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Are you a victim of the ‘plantdemic’ too?

The urge to garden is gaining strength the world over—and it’s overwhelmingly good for mental and physical health

Gardening is absorbing, even meditative
Gardening is absorbing, even meditative

Going strictly by my own online purchases in the past few months, there is definitely a ‘plantdemic’ going on, and it might be more universal than my most frequently searched items on e-commerce platforms (‘planter stand’ and ‘ceramic planter’) would indicate: An AFP story today reports that “a gardening craze dubbed ‘plantdemic’ has spread across the Philippines after coronavirus restrictions fuelled demand for greenery, sending plant prices soaring and sparking a rise in poaching from public parks and protected forests.”

I have not taken to poaching plants from the community garden yet (unless you count begging neighbours for cuttings) but the pandemic and lockdown have definitely sparked a hitherto unsuspected interest in gardening. Many of my fellow Indians seem to be similarly interested in growing green things: in May, e-commerce platform Snapdeal reported that the overall sales in the gardening category for mid-March to mid-May were more than double the sales in the corresponding period the previous year, while a Mint story reported that in the covid-19 lockdown, lonely millennials were “turning to gardening and fostering pets.” In September, the Financial Times published a story titled ‘How coronavirus changed gardening forever’, asserting that “sowing a seed or overhauling an overgrown garden was a balm to the pain of lockdown, offering the hope of some food that did not have to come from an overcrowded, understocked supermarket, and the chance to improve and beautify the small pockets of greenery around us.”

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As the Mint Lounge cover-story on 7 November noted, we are all nesting—and this has definite psychological benefits. Stuck at home for months and deprived of the daily buzz of commuting, water-cooler talk at the office and after-work drinks, the attention has shifted to the home like never before. While many of us may have lamented the inability to keep plants alive in the ‘before’, now we have more time to tend to gardens, or whatever we have that serves as one: a windowsill full of plants in glass bottles and ceramic pots, a balcony garden that now looks like a tropical jungle, a herb planter in the kitchen, or hanging planters from every spot in the house that gets some sun.

No wonder the nurseries in my neighbourhood were among the first to open up for business once the lockdown got over and continue to thrive even as more and more restaurants and stores shut shop every day.

Gardening not only provides an easy outlet for the nurturing instinct—it is certainly easier than raising children or pets—it also has huge physical and emotional benefits. Want to get some sun? Get down on your hands and knees in the garden. Missing tactile contact? Get your hands dirty by digging the earth, planting, sowing and trimming. Want to get the kids off their various screens? Rope them in to work around plants and get some quality family time.

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These benefits have been studied and proven clinically. A 2018 paper by Richard Thompson, a Fellow of the Royal College of Physicians, UK, noted that “there is increasing evidence that exposure to plants and green space, and particularly to gardening, is beneficial to mental and physical health...Health professionals should therefore encourage their patients to make use of green space and to work in gardens.” The paper also cites a Japanese study that found viewing plants altered EEG recordings and reduced stress, fear, anger and sadness in subjects, as well as reducing blood pressure, pulse rate and muscle tension, while another Japanese study simply found that it more beneficial physiologically to view a green hedge rather than a concrete fence.

I find that tending to my few plants helps take me out of my own head. For those minutes, I am not thinking about a deadline or grocery lists or an impending Zoom call, but am intensely focused on the plant in front of me, noting which leaf has started to go a little yellow, which pot needs watering, and which should be left alone to fend for itself. I start seeing it with more focus and attention than I gave my entire home in the months preceding the pandemic; marvelling over the various shades of green and brown and yellow, Googling plant names, and feeling undeservedly proud when the bougainvillea finally flowers. My cat wanders out into the balcony, and curls up in an empty pot. I find myself humming, the only time in the day I feel utterly relaxed.

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It’s a mere half-hour in the day, but it is absorbing; almost meditative. So if you feel the urge to give in to the ‘plantdemic’ coming on, don’t fight it—lean in, spade and spray bottle in hand.

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