Creativity and the great outdoors are intrinsically linked. There’s a reason writers love isolating themselves in wilderness cabins, and that birding remains a popular hobby among wordsmiths. Painters trek through forests not only for the brilliant views but to recharge their artistic spirits. Time spent outdoors is often enough to reinvigorate a floundering project, and one 2012 study has suggested that just looking at the colour green is enough to boost creative thinking¹. But for those of us who live surrounded by brick and concrete, finding the opportunity to spend some time in nature can be challenging.
One NASA study indicated that certain plants, placed at appropriate intervals throughout an enclosed space, were effective in removing significant amounts of toxins from the air². Another study published in Environmental Health Perspectives showed a possible strong link between poor air quality and poor cognitive function in test subjects³. When you consider that the average Canadian spends approximately 87% of our time indoors4, the issue of air quality as it pertains to our creative endeavours becomes even more relevant.
Enter the humble desk plant.
Who doesn’t like looking up from a particularly difficult paragraph to see a cheery flash of green? To know that my plants are not only beautifying my study with their lush colour but also improving the air, and in doing so my ability to think clearly, is a huge comfort.
Even the most grey-thumbed of us can enjoy the benefits of a desk plant. If you’re particularly forgetful (or overzealous) with watering, try your hand with something that can forgive an irregular watering schedule, like a spider plant. If low lighting is an issue, consider supplementing your workspace with a CFL lamp, or choose a plant content with little-to-no sunlight, like a snake plant or peace lily. If flowers are your thing, a pot of chrysanthemums will clean your air and look good doing it. I firmly believe that there’s a desk plant out there for every lifestyle, so keep trying until you find one that’s a good fit for you and your habits. If properly cared for, your new desk plant will benefit your creativity for years to come.
Here are a few of my personal favourites (that have also been proven to keep air clean):
Snake Plant (Sansevieria) – With over 70 varieties, finding a snake plant to love is an easy task. They grow steadily and are easy to propagate, which means a single plant could become many over the years. Able to withstand low light or direct sun and extremely drought-tolerant, they are one of the easiest plant varieties I’ve ever cared for.
Parlour Palm (Chamaedora elegans) – These little guys like low light and are very slow growing, making them a great choice for a compact or dimly lit space. They do require a little misting every now and again but are otherwise very low maintenance. Their feathery foliage is pleasant to look at and always reminds me of the rainforest.
Spider Plant (Chlorophytum comosum) – If there exists a houseplant easier to grow than this, I have yet to meet it. Overwatering, underwatering, low light or full sun, spider plants are just happy to be there. When well cared for they send out ‘babies’ and small white flowers, both of which are a delight to witness. Their only weakness as a desk plant is that they grow quickly and can easily get unruly in a small space, preferring to hang from a basket or ledge, but this could easily be accounted for in certain setups.
Aloe (Aloe Vera) – A useful succulent to have around, Aloe is both attractive and medicinal. Easy to care for, it prefers moderate sun and the occasional drought. You don’t have to worry about repotting too often either, as they seem to like a tight fit and they stay mostly upright – great attributes in a desk plant.
Warneckii (Dracaena Warneckii) – Handsome and easy-going Warneckii is a great option, but may be a little large for most desks. Although they may need relocating eventually (mine lives on a nearby console table) they certainly make an attractive desk mate for the first year or so and an attractive roommate thereafter. Fluoride will damage them, so if you live in an area with treated water you might want to take extra precautions when watering.
Most of the plants listed above will take just about anything thrown at them, but it’s best to give them a hand. A healthy plant with grow faster, look better, and work harder to help keep you creative. Here are a few things to keep in mind when selecting your new desk plant:
- How much light do they need? Some plants can get by without any natural light, others need to sunbathe on the regular. Some plants that prefer a lot of light will still get by in a dim room, but may grow more slowly or fail to produce their signature flowers.
- How much water do they need? A plant’s moisture needs can vary significantly depending on their species, the season, and how much sunlight their getting. It’s usually a good idea to water them a little more than usual after re-potting, just until they get established.
- How do they like to be watered? Species that prefer to be watered from below, like Peperomia, or prefer to keep their leaves dry, like the African violet, do well in a pot with drainage holes paired with a saucer to keep them tidy. Be sure to drain the saucer after little buddy’s done drinking, as sitting in water for a prolonged period can drown them.
- What kind of soil do they prefer? Be sure to select a good quality substrate that will make life easy on your new friend. Perlite (those little white balls you see in most potting soils), allows root systems to breathe and promotes drainage, and can be bought separately and added in if a very light substrate is needed. Coir, an environmentally friendly peat-like substance made from recycled coconut husks can be used instead of the real thing in most cases. Never use topsoil on its own when potting houseplants – it’s just too dense and could suffocate your plant.
- How often should they be fed? Most plants like a dose of slow-release fertiliser every other month from spring through fall and a rest from the action come winter. My personal favourite is the pelleted hen manure by Acti Sol; it’s odourless, easy to handle, and gentle enough to use on pretty much anything – indoors and out.
- Are they poisonous? If you’ve got cats, or kids, or a curious roommate, a non-toxic plant, like a Boston fern, might be the best way to go.
- Are they aesthetically pleasing? We’ve all got different tastes, and a plant that I love might not float your boat in the same way. Green comes in many forms, and you’re going to be looking at your new desk plant most of each day, so take the time to find one that you find beautiful.
And that’s it! I hope this information helps you to find a desk plant that will enrich your creative lifestyle and health. If this article has been of use to you, or if you already have a desk plant that you’d like for me to share on this site in a future update, send along a photo to firstname.lastname@example.org – I’d love to see them.
- Lichtenfeld, S., A. J. Elliot, M. A. Maier, and R. Pekrun. “Fertile Green: Green Facilitates Creative Performance.” National Center for Biotechnology Information. U.S. National Library of Medicine, June 2012. Web. 23 Aug. 2016. <http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/22427383>.
- Wolverton, B. C., PhD, Willard L. Douglas, PhD, and Keith Bounds, M.S. “A Study of Interior Landscape Plants for Indoor Air Pollution Abatement : Wolverton, B. C. : Free Download & Streaming : Internet Archive.” (1989): Internet Archive. NASA. Web. 23 Aug. 2016. <https://archive.org/details/nasa_techdoc_19930072988>.
- Allen, Joseph G., Piers MacNaughton, Usha Satish, Suresh Santanam, Jose Vallarino, and John D. Spengler. “Associations of Cognitive Function Scores with Carbon Dioxide, Ventilation, and Volatile Organic Compound Exposures in Office Workers: A Controlled Exposure Study of Green and Conventional Office Environments.” Environmental Health Perspectives 38.10 (2015): 26 Oct. 2015. Web. 23 Aug. 2016. <http://ehp.niehs.nih.gov/wpcontent/uploads/advpub/2015/10/ehp.1510037.acco.pdf>.
- Klepeis, Neil E., William C. Nelson, Wayne R. Ott, John P. Robinson, Andy M. Tsang, and Paul Switzer. “The National Human Activity Pattern Survey (NHAPS) A Resource for Assessing Exposure to Environmental Pollutants.” The National Human Activity Pattern Survey (NHAPS) (n.d.): 6. Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory. Web. 23 Aug. 2016. <https://indoor.lbl.gov/sites/all/files/lbnl-47713.pdf>.