One of the most pressing problems pollution throws up is the quality of the air we breathe.
A recent report from the House of Commons states that ‘air pollution cuts short an estimated 40,000 lives across the country each year, costing the UK an annual £20 billion’ – prompting the 49 cross-party MPs who were involved to label it a ‘national health emergency’.
Making the home itself an environmentally sound space, at least, is something we’ve got control over. As well as turning the lights off, conserving water and being efficient with our energy, growing and nurturing a load of air purifying plants is a route to establishing your own eco haven. (A 2009 study from the University of Georgia, published in the journal HortScience, showed that some indoor plants can reduce the volume of indoor pollutants).
Alice Vincent is a journalist, newsletter writer and the author of How To Grow Stuff (Ebury Press, £12.99). She got into gardening when she moved into a flat with a balcony and wanted to start nurturing her own herbs. That sharply spiraled into a potting party: “I got addicted to the meditative process of gardening,” Vincent says.
“Aside from capturing pollutants from the air, tending to these plants makes you feel better,” she adds. “If I have a bad day and spend five minutes on the balcony, it helps. They’re a tonic for stress.”
Get these in your home and share your space with plants that inhale the bad stuff.
“This is an entry level, unkillable plant,” Vincent says. “It’s also known as ‘mother-in-law’s-tongue’.” To care for this air purify-er, don’t water it too often – only when the soil is dry – and it might not like a really hot corner.
“This is great because it’s a hanging plant,” says Vincent. “It also grows really, really fast. It’s low maintenance and rarely needs repotting. Water it on days when it looks a little droopy, by checking if the soil is getting dry, then let it drain out. It can cope with low light.” And pull off any dead leaves you see – this encourages the plant to grow more.
“These are good for the bathroom – they like humidity and indirect light,” Vincent says. “They propagate themselves by growing spikes with baby spider plants attached.”
ZZ (zamioculcas zamiifolia)
“These look great, with their long stalks, and grow to be massive. They’re happy to be in dark corners and so are good for flats,” Vincent says. Just make sure that the roots don’t get wet – the new leaves grow direct from the soil and will rot if they’re soggy.
“These are a very standard house plant that you can buy in the supermarket,” Vincent says. Pretty, leafy, with white flowers, they too love hot and damp conditions. “If yours starts to look droopy and brown, it probably wants more humidity. So pop it in the bathroom while you have a hot shower, or give the leaves a mist of water, with a spray bottle.”
One last plant tip: water your jungle with H2O that’s been left out overnight. “There are chemicals in our tap water to make it safe to drink, but that plants don’t like.” Vincent says. “Water left out will have the chemicals evaporated from it.”