Author: Sooey Valencia

“Good morning, friend! It’s another day in this new enhanced community quarantine world we’ve been living in for the past month,” I tap the message out on my phone and send it to P., my doctor friend. These seven-in-the-morning greetings are part of our daily routine. Almost instantly, my phone dings, signaling her reply. “Good morning, dear! I just finished watering my plants. I hope they grow well!” I grin and imagine her in the sunlight, singing to her greens.

P. is a Family Medicine doctor and certified plantita. Since the beginning of our friendship, she has been encouraging me to become one, too. She says becoming a green thumb might do me some good, give me some peace of mind. She is only one of my many friends who has fostered a special kinship with plants.

My Facebook news feed is filled with stories of how everyone is starting their own mini gardens. Their timelines are littered with photos of newly-arrived succulents, packets of plant seeds, or pots of fresh soil captioned #roadtoplanttita, #planttitoofmanila, #gardenerfeels, #greenthumb, and #nature. Indeed, the new normal that the enhanced community quarantine has imposed has caused a mental health decline in many individuals and has inspired us to hold on to nature to keep our mental health in check!

Therapeutic horticulture (also known as “green care” or “ecotherapy”) has great mental health benefits for those who are willing to take up the practice. Some of these benefits are as follows:

 1. Plants help oxygenate or bodies and surroundings.

“A sound body makes for a sound mind.” We’ve all heard of the old adage. But, did you know that plants contribute great health benefits to both our bodies and our minds?"

Aside from keeping us on our toes, all the gardening plant care entails exposes us to sunlight and fresh air. It gives our bodies its daily dose of exercise, keeping us physically active and lessens our susceptibility to diseases and weakness. It also helps to oxygenate the air we breathe and get rid of carbon dioxide and low levels of toxins. Surrounding yourself and your house with plants decreases the number of harmful bacteria and airborne microbes.

2. Plants reduce anxiety and depression.

Caring for plants gives us an outlet through which we can reduce stress and lift our mood. Plantlife also helps by naturally calming symptoms of depression and anxiety, allowing us to replace these with positive feelings such as creativity, peace of mind, calmness, and relaxation. Plant soil is also known to have microbes that physically lower anxiety levels. This calming effect can also help in boosting our immune systems.

3. Plants increase brain power.

Aside from improving a person’s mood, exposure to plants has also been known to help boost intellect, mental ability, memory retention, and decrease symptoms of neurological disorders like Alzheimer’s disease or dementia.

 4. Plants inspire us to look outside of ourselves.

One important value that plants help develop is our sense of agency. Taking care of plant life requires a great deal of sacrifice and willingness. Green thumbs who love plants regard them as living, breathing individuals that have important roles to play. Therefore, plantitos and plantitas take on a nurturing role in a plant’s life and give utmost importance to the decisions they make in order for their plant to thrive (e.g. watering it as much as it needs, making sure it gets enough light, planting it in the right soil, and interacting positively with it in order for it exudes positivity both within itself and within its owner).

The preoccupation of plant care invites us to take on the role of a carer and therefore inspires us to look outside of ourselves. This outward movement may allow us to become less self-absorbed and more invested in the well-being of another, in turn reducing the negative emotions and giving way to positive ones.

5. Owning plants puts us in a growth mindset.

Watching plants grow as we care for them reminds us to keep a growth mindset in our own lives. Furthermore, the unique needs of each plant serve as the best metaphor to keep in mind when dealing with our own personal growth. Just like people, plants are individuals. Not all of them have the same needs or growth patterns. Peace lilies, for example, do not need direct sunlight to thrive. Snake plants, however, need all the light they can get. No matter how varied their needs and growth patterns may be, each plant is unique and will bloom in its own perfect time.

These are just some of the various reasons to become a plant lover. Welcoming a new era in the world, these green gifts of nature just might well be the companions we need to keep mentally healthy as we cope with the highs and lows our new lives may bring.

 I am writing this surrounded by the plants in my brother’s small in-house garden, vines hanging like long threads of hair from the sky. My mother is watering a potted beauty, the water spouting from the hose, shooting upward like the arrival of a new hope soon to come: a nation of #planttitos and #planttitas ready to nurture the nature of tomorrow’s world!