with each plant. Which plant might need to be shifted further into the sunlight, which needs to be pulled out of direct light? Sometimes a plant will put on new growth on one side and not the other so I rotate the pot so the weaker side receives more light. If it’s the dead of winter, I’ll turn on a grow bulb that I have in a nearby desk lamp (like in photo). I also take a damp cotton washcloth and wipe down the plant leaves that are dusty (though not succulents). Then I decide what plant looks like it’s outgrowing its pot and might need to be transplanted to a larger container.

    Time for a Drink

    Lastly, I fill a watering can with water and several drops of fertilizer. Plant experts will advise you to only fertilize in spring and summer but I’ve found in the overcast Northwest, my houseplants need a boost of nutrients to stay healthy. I don’t fertilize every week but about every other week. Then I soak the pot’s surface with water, careful not to water the leaves as best I can.

    A lot of newbie plant owners will pour half a glass of leftover water in the pot. This doesn’t ensure all of the roots get water and is usually far too little to keep the plant going, especially if it’s larger and has lots of leaves. So give it a good soak, but beware that your tray may overflow. I pour lightly in a rotation, so that by the time I’m done with the last plant, I can go and check the tray on the first and see if it needs more. If the tray is dry, I pour a bit more.

    A Simple System of Tools

    After I’m finished, I park my watering can on the lowest shelf of my étagère. It has scant light down there so instead of struggling to grow a plant, I just display a decorative watering can. From time to time, I also store a faux plant down there, which adds a bit of greenery.

    Beside the watering can, I have a small decorative bucket that I use to put my plant clippings in. This bucket isn’t used for anything else since, as I mentioned, I might have pests and I don’t want to spread those insects. Periodically, I wash the bucket with a spray of rubbing alcohol and water.

    Behind the bucket and watering can, I store my snips. If I used them on the plants and suspect they have a disease or pests on them, I wipe them with a paper towel and rubbing alcohol.

    I should mention that some folks might store a spray bottle of water here as well. They mist some of the plants as some of the more tropical houseplants like humidity. However, after I read that misting doesn’t really work, I gave up this practice. A better strategy is to set a small humidifier nearby.

    Attention to a Worthy Activity

    If you’re a houseplant parent, I encourage you to take advantage of their destressing benefits. I’ve found the above ritual takes me all of a half-hour to an hour, depending on what extra care might be needed. But as I said, caring and tidying for your plants honors them as well as yourself. You’re giving your attention to a worthy activity and demonstrating your love. Because after all, our little plants are our pets and we all love our pets, right? If you let them know that, they’ll reward you with pretty growth and relaxing beauty.

    In my next post, I’ll talk about destressing by cultivating a relationship with one houseplant.

    Photo by Sanni Sahil

  • Daily Stress ReLeaf

    #5 Frazzled? Look at These 3 Relaxing Plant Images

    Leaf Pattern, Frazzled? Look at These 3 Relaxing Plant Images, Daily Stress ReLeaf, Karen Hugg, https://karenhugg.com/2021/02/16/relaxing-plant-images/, #dailystressreleaf #leafpattern #fractalpattern #green #plants #relaxation #destressing

    Yesterday, I talked about fractal patterns and how they can reduce stress. Today, I want to share a few of those relaxing plant images. We know from research that constantly switching our attention back and forth, which we usually do during stressful times, creates mental exhaustion. So if you can allow yourself to sit and gaze at a fractal pattern, you’ll refuel your brain’s tank.

    The hardest part is switching your attention away from the worrisome task at hand. And the more stressed you are, the harder it is. I know that feeling firsthand. You feel anxious at the mere idea of taking a few minutes off. But I urge you to let the anxiety go. This time is for you.

    Whenever I take a few minutes out to look at plant fractals, I don’t regret it. Sometimes it’s only for 20 seconds. But that still helps. It’s like pushing a reset button for me. I feel calmer and focused and like my feet are actually on the earth. Then I jump into the fray, feeling renewed.

    My Favorite Fractals

    I really love these three relaxing images. To get the best results, try to deeply breathe for three minutes while gazing at each image. Let your eyes wander as they like. Check out the details. You might find surprises.

    Leaf Pattern, Frazzled? Look at These 3 Relaxing Plant Images, Daily Stress ReLeaf, Karen Hugg, https://karenhugg.com/2021/02/16/relaxing-plant-images/, #dailystressreleaf #leafpattern #fractalpattern #green #plants #relaxation #destressing
    Leaf Pattern

    The above leaf pattern was brought to us by David Clode. He’s a nature photographer based in Australia. Notice how the veination continues to subdivide and and subdivide into smaller tributaries. That those little vascular tubes keep a plant alive is astonishing to me. Nature is so cool!

    Tree Branches, Frazzled? Look at These 3 Relaxing Plant Images, Daily Stress Releaf, Karen Hugg, https://karenhugg.com/2021/02/16/relaxing-plant-images/, #dailystressreleaf #leafpattern #fractalpattern #green #plants #relaxation #destressing
    Tree Branches

    I love love love this photo. It captures the majesty of a tree so well. The branches gradually thin and thin before giving way to tiny green leaves. I couldn’t locate a tree name on the photo but the craggy bark points to a walnut. The photo’s by Dutch photographer Lucas van Oort.

    Fern Fiddleheads, Frazzled? Look at These 3 Relaxing Plant Images, Daily Stress Releaf, Karen Hugg, https://karenhugg.com/2021/02/16/relaxing-plant-images/, #dailystressreleaf #fernfiddleheads #fractalpattern #green #plants #relaxation #destressing
    Fern Fiddleheads

    These fern fiddleheads show the concept of the infinite spiral. The new leaves emerge curled up inside themselves, protected from the elements. Then the stems straighten and big beautiful leaves open to take in the light. I can’t believe people eat fiddleheads. They’re so delicate and lovely. Year after year, they give me a thrill. The photo is by Pitsch.

    If you have favorite relaxing plant images, share with me in the comments below.

  • Daily Stress ReLeaf,  Plants & Happiness

    #4 Why Is Looking at Nature So Helpful For You?

    Madrona Tree, Why Is Looking at Nature So Helpful For You? Karen Hugg, https://karenhugg.com/2021/02/15/looking-at-nature #plants #destressing #stress #relaxation #mentalhealth #lookingatnature #fractals #fractalpatterns #nature

    Looking at nature is so helpful for us because when we look at nature, we’re looking at fractal patterns. What are fractal patterns? Fractals are complex patterns that seem chaotic but actually repeat by simple processes. Scientists can measure them with mathematical equations. They occur all the time in our world: hurricanes, galaxies, tree branch patterns, river systems, etc. They’re a building of simple calculations that create a complex whole. Pretty cool, isn’t it?

    A Physicist’s Hunch

    Fractals also appear in the artwork of Jackson Pollock. You know those paintings that look like a thousand random drips and streaks? Turns out they’re not so random. In fact, physicist Richard Taylor was able to determine whether a private collector’s Pollock paintings were fake. Just by studying the fractal patterns. Afterward, Taylor wondered what it was about Pollock’s artwork and fractal patterns in general that people enjoyed so much. How did the human brain respond to them? So he conducted experiments. What he found was pretty amazing.

    Drastic Stress Reduction

    People who looked at nature photos that had been reduced to their fractal patterns produced alpha brain waves. Those are the waves we produce in conscious relaxed states. In another study, he found people’s stress reduced by 60 percent after viewing mathematical fractals. He and his team also found that the human eye looks at fractals in the same way that they’re structured, by looking at the larger portion before branching out into the smaller and smaller. It’s almost as if our visual system is built to feel at one with fractal systems. The looking part is a visually fluid process.

    Nature Offers Several Choices

    This explains a lot about why we feel so much better after a walk in the woods. We’re accidentally seeing a ton of fractal imagery. But do you have to walk in the woods to achieve the relaxed state? Nope. You can look at clouds, ocean coastlines, dunes, leaves, and more. The point is to settle your visual system into something it finds fluidly natural. In other words, not straight lines and sharply-turned corners, but rather the more flowing patterns of nature.

    What to Do During That Plant Break

    So if you tried my relaxation break exercise from the last post but didn’t feel much, try taking a break today and focusing on a fractal pattern somewhere nearby. Look for tree branches outside your window or check out the clouds in the sky. Notice the rocks on a shoreline or how a leaf’s veins divide out. If you’re near a library, page through outdoor magazines. Even one snowflake is built from fractal patterns.

    If you’re in an enclosed, windowless office and there’s nothing natural around, set your desktop wallpaper to Apple’s “Redwoods” or “Leaf Curl” image. You can also set the screensaver to the “Shell” or “Catalina” mode. The first is a repeating pattern and the second images of nature with lots of fractal patterns. And if you don’t have a Mac, you can find similar images in Windows. Whatever you choose, I hope you will take a moment to relax with nature’s fractal patterns today.

  • Daily Stress ReLeaf,  Plants & Happiness

    #2 Biophilia: What’s at the Heart of Craving Life

    Mom and child in woods, Biophilia: What's at the Heart of Craving Life, Karen Hugg, https://karenhugg.com/2021/02/13/biophilia/(opens in a new tab) #biophilia #nature #plants #mentalhealth #healingplants #edwardowilson #dailystressreleaf #destressing #stress #gardening #happy #tree

    I want to share one of the most powerful concepts I know of about the human relationship to plants: biophilia. Biologist and naturalist, Edward O. Wilson popularized the term in the 1980s. It states we have an innate desire to seek out and be with other life forms and living systems. We crave life on a gut level. As this amazing thinker who’s studied living organisms, especially ants, for many decades says, we distinguish “life from the inanimate and move toward it like moths to a porch light.”

    And since plants and nature are a part of those other living systems, we have a strong need to be in nature. It makes sense, after all, nature was our first home on earth. Sometimes we take the connection for granted, but it still manifests in small ways. You may not like gardening or camping or living in the country, but you might like cut flowers or taking a walk in the woods or the square of lawn in your backyard. We all vary in our preferences.

    Nature Can Heal Us

    The really great news is time in nature can heal us from the stresses of life. Ever lazed around in a park and felt utterly relaxed? Or got super excited because a bulb you planted finally flowered? Those moments, to me, are the joys of life. And that joy, scientists say, happens because nature is regenerating our souls. Our heart rate lowers, our breath relaxes, our attention restores itself. More and more studies are proving it.

    So today, I encourage you to indulge in your own biophilia connection to nature. Try it for a half-hour. It doesn’t have to be costly or time consuming, it can be as small as drinking tea while looking out the window at a tree or trimming the dead leaves from a houseplant or drawing a curly vine. The point is to be completely present while you’re engaging with nature.

    In my next post, I’ll talk about how I transition from daily hectic life to nature time and how you might too.