By Elly Savva Coyle
Although the streets of Cathays have plenty to offer for students in terms of food, shops and booze, nature and greenery are slightly harder to come by. Unless you venture a little further into Roath or Bute Park, the average student day probably doesn’t involve much interaction with nature. Student lifestyles are also quite chaotic – as many of us lack a regular routine and are constantly weighed down by the multiple pressures of university, work, and maintaining a social life.
I have found that a helpful antidote to this combination of never-ending turmoil, perpetual hangovers and looming deadlines can be found in the magic of looking after houseplants. Amongst the complexities of student life, plants serve as a reminder of the necessities of taking care of yourself and others. We need light, water, and a little bit of love just like plants do.
Houseplants have been enjoying a huge growth spurt in their popularity, just check out the tag #plantsofinstagram to see some of the frenzy played out on social media. The ‘plant lady’ is now replacing the ‘cat lady’ phenomenon. As vegan diets are making us eat our vegetables, and avoiding plastic pollution is making us brush our teeth with bamboo, our awareness of the climate crisis has steered our lifestyles back towards connecting with plants. Aside from ecological considerations, the trend for health and wellness is also playing a part in boosting plant sales. Studies show that houseplants make us happier and healthier, as spending time near them aids concentration, reduces mental fatigue and lowers your heart rate and blood pressure. They also purify our air, NASA has highlighted the talent of peace lilies and snake plants in reducing air toxins within just 24 hours.
It’s easy to get creative and brighten up your student room with plants. It really encourages you to make use of space, explore what your tastes are and improve your environment. It’s also super cheap, so it is an accessible hobby for people on all budgets, you can often pick up things for a pound or two – keep an eye on the reduced sections to adopt some neglected plant-babies! As pottery for your plants can be on the pricier side of things, charity shops are a great place to pick up some bargains. Or you can get creative and use bowls, mugs, plates, or even just paint and decorate the original pot to jazz up its aesthetic charm.
- Plants prefer water that isn’t straight from the tap – let it sit in the air for 24 hours first.
- Before watering, check if the soil is ready. If the first layer of soil still feels damp, it doesn’t need watering yet. If it’s dry, water away.
- An easy way to make sure a plant gets the right amount of water is by watering it from the bottom. Fill a bowl or tray with water and then pop the plant pot in, leaving it for around an hour to soak up the amount it needs. If it has soaked up all the water straight away, repeat the process again until there is water left at the bottom of the bowl – which shows that it’s had enough (just make sure to get rid of any excess water at the end).
- Most pests can be easily treated with a combination of fairy liquid and warm water! Just mix a pint of water to a teaspoon of washing up liquid and use a spray bottle to target the bugs.
RANK – EASY
A great plant for beginners, as it is super low-maintenance yet still impresses you with its sturdy, architectural leaves. It will tolerate even the most neglectful owner.
SUN– This plant is happy in most light conditions.
WATER– Snake plants only need watering every couple of weeks, and they cope well with neglect so will survive with even less.
This plant doesn’t get its name for nothing, you could leave it in the dark for months without water and it just wouldn’t die. Despite this, it’s a really lovely plant to brighten up student rooms. As it grows you can pin it to trail around and create your own personal jungle.
SUN– Devil’s Ivy also isn’t too fussy about light or shade.
WATER– They prefer to be watered weekly, although they dislike being over-watered, so just keep an eye on the soil.
RANK – MEDIUM
Swiss Cheese Plant
Famous for its impressive hole-filled leaves, the cheese plant has been making a serious comeback. It’s super exciting to watch new leaves unfurl and it makes the perfect addition to the insta-perfect student room.
SUN– These plants don’t want too much direct light– so it is best to keep them away from windowsills.
WATER– Cheese plants need watering around once a week, although don’t worry if you are forgetful as it can cope with less.
A favourite amongst houseplant lovers, the peace lily is a gentle queen. Despite the misleading title, this plant isn’t really a lily, although it does reward you with delicate white blooms. NASA recently ranked this plant as one of the top indoor plants for air purification, and it can really help with damp too – sadly a common problem for student homes!
SUN– These plants prefer shaded spots and will brighten up hallways, bathrooms, or the corner of bedrooms.
WATER– This drama queen will remind you when it needs water by drooping a little and playing dead. Give it some water and it will miraculously revive (probably around every 7-10 days).
RANK – EXPERIENCED
Its striking, colourful leaves that dance around make this tropical plant a favourite for many. If looked after well, it can occasionally bloom tiny little lilac flowers. However, with this plant the leaves are what really take centre stage.
SUN– Too much light bleaches the leaves and ruins its ornate markings – so keep it out of direct sunlight, in a more shaded spot.
WATER– As it is used to humid conditions, the prayer plant doesn’t like to dry out. I keep a spray bottle full of water nearby and mist it when I walk past.
String of Hearts
This is a beautiful trailing plant with heart-shaped leaves, which you will usually see planted in a hanging pot. Although it is quite delicate and particular, it really isn’t that much harder to keep alive than a cactus! It looks lovely cascading down bedroom windows, above desks, or in any clear spaces.
SUN– This plant is happiest living in sunny spots, so keep it near a window.
WATER– String of heart plants only need watering around every 10 days. As this plant is from the succulent family, it prefers not to get water on its leaves – so water it from the bottom if you can.
- EXPERT TIP: If you want to put extra care into looking after your plants, look up the conditions of the habitat that your plant is naturally found in. For example: prayer plants are found on rain-forest floors, so they like having lots of humidity and dappled, indirect light. On the other hand, cacti are found in deserts, so they prefer bright, direct light and not too much water. This can help you to create the best conditions for your plant to flourish!
If you’re feeling inspired, head down to the Secret Garden Florist at 129 in the Indoor Market on St Mary Street… They stock many of the plants listed above, and also recommended ZZ plants, Succulents and the Chinese Money Plant (which brings good luck!). Their Instagram account can be found @secretgardencardiff.