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Improving your interiors, and your mental health, with a bit of the exterior

by Cheryl Cook

Making our home spaces as mentally and physically pleasing as possible is a worthwhile challenge, and one of the best ways to do this is to bring a bit of the outdoors inside.

Studies have shown that surrounding ourselves with natural elements, especially greenery, has a variety of positive impacts, from aiding our mental health, to improving air quality and even sharpening our focus—not a bad thing in these times when many of us are now learning the new routines of working from home.

And with more time at home comes a shift in our leisure time as well. Many of us are focusing on working on our outdoor spaces, so let’s look at some ways to extend that into the home.

The first, and simplest, way is to bring in more plants. Think you are a natural born houseplant killer? I tell people there are two things you need to be successful with plants: the right plant for your lifestyle and environment, and the right intentions.

If you aren’t actually interested in having plants, then that’s a reality about yourself to come to and there’s nothing wrong with that. I sometimes think camping sounds like a good idea, and then I remind myself about hot baths and cocktails and I come back to earth about who I really am. So know thyself.

If, after that bit of self-reflection, you still want to forge ahead, call your local greenhouse or plant shop and ask them for advice on matching your life and home (read: window exposure and light levels) to the right plant. Snake plants, ZZ plants and many more are hardy little companions that are very difficult to kill. High maintenance plants are for those who relish the challenge, but there is nothing inherently better or more soothing about them.

But why stop there? Don’t just acquire a plant and set it in a pot on your windowsill. Tread bravely ahead and think about turning your home (or some space therein) into a lush, green, retreat, one that can feed your mind and possibly even your belly.

Here are some ways you can really push the boat out.

 

Hang plants in windows in colourful pots for an extra burst of visual delight. Photo: Jodi DeLong

Decorating with houseplants

A single plant in a pot or a line of them, spaced out around the room is not doing justice to the idea of plants as an integrated part of your decor. Think about groupings of plants that are varied in type, height, colour, and size. The pots they sit in are part of this consideration—don’t be afraid to vary these and go for something that suits your decor, rather than just the plain plastic pot it came in. They don’t need to be identical or match, they just need to complement their surroundings.

A showy plant with lots of draping greenery, like a large fern, really benefits from height, either by being in a tall container, or sitting on a side table. I often place plants, still in their original pot, into a larger, decorative pot, without transplanting and filling the large pot with soil. I just put a smaller container inside the large one, upside down, and set the plant on this. Plants like ferns that cascade or grow downward, including spider plants or ivy, can be hung from the ceiling. Even when hanging plants, think about group displays that give the immediate appearance of more greenery, with a lusher look.

 

With a little bright light, you can grow salad greens, herbs and other edibles inside all year round. Photo: Bigstock/Okrasyuk

Eat your greens

Sustainability and food supply has never been more at the forefront of our thinking, so why not consider how you can use your indoor spaces to supplement this? Growing food indoors can be challenging if you don’t get enough direct light in your home. Vegetables can require 14 to 18 hours of light a day when you are growing indoors, so this might be a bit much if you are not able them to artificially supplement natural light. But not all edible plants are
the same.

Clocking in at a minimum of six hours of light a day, herbs are a great place to start, and offer many ways to grow them that will make your home greener. Ideally, you are looking for a south facing window where you can locate your herb garden. Simple greens like lettuce can also be grown with about 10 to 12 hours of light.

If you are looking for a basic DIY garden, it can be as easy as converting used soup and food cans into pots. Along with being economical, you can easily puncture holes in the bottom of the cans to ensure drainage. You can also substitute decorative tins for old soup cans—think fancy tea or biscuit tins.

Put a set of these together on a tray, preferably resting on a layer of small pebbles. This will allow any excess moisture to drain away, helping you to avoid waterlogged plants, and adds a touch of humidity to the air around your leafy friends. This is a great first step into gardening for the inexperienced adult or for children—and decorating the cans can be a fun project as well.

There are also many options for the person who wants to purchase either commercially made containers, or even a ready-made herb garden system. These vary from pots and systems designed to sit on the countertops, hang on a wall and even be suspended from your ceiling, to hydroponic grow systems with built in lights, timers, and even wireless and Bluetooth options.

I use a hydroponic mini-garden year round and they excel at growing quick and bountiful herbs and greens. Right now, I’m even giving cherry tomatoes a whirl. These are great systems that require little maintenance and give a large output for the space they take up, but they are limited to things that grow in a small space and above ground (so no root vegetables in a water-based home garden).

A more ambitious project for growing your edible greens and herbs is to create a vertical wall of plants. This can be a real space saver in small areas, and creates a visually beautiful feature in your room. A simple option for this is to use a series of small hanging planters on an open wall space. Hung in a pattern or even randomly, this gives you easy access to each pot for watering and harvesting. If you embrace the farmhouse look, planks mounted on a wall can then have small pots attached to them in rows or columns to create another accessible indoor garden.

You can also use a window as a staging area for a suspended garden. Using ceiling hooks, plants can be hung down in front of the window space, or a more elaborate garden can be built using vertical rods and hooks to suspend pots in rows.

And, of course, there is always the option of a true living wall, though these may require more complicated construction and installation (or purchase of a kit) to allow for features like watering reservoirs.

 

Photo: Bigstock/Kira_Yan

The divide between indoor and outdoor

I love to spend time in Italy, and I am often struck by how well their indoor spaces transition to outdoor. Of course, with a Mediterranean climate, they have the luxury of so much more sunshine and warm weather than here in Atlantic Canada. But that doesn’t mean there aren’t things we can learn from this style of living.

While it would be lovely to create a retractable wall of windows that would open into my back yard, most of us don’t have that option, so how can we more successfully merge inside and out? Often it’s just about creating a view to the outdoors that blends what you see.

Here’s a trick I used when living in a high-rise. The balcony was concrete, about as grim a view as you could get, but just past that, through the glass balcony walls, were the green tops of the trees in the local area. I purchased a length of decent quality artificial grass and cut this to fit. In the summer, I kitted the area out with tropical plants, a bit of furniture, string lights and even a little water feature. It was a lovely little haven, up in the sky, but the best part of this feature was the illusion it played on your eye when you were inside the apartment. When you looked out, your eye saw the green of the artificial grass and the green of the treetops as an unbroken line of colour, and the jarring transition of the concrete was gone.

You can achieve a similar effect with plants. Frame your windows with tall plants or hanging plants, creating a visual bridge between the trees and plants outside with those in your room. If you have exterior access to  a space directly outside, consider hanging a canopy of some type that allows you to use that space, even when there is drizzle or rain, and place plants outside when the weather permits this. When possible, make sure your eye sees greenery and natural elements on the inside and outside of the view you are creating. That can be as simple as moving where some of your planters are located on both sides. Create a similarity between the boundaries that makes it appear more seamless than it might be.

Finally, if you are inspired by this to bring some outdoors into your home, the internet is your friend. From finding local businesses who can advise and supply you, to learning about the needs of each plant, or watching videos on how to care for whatever greenery you choose, take a bit of time to educate yourself and plan out your project, big or small. This will allow you to execute your ideas with less effort, which you can then expend by kicking back and enjoying your renewed, natural surroundings.

Header image: Flowering tropical such as hibiscus and dipladenia houseplants enjoy some time outside after the risk of frost is past in spring. Bring them in in mid-September before the first frost.

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