Helping your mental health grow


The greenhouse at the Granite Technical Institute

Morgan Thompson, Editor

The popularity of homegardens, succulents, and other plants have been on the rise, especially since the Coronavirus pandemic of 2020. Many people believe that the rise in popularity is because being a “plant parent” positively affects your mental health, which was necessary during the chaos of the pandemic. 

Senior Molly Olsen was able to experience this benefit firsthand. “In April [2020] I was having a super tough time mentally. […] I had a breakdown and my parents were like ‘you need to get out of the house, […] we’re going to the store, you can buy something,’” she spoke about her time in quarantine. “I went to Walmart and bought a bunch of seeds and […] there’s where my connection to plants and mental health started because I got to watch my little seeds grow and they grew up and flourished through hard situations. […] They almost died and then came back, I just saw myself reflected in that and I loved it.”

GTI teacher Kristina Hansen also had a connection with plants throughout the COVID-19 pandemic. “I am not a computer person,” she said. “When I would get overwhelmed with computers and isolation we would go outside and work with plants, take a hike, observe nature, and center back to normal.”

Hansen has been teaching at the Granite Technical Institute for about 13 years, specializing in “Animal Science, Equine Science, Floriculture and greenhouse management, Nursery and Landscape management, and Intro to Horticulture.” When experiencing online learning, she also noticed the benefit plants could have on her students, even through a computer screen. “Many of my plant class’ assignments involved encouraging students to go outside, be in nature, observe nature and leave the house and the computer.”

The truth is, anyone and everyone can benefit from having some sort of plant. Studies have been conducted to show exactly how much plants can affect a human’s well being. “Not having access to nature can have a number of effects on our health. It’s been linked to symptoms of depression and anxiety, as well as other health conditions, such as asthma, cardiovascular disease, and poor immune function,” said an article put out by the World Economic Forum. “For many of us, houseplants are an essential link to nature.” 

Many people don’t take to plants and gardening because they believe it takes specific requirements and knowledge to keep the plant healthy and alive. However, this is not what gardening is about. “You don’t need a green thumb to enjoy success with houseplants. Gardening is all about learning through trial and error, and even the most seasoned gardeners make mistakes,” Lauriane Suyin Chalmin-Pui said in the same article. 

Many botanists have taken this form of mental health benefit a step further and have created horticulture and garden therapy programs. One of the first of these programs began in 1985 in a Jewish old folks home located in Fairfield, Connecticut. 

”The key to garden therapy is that there is a place in the program for everyone, whether it be making cuttings or watering the plants or scrubbing the pots,” Sarah Shumofsky, a volunteer at the old folks home, said in a New York Times article. ”The benefit is in the doing, being physically, mentally, and emotionally involved, part of a group, working to the best of one’s ability.”

Horticulture therapy soon proved to be effective as the residents at the Jewish Home for the Elderly improved both mentally and socially. “They learn to recognize pests and to know when a plant is sick and needs human attention,” said the article. “[Shumofsky said] ‘Helping to care for a living thing makes one feel vital.’”

So the next time you’re feeling a little down, consider visiting your local grocery store to pick out some seeds and pots. “It’s just so special to help things grow. To know that it’s not just an inanimate object that just sits there and looks cool like a fake plant,” Olsen said. “It’s a living organism and it has a purpose for being there the same reason we do and you get to help it along that. It just makes me happy.”

Don’t know where to start? Local gardens and nurseries are here to help! There are many resources to help you find the things you need and good strategies so you can become the best plant parent you can be. Wirecutter has many articles to assist you in your planting journey.