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Lifestyle

Plants are magical. Right now, they’re keeping me sane

Artwork of a woman holding a wine glass among plants.
(Kirsten Ulve / For The Times)

I am a homebody, so I wasn’t entirely shaken when the necessity of social distancing became a reality. I looked for the silver lining. “OK,” I thought to myself. “I’ll have time to finish the new book I’m working on, cook more, have some quality time with my 7-year-old, and do some spring cleaning.”

Now, weeks later, the gravity of the situation is setting in.

Staying home this weekend? We’ve got some ideas. Take care of your plants, make your house cozier, help neighbors and start planning your next trip.

I’m running my business from my bedroom with spotty internet.

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Photo shoots for the new book have become truly “in house,” with a skeleton crew of my husband and daughter. The three of us are working to establish routines that include home schooling, fun and the chores that will make indefinite isolation in our small home tolerable.

It turns out I’ll have more than enough time to cook, clean and hang with my 7-year-old. And, of course, we are among the luckiest in this difficult situation. We have a home. We can work from it. We have work! And so long as grocers and delivery workers continue their brave and essential work, we will have supplies.

Still, it’s hard not to feel anxious about the future.

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Designer Justina Blakeney at home with her plants.
(Loloi Rugs/Loloi Rugs)
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Latimes.com/plants — everything you need to be a good plant parent

So I take refuge in plants. Plants are keeping me sane right now. I’ve known about the magic of plants since I was 13, when my psychologist parents were teaching at a university in Switzerland. One weekend we visited the family home of a colleague of theirs. One of their daughters was on the autism spectrum, and her bedroom was full of plants — cascading from the sloped ceiling, filling the shelves and covering every horizontal surface. It was magical. Her mother explained that plants soothed her. They soothed me too. So for years I’ve filled my home with plants. And while I tend to them, they tend to me too.

I don’t have a therapist, but I talk to my tillandsia. She’s a good listener and helps me clear the air, figuratively and literally. I can’t meet my girlfriends IRL for a drink these days, but I can hydrate with Ficus Audrey. She’s very low maintenance, unlike many of my human girlfriends.

And while my dear friends’ baby showers are canceled, I FaceTime with them while misting my pilea and reap a whole lot of happiness when the little pilea babies sprout from the soil.

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Gardeners, take a deep breath. We’ve made a list of 10 garden tasks that can help save your sanity now and make the coming months much more pleasant.

And when I need spiritual guidance, I turn to my Maranta leuconeura. Every evening, his leaves fold together in prayer. He’s more devout than I am — I swear he prays all night long! — but his daily ritual reminds me of the natural rhythms of this crazy world: night and day, life and death, sickness and health. I need these reminders. Plants are friends, preachers, teachers, healers and therapists.

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While stuck at home during this pandemic, we’ve found plants and gardening to be an unexpected source of relief. What exactly is going on in our brains when we spend time in the company of plants? We look into the science behind how plants can reduce stress and anxiety and help us feel connected to the outside world.

We have more than 50 plants in our home, each with its own needs. Caring for them might seem like a chore, but my experience corroborates the research showing a link between the presence of plants and personal well-being. The relationship I have with my plants is a reciprocal one. For just a little sunlight, water and love, they clean the air and bring beauty and life into our home.

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Plants also remind me that things aren’t always in my control. Sometimes, no matter how much I love and care for a plant, it doesn’t thrive, and I remind myself that I can’t control everything. This is a lesson that extends from plants to pandemics.

And if all of my houseplants are thriving and beautiful and I still feel the walls closing in? Well, then I step outside on my porch and reach for another plant friend, one that knows how to make me laugh, smile and sleep, and reminds me that sometimes I’m the one who needs repotting.

What lessons have you learned from your plants?

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Designer Justina Blakeney is known for her boho aesthetic, and Jungalow website.


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