by Meagan Provencher, Senior Landscape Designer for Wasco Nursery & Garden Center in St. Charles
Mental health is a topic on everyone’s mind. For some of us, it’s all-consuming. Anxiety, depression, ADHD, autism, spectrum disorders, bipolar disorders, and more. It is never glamorous or a topic at dinner parties.
It causes frustration and sadness, threatens relationships, and creates animosity, or strong physical reactions. There’s no cure for any of this - only therapies, acknowledgment, discussion, and medication.
But what if there was a different way to help you relax, unwind, enjoy, experience, and even, dare I say it, be happy without all of the formality?
And would you laugh at me if I said that it all comes from plants?
In my own mental health journey, my garden has served as a teacher, a listener, a therapist - both physical and mental - a respite, a sense of pride, a distraction, a sense of accomplishment (dig a hole big enough to plant a tree in and you’ll understand that sense of accomplishment real quick…), and more.
No matter what kind of day my brain and I are having, I can retreat to the garden and instantly change my mindset.
I lose myself in chores like weeding and cleanup (plus it’s a super rush to rip a living thing out of the ground by its neck…).
Deadheading spent flowers can keep my mind occupied for minutes or hours - I don’t have to think about anything other than noticing the flowers and their habits. I am always cutting flowers and bringing them inside.
I grow cut flowers just to give away to unsuspecting neighbors - I leave them on my front walk with a sign that says “Treat yourself to fresh flowers and have a great day”.
Giving away my flowers invokes a sense of pride and also happiness when I see their happiness at receiving them.
I love to water - quietly observing every detail of my garden as I drag a hose around from plant to plant.
When I’m tired, I will sit on my patio and watch the birds fly about. I imagine their “lifestyle” is similar to ours. The robins are always chasing after their babies. The sparrow females chipping away at their mates. The hummingbirds are on a one-track mission to feed as much as possible (girl…I can relate.) Butterflies and bees happily visit all of my plants. If you build it, they will come!
These little scenarios immediately change my attitude and replace the most depressive thoughts with frivolity and hope. Sometimes it’s a quick fix…other times the high from gardening lasts all weekend. If I need an extra large dose of plant dopamine, I’ll visit a public garden or go for a long walk and look at other people’s landscapes.
I am a landscape designer by career choice but it all started with plants. The plants are where my passion lies and to this day - after 30+ years in the Green Industry - the plants are what ground me and keep me focused and positive.
I love learning about new plants and experimenting with old favorites. I love pairing plants with their human counterparts - choosing colors and textures that match my client's lists of “must-haves."
Sometimes I can coax out something a client didn’t even know they wanted, just by suggesting a certain plant. They may remember gardening with a grandparent, canning tomatoes with their mom, or getting their favorite peonies from an old neighbor. When I put them in touch with those plants again, they instantly light up and their joy is evident.
With just one plant.
Gardening can help with physical health and mood. It’s a great form of exercise if you hate the gym like I do. You can burn a lot of calories by tending to a garden. You also use different muscle groups than if you were to run a 5K or do Pilates.
I make sure I do a little light stretching before I head out to the garden. Nothing is worse than bending down for an hour and not being able to get back up!
Do a few simple stretches of the arms, back, and legs before you grab a shovel and that will help your chores be even more enjoyable. Plants and a garden just make you feel better!
Look how many people “adopted” plants during the pandemic! The house plant market skyrocketed and so many people dove into planting after - swearing that they had no green thumb. And many of them are still continuing with their garden journeys after all of this time - green thumbs proudly showing.
“Plants are freaking cool.”
That may be my next tattoo and it’s certainly my motto. I encourage you to look into buying a houseplant or starting a pollinator garden. Start small to avoid getting too overwhelmed (the plant world is a BIG world!). Have a garden designed using your favorite colors or with edible plants you can use to make teas or salads. Choose a unique houseplant. Shop at the local plant stores/garden centers and talk to their staff. Not only will you walk out with a cool plant but you now have a friend in the shop owner or staff that will remember you and help you choose every plant you want from here on out.
We always tell budding gardeners not to overthink things. As humans - especially humans with mental health challenges - overthinking things is the one thing we are really good at! But plants don't overthink and if you just learn the basics - you’ll have a long-term relationship with your garden that is ever-evolving. And you just might find relief and happiness in your space.
Want to add some green to your life this winter? Here are a few very easy houseplants that can help introduce plants to your life:
#1 - Spider Plant - one of the easiest houseplants to grow. Baby plants shoot out from the main mother plant giving the effect of a halo of spiders. Medium-light (no direct sun) and keep it on the root-bound side to get more “spiders."
#2 - Snake Plant (a.k.a. Sansevieria, Mother-in-Law’s Tongue) - this low light plant is easy and will tolerate a serious lack of attention! Water 1-2 times per MONTH. Many different color combos are available with most having some stripes or ribbons of color on the leaves.
#3 - Tradescantia - gorgeous pink/burgundy/green leaves that will cascade over the pot edges. Makes a great hanging plant in medium light to low light. Water when the top 1-2” of soil has dried out. Propagates easily in water so you can propagate more to give to friends. Plants make great gifts!
#4 - Monstera - the plant that started the houseplant craze! This big guy has enormous, cut leaves that will increase in size with age. Give this one some space as it can quickly become a larger plant. It has aerial roots that will also sprawl outside the pot. It does come in some variegated forms but they can be pricey. Start with a solid green one to save on budget. I love my Monstera adansonii (also called ‘Swiss Cheese Plant’) as it has round holes in each leaf and is starting to vine over the side of the pot.
#5 - Pothos - I consider this an “old-fashioned” houseplant. My mom and grandma always had cuttings of these guys in the house. Tried and true, they are very easy to grow. Medium to low light, avoid direct sunlight so leaves don’t burn. Easy to propagate from cuttings.
#6 - Rhaphidophora tetrasperma (often called ‘Mini-Monstera’) - similar to Monstera but has smaller leaves and vines like crazy. Mine has grown quite a bit and I have put hooks up and draped its long arms all across my wall and door frame. It’s created a little “wall art” with its twining stems and intricately cut leaves.
Need a mental health boost? Head over to Wasco Nursery & Garden Center in St. Charles, talk to Meagan, and pick up a new plant!
About the Author:
Meagan Provencher is the Senior Landscape Designer for Wasco Nursery & Garden Center in St. Charles. Her career in the Green Industry has spanned over 30 years, including receiving her BS in Horticulture from Illinois State University.
She’s always been a lover of plants and it shows in her creative and unique landscape designs for thousands of Fox Valley residents. She lives in St. Charles in a 97-year-old house that she and her husband, Ben, have been lovingly restoring since 2020. She has two boys and a garden dog, Murphy.
She can be reached for garden advice and landscape design at firstname.lastname@example.org.