What Plants Teach Us
– and How They Keep Us Healthy

Plants, for some of us, are an emotional experience. I LOVE my plants. Since I’ve moved around and lived in a variety of homes, indoor plants were a way of bringing continuity and nature into new environments. It didn’t matter whether the spaces were small or ample, plants fit in everywhere.

And they have so much to teach us about life. I have learned that when I take in a plant and care for it, it thrives. If I neglect it or don’t give it adequate nourishment, it turns sickly or dies. In addition to external needs like food and light, I observe that plants, like everything, thrive with love and caring. They respond with robust growth to positive energy (being talked to with kindness and appreciation) and harmonious music. Conversely, experiments have shown that when plants are hooked up to machines that monitor impulses, they react adversely to harsh treatment or threats or to discordant sounds. I believe that if we were able to monitor even the smallest microbe, we would find the same universal principle running through all life – that we are calibrated to attain our maximum growth in an environment of compassion and harmony.

Just as we impact the health of our plants, plants provide beauty and aliveness, which contributes to our psychological and emotional health. Indoor plants can also help us to stay physically healthy. Most of us spend a lot of time indoors, at home and at work. With the growth of technology our environments have changed dramatically over time, while genetically, change takes place much more slowly. Indoor plants help to cleanse the air we breathe - affected by air-conditioning, insulation, reduced air exchange, synthetic furnishings, computers, electrical equipment and everyday household products.

Many varieties have air cleansing properties that are often overlooked. They can remove harmful chemicals in the air such as those that are given off by new carpets, MDF furniture, paints and varnishes, decrease dust levels and contribute to balanced humidity. They can also absorb noise, lower anxiety and blood pressure, increase focus and memory retention, assist in recovering more quickly from mental fatigue and lessen recovery time and medication during hospital care.

Many years ago, when I moved onto 15 acres of rolling hills and oak trees I envisioned it full of meandering walking paths, and thus the land came to be called Peaceful Pathways. Before moving in I studied the graceful and now empty interior of the geodesic dome that graced the landscape and was my new home. With the surrounding bounty of nature all around I didn’t realize how important having an indoor garden would continue to be. It was abundantly clear that indoor space without plants lacked a sense of aliveness. With nothing but plants to unload before the movers came with furniture, the dome came to life. The Chinese culture has recognized for centuries that houseplants create “living energy” in homes and workplaces.

Dome Interior

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A couple of acres around the house were enclosed with deer fencing so outdoor gardens could be planted and grown. I learned that it takes more than love and hard work to grow a garden. Just as many components make up the whole of a human life, it takes many components, in proper combination, to grow outdoor plants. Grape vines, for instance, grow best when they have to struggle - not unlike people who, when confronted with a challenge, have an opportunity for personal growth. Consequently, the rocky soil provided the right kind of environment for grapes to grow. It also provided the kind of environment moles loved – newly planted shrubs and trees with young roots. As young vines, shrubs and plants went into the ground mole tunnels appeared. It was a satisfying challenge to learn how to repel them ethically, encouraging them to move to surrounding wilder places so we could all live in harmony with the natural environment.

Dome Exterior

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In winter especially, indoor plants keep me connected to nature. Then with the coming of spring and my own yearning to get outdoors more, warmer temperatures allow me to move many of the plants kept indoors throughout the cold season to decks outside where the pale blossoms of the bougainvillea give way to brilliant color, the dark green leaves of indoor poinsettias breathe in the fresh air and the cuttings rooted from last year’s geraniums get planted in the ground. The doors and windows open up and all of us – indoor plants, outdoor plants, cats and humans, give thanks to the changing seasons – from spring, to summer, to fall, to winter again. We are surrounded by beauty indoors and out.

As life’s journey continues, my plants continue to thrive and move with me from place to place. Some, like the 4 foot tall snake plant below, have been with me for more than 20 years:

Cambria Coastal Cottage

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“Everybody needs beauty as well as bread, places to play in and pray in, where nature may heal and give strength to body and soul.” – John Muir

Cheryl Canfield, CCHT, 2023