Twiddling green thumbs during COVID-19
Growth in plant ownership soothes lockdown loneliness

One typical stay-at-home night last September, in the midst of a COVID-19 Manitoba lockdown, my partner discussed the joys of owning and caring for plants around the home. Personally, I couldn’t see the appeal of having so many leaves around a living room or a kitchen.

But fast forward to this past month, and I’ve been living happily in a tiny one-bedroom apartment with 40 living plants, with 10 or so others that I tried and failed to raise as well.

While I can’t quite pin down what brought my change in opinion, plant ownership — especially as decor — has become an increasingly popular trend in 2020, when lockdown was likely starting to get to many people.

On TikTok, many plant owners would show off their Monstera deliciosas, fiddle-leaf figs and, of course, their snake plants.

The trend encouraged people to get more plants to focus their attention on something other than the pandemic, and to be more in tune with nature.

Local Instagram account @wpgfreeplants, run by Jannica Reyes and Riel Lynch, gives away plants to the community.

“We believe that plants positively impact our mental health and well-being, mainly because caring for them allows one to get ‘outside’ of oneself in order to help the plant thrive,” they said.

The pandemic has been a rough time for me, and I’ve often found it difficult to take proper care of myself. This, along with my earlier reservations about caring for plants, gives my sudden love for plants an ironic tinge, yet that love is there nonetheless.

Talia Green from Verde Plant Design said, “It’s helpful to try and keep things alive, it makes you feel better if you’re not in a good place […] especially over quarantine […] [I think] a lot of people realized that they needed something to take care of and something to make them more productive.”

Green said it has given her some sort of structure and more productivity, especially since she lives with attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder.

“I just need things to mother, otherwise I will go insane.”

Sikhona Gwintsa, a student at the University of Manitoba, and Madison Reid, a student at the University of Winnipeg, have opposite experiences. However, both can be relatable to any plant owner.

“I had a succulent [named] Judas […] and I tried really hard to keep her alive but I accidentally overwatered her then [underwatered her] until she just died,” Gwintsa said.

“Then the one that died in the winter was my aloe. [I] simply called her my baby […] Not enough sun and way too much water, I learned later,” Gwintsa said. “The sun part I couldn’t control but the water part was definitely me overcompensating for killing the last one.”

“I could have saved it a few times but I was pretty depressed and never put in the effort […] eventually my roommate’s cat took a few bites [out] of it,” Gwintsa said.

“I’ve been hesitant [to get] any more since, even [though] I love the way plants in a space look.”

Gwintsa said that having plants is a joyful experience with how much fresher the air is. The happier environment can encourage one to get another plant.

Reid got her plant 10 months ago as an anniversary present, and it has made her get out of bed just to give it a drink.

“Since I care about [the plant] and keeping it alive, I’m more motivated to get up out of bed and give it water,” Reid said.

It is true — plant ownership can be extremely expensive, depending on the quantity and rarity of the plants. One has to pay for pots, potting soil, plant food, tools and the actual plants. Yet the costs and labour involved hasn’t stopped myself and many others. As restrictions steadily lift, my plants serve as a reminder of difficult, stressful, and incredibly boring times, and I’m extremely thankful for their help.