National Gardening Week: Cultivating a green space at home or in your office

Whether you are working from home, studying remotely or back on campus, there is a simple way of improving your space and creating a routine that is good for you and good for your plants, without the requirement of a garden.

The benefits of having plants indoors are numerous. They do not just look good, there are proven benefits for your health by having house plants around your working environment.

Plants can reduce stress and anxiety and data from scientists, including NASA, has confirmed that many houseplants can purify the air around us. Just the sight of greenery or the sense that you are surrounded by natural things can foster calmness, improved memory and a reduction in stress.

However, some people find the thought of caring for houseplants a bit stressful in itself, and some have seen many former houseplants make their way to the compost heap after struggling to survive in their homes or offices.

Below are some of the easiest plants to keep alive no matter what your office/desk space is like. Hopefully, these will convert even the most hesitant of would-be plant keepers!

Peace Lily (Spathiphyllum)

Can survive very well in low light and will tell you when it needs water by drooping its leaves – perfect for people who tend to over water their plants. Peace lilies just need some food during the summer and deadheading of flowers that have faded – chop those brown flowers off!

Peace lilies are great at removing ammonia, benzene and formaldehyde from the air but careful if you have pets about. Lilies are incredibly poisonous!

Snake Plant (Sanseveieria)

Will survive happily in barely any light but will also flourish in bright indirect sunlight. They thrive on neglect so if that is your style of plant parenting, then this is the plant for you! Snake plants tend to grow slowly so are not going to suddenly take up a lot of space and will actively remove benzene, formaldehyde, trichloroethylene, and xylene from the air.

Devil’s Ivy (Pothos)

Pothos plants are dramatic, fast growing and virtually indestructible! They are great for people that want an instant lift to their space and can be brought back from the dead by creating cuttings from the plant and starting again. Pothos’ like some humidity, so get a cheap mister or spray bottle and she will appreciate a light mist a couple of times a week.

There are some wonderful youtube channels and other resources that will help you find the right plant for your space and give you advice on how to help the plant flourish. Some of my favourites include:

  • Crazy Plant Guy
  • Planterina
  • And Christopher Griffin (aka Plant Kween) who if you search for, is in lots of other videos and also has a great Skillshare class that includes cultivating a routine

Cultivating a routine

Once you have a plant, or many plants, in your space it is important to create a stress free plant care routine that works for you and your plant. Your plant will need watering as well as occasional feeding, checking for pests and problems, misting where needed and pruning and repotting when the time is right.

By creating a routine to care for your plants, not only are you giving them the care they need, but I find, the time I spend weekly carrying out their basic maintenance is a great time for my own mindfulness and relaxation. At last count I have 37 houseplants and so it takes me about 45mins a week to get round them all, checking their soil, watering them and making sure they are happy. That is 45 minutes where I am completely focused on a simple task that brings me joy for the whole week being surrounded by healthy plants. 45 minutes where I am completely in the moment and not worrying about anything else.

Your routine could be as simple as Monday morning, when you make that first cup of tea, spending 5 minutes whilst you wait for your tea to cool, checking how your snake plant is getting on and giving it a drink.

Best place to find house plants

If you have a friend or colleagues that loves houseplants, chances are they are cultivating new plants from cuttings/propagation. You may be able to get some starter plants for free or a small charge. There are lots of great websites for plants but these can be quite pricey so I would recommend some smaller independent shops. Two that I like in East Kent are Marmarmargate and the Plantlet Shop. If you have any other recommendations, please do let me know, especially if you know of any places in the Medway area.

I would suggest avoiding some of the larger garden centres/DIY stores for houseplants as often they are root bound and where they have been allowed to sit water are often suffering the beginnings of root rot which is setting you up for failure if you are not confident in dealing with this.

I hope that this National Gardening Week gives you the inspiration and motivation to start creating your own cultivated green corner, even if it is on your desk.

Maximising our green space at Medway

The Medway campus has a patch of green space that is underused and not particularly relaxing to spend time in (it is next to a busy road). However, the Medway sustainability group
made up predominantly of champions from Student Services know it has great potential to be developed into a space that could provide an alternative to an otherwise urban environment.

We aim to maximise the limited green space at the Medway campus by creating a quiet space for reflection that can be utilised by students, staff and the wellbeing team. As a group we have come up with a series of ideas and designs that utilise the campus’ small patch of woodland as a focal point for a wellbeing and art trail, incorporating music and natural sounds to break up the noise from the road. This will provide a unique space for alternative outdoor therapy for students accessing the University’s mental health services, and a space for all campus users to get away from it all.


We are now at the stage where we want to turn our ideas into a reality and are looking for students and staff to join our group to help us create a space that we can all benefit from.
We are looking for people who will bring new ideas into the group, are resourceful and are happy to volunteer their time on the site. At the moment we are on a break due to the Covid 19 pandemic, however if you would like to join the Medway Sustainability Group please email sustainability@kent.ac.uk and we will add you to our mailing list.

Ecotherapy

Guest post by Emily Hill, KentCOG Coordinator. The Kent Community Oasis Garden (KentCOG) is a partnership growing and wellbeing project based at the University of Kent and run by East Kent Mind. Find out more at blogs.kent.ac.uk/kentcog

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Ecotherapy at home

Ecotherapy is essentially all about improving your mental and physical wellbeing by doing activities outdoors in nature, but what happens when your time outside is limited, or you can’t access green spaces easily?  In these difficult times, where social distancing and staying at home is becoming the new normal, let’s take a look at what can be done to top up our daily dose of green care.

At KentCOG even though volunteers are unable to get to the community garden at the moment to work in nature, every individual can still experience nature and the positive effects it has on wellbeing and physical health from home, and so can you.  Here’s how, with some of my favourite suggestions from Mind’s Making sense of ecotherapy resource, available online at www.mind.org.uk:

Bring nature into your home environment

  • Collect natural materials such as leaves, flowers, feathers, tree bark, seeds and anything else that you like to decorate your home and use in art projects.
  • Create a comfortable space to sit in in your home where you can look out over a view of the sky or a tree.
  • Grow plants on your windowsills. 
  • Take photos of your favourite places in nature and set them as your phone and computer backgrounds.
  • Try to do more everyday activity in front of a window so that you can see the sky (for example ironing clothes, chopping vegetables, brushing your teeth, drying dishes or daily exercises).
  • Download some recordings of your favourite natural sounds such as birdsong or waves.

Try horticulture at home

  • Create a growing space at home. If you don’t have a garden invest in a window box or plant pot and plant some salad leaves or herbs – even keeping a small container on your windowsill can help. 
  • If you have flower beds try planting some vegetables amongst the flowers. Many varieties of vegetables have attractive flowers for part of the year and might even add to your display.
  • Put your name down for an allotment or consider sharing one.
  • Join a local community food growing project if there is one in your area.
  • Go fruit picking in the countryside, or find out about urban food foraging and get some tasty food for free.  For example, in late summer and early autumn you might find lots of wild blackberry bushes growing in urban spaces, and some trees you walk by every day on your street might actually be apple or cherry.

Get close to animals

  • Go for walks in the countryside by rivers, fields and trees, and look out for wildlife. If you don’t live near open countryside, look out for urban wildlife in your local park, such as squirrels, fish, insects, ducks and other birds. 
  • Go birdwatching by yourself.
  • Hang a bird feeder outside one of your windows. If you have the space you could build a small roosting box on a tree or under a windowsill so that you can watch baby sparrows or blue tits when they leave the nest. The RSPB provides more information on feeding and sheltering birds.
  • Think about whether owning a pet would be the right thing for you. Many people find caring for a pet every day brings lots of benefits, but you need to be sure your home environment and personal circumstances would be the right thing for the animal as well as for you. If you don’t own your home, it’s also important to check if you’re allowed pets. 

Do your bit for the Environment

  • Go on a litter picking walk in the park or on the beach.
  • Plant something outside the front of your home so that everybody who walks by can enjoy it.
  • Plant flowers for the bees and berry bushes for the birds in your garden.
  • Build an animal habitat – put up a bird box, create a hedgehog house or create a pond if you have enough space. Even a small pond can offer a home to creatures, such as newts and pond skaters.

Do more activities outdoors

  • Build a ten minute walk into your day, see if you can plan the route so that you take in a park or river.
  • If you have a garden create a space in it that you enjoy sitting in, have a picnic with home grown produce.
  • Sit under a tree in silence for a while, lean back against it and feel it supporting you.
  • Give yourself a sensory outdoor workout – find things to look at, listen to, taste, smell and touch. For inspiration visit the Let Nature Feed Your Senses website (letnaturefeedyoursenses.org).

Ecotherapy improves mental health, physical health, develops social life, builds confidence, strengthens your connection with nature and helps you practise mindfulness.  There are many ways to get involved and more information and support available at mind.org.uk. You can also join in a weekly zoom meeting on Green Spaces KentCOG 2-3pm from my home and see many of these ideas being put into practice. Spaces are limited, to book email info@eastkentmind.org.uk.

Take care.