Bloombox Club turned three in January of this year. From humble beginnings at the kitchen table of Dr. Katie Cooper to the successful delivery of thousands of plants in 2019, we thought it was time to take stock of our journey. In honour of Mental Health Awareness Week, we sat down with the founder of Bloombox Club and asked about the origins of the business, the relationship between plants and mental health, and how we can get the most out of our green friends.
You are a qualified psychologist who practiced in London for several years, so deciding to start an UK-wide plant delivery service is quite a drastic move! How did it come about?
KC: It was an experience with a client that inspired Bloombox Club, actually.
I witnessed, firsthand, the transformative effects of plant-care on mental health whilst working with this person. I won’t go into the intricacies of her case, but she suffered from various conditions that might called self-abusive. Finding ways of undoing these patterns of thought and behaviour proved difficult, until she purchased a fruit tree to take care of.
In essence, it was through caring for this plant; both the act of nurturing the plant, and perceiving the effects of that nurturing, that allowed her to take greater care of herself. Having done further research on the benefits of plants and wellbeing, I now feel passionately about the power of plants. Bloombox Club is a means of sharing that message far and wide.
Can you briefly explain why plants help improve our mental wellbeing?
KC: Time and time again, scientific studies have shown that houseplants reduce stress levels, and boost our wellbeing - along with a whole host of cognitive benefits. The reasons this happens are still being debated, but I suspect it arises from some combination of biophilia (humans’ innate affinity with plant-life), increased urbanisation (depriving us of the former), and the elements that plants absorb and release into the environment.
What about physical health? Any benefits to be had there?
KC: Well, firstly, I think it’s wrong to draw a strict line between mental and physical health: they overlap and influence one another. But there are also several ways plants directly contribute to improved physical health. Plants improve the quality of the air we breathe by removing harmful pollutants and re-circulating oxygen. This benefits our respiratory health and makes us less susceptible to conditions like asthma, flu and the common cold.
Is this supported empirically? Or is evidence primarily anecdotal at this stage?
KC: The evidence base is strong and consistent. The relationship between plants, stress-reduction and increased wellbeing has been found in both controlled and natural settings, and these findings are consistent between studies that measure bodily response, and those that use self-reportage. Research on this subject has come from across the globe, indicating that the relationship between plants and wellbeing is innate rather than cultural. A 2017 meta-analysis of the literature, conducted by Sago et al., concluded that the research up till now shows a significant relationship between active plant care increased wellbeing.
And when it comes to improving your health through houseplants, is it about quality or quantity of plants? Do we need a mini-jungle to start seeing some results?
KC: It’s tempting to say more is always better, but I don’t think that’s necessarily true. From what I’ve observed and studied, it is when we interact with plants that we experience the greatest health benefits. This might be getting your hands dirty and repotting plants, carefully pruning leaves, or wiping away dust and dirt.
There hasn’t been enough research yet to say which plants have the most profound effects on our wellbeing, but some posit that the best air-purifiers also make the best mood-boosters. Honestly, I wouldn’t come at it from that angle - start by choosing the plants you like!
Lots of people like houseplants, but don’t know where to start. What do you recommend for the nervous novices out there?
KC: Less is often more with houseplants, which tend to perish when we fuss too much. Start by considering your environment; the temperature of your house, how much sunlight it gets, humidity-levels and where the drafts are. Then find a plant to suit the environment you have - much easier than the reverse!
You’ve said before that houseplants are particularly important for urban-dwellers - why is that?
KC: Air pollution in UK cities is well above the legal standard, and contributes to tens of thousands of deaths every year. This is a scary thought for parents bringing up children with small lungs. The air-purifying qualities of plants are thus particularly valuable in urban environments. Houseplants also offset the alienating potential of our concrete ‘jungles’ - so different from the environments humans adapted to.
What is your favourite houseplant and why?
KC: Alocasias are my favourite, especially large leaved varieties such as the Calidora. Their large leaves make me feel like I’m truly in a jungle. I have a very large one at home and I’ve placed a rocking chair under one of the large leaves. This is where I have my mini time-outs when needed!