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Stuck inside? Use plants to revitalize your home

Written by Karina Tsui, CNN

In Sanctuaries, a new CNN Style series, top experts share interior design tips for creating calming and inspirational home spaces.

With our ability to access parks and public spaces limited amid global lockdowns, there has never been a better time to embrace greenery at home.

Building and maintaining a collection of indoor plants may feel like another thing to worry about for the stressed and anxious. But according to Jason Chongue, author and creative director of Melbourne-based “plant curation” studio the Plant Society, gardening at home — be it in a house with a backyard or small studio apartment — can benefit your living space and emotional well-being in various ways.

“The joy of a leaf unveiling or seeing how much a plant has grown three months down the track — I think that has a lot of benefits to the mind,” said Chongue, who recently authored the book “Green: Plants for Small Spaces, Indoors and Out.”

Below, Chongue shares his thoughts on keeping plants healthy and trim, how online forums have given comfort to those gardening in isolation and why it doesn’t take much to start planting now.

CNN: For people with the space or inclination, do you have any tips for how to start gardening?

JC: My main tip is to start slow. Gardening isn’t instant — it’s a labor of love and evolves over time.

Look at how much natural light enters your house and compare that to an environment in the natural world. That’s the best way to start choosing plants for your house. Then, think about skill set — some plants are more temperamental than others, so start with some easier plants.

Plants can help freshen up indoor living spaces.

Plants can help freshen up indoor living spaces. Credit: The Plant Society

What are some of the easiest plants to keep and maintain?

I always say start with a peace lily, a monstera or a devil’s ivy — they are the three easiest plants. They are typically used in offices because they are so hearty. They will give you signals when they are thirsty, like they’ll droop or become a bit silver in color.

These plants are very versatile — you can style them on shelves or have them draped over a bench.

Devil’s ivy is an air purifier so it’s an added benefit in a small space.

How can people keep plants looking healthy and trim?

With a lot of watering. We encourage people to use technology to keep themselves motivated and on track. Use a diary and remind yourself to water your plants on a Sunday, when it’s quiet and you feel like you won’t be interrupted.

Look after your plants like they are your pets — plants have routines and go through seasonal shifts.

Start by watering every two weeks during the winter and once a week during the summer. Always check the plant with your finger to see if it’s dry, and if it is, water it. Gardening is about using your senses and teaching yourself over time.

Plants can help bring balconies to life.

Plants can help bring balconies to life. Credit: The Plant Society

Asides from aesthetic benefits, what are the psychological advantages of keeping plants?

Being able to put your hands in soil and do something is no different to knitting or sewing. It relaxes your mind and gets it off (thinking about) real life. Gardening teaches you a lot of patience. You also don’t have to garden alone — there are a lot of garden clubs and forums developing online.

Can you ever have too many plants?

I’ve got 400 in the house, so the more the merrier. But it really depends on how much time a person wants to spend gardening. There are statistics that show you need two to four plants in a room to purify the space, though that depends on the size of the room as well.

Jason Chongue and Nathan Smith, founders of the Plant Society.

Jason Chongue and Nathan Smith, founders of the Plant Society. Credit: The Plant Society

What would your advice be on improving a space if you have little to work with?

The best place to start is propagating — so getting plant cuttings off families and friends or even neighbors and (cultivating) them. I firmly believe that not everyone has to buy plants. We’ve seen a lot of workspaces allowing staff to take cuttings home from their communal gardens and that’s a great way to start introducing some greenery into your house.

What does a sanctuary mean to you, and why is it important to create one in your home?

For me, a sanctuary is a place where I can truly unwind and be me. It is both a physical and mental state where I can escape from the real world and feel at home. It is so important to create your sanctuary at home so you can collect yourself from your hectic lives and remind yourself that it’s OK to be who you truly are.

According to Chongue, plants can benefit your living space and emotional well-being in various ways.

According to Chongue, plants can benefit your living space and emotional well-being in various ways. Credit: The Plant Society

Which room is your sanctuary at home?

The back room. It’s completely filled with plants. We have a shelving unit covered in plants; you can look out to a small courtyard as well. There is a lot of natural light but it isn’t the best quality, so I’ve chosen the right plants to survive in the space.

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