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Open Care's Office design were designed to resemble the atmosphere of working at home, using plants as a design strategy.Handout

Interest in gardening surged during the first wave of the COVID-19 pandemic, continued through autumn, and even now, in the dead of winter, Canadians continue to embrace plants as a way to commune with nature and bring the outdoors in.

“For the last 10 years, we’ve been on a curve where interest in gardening has grown, but since March, it’s exploded,” veteran gardener Mark Cullen says. “COVID has advanced our general interest in gardening by about 10 years.”

Vegetable gardeners are nurturing mini-greens and heirloom tomatoes under grow lights or in hydroponic kits. Biophilic designers – who stress a connection to the environment – are using stone, greenery, wood and natural fabrics to create natural landscapes indoors. And Pinterest and Instagram are filled with images posted by people who have proudly styled their homes with succulents, tropicals and flowering plants to, literally, breathe new life into their decor.

Cullen says millennials and Generation Zs are the driving force behind the exponential growth. “They’re just more environmentally aware than any generation before them of the health benefits of surrounding themselves with plants,” he says. “They’re acutely aware that all our oxygen comes from the green, living world around us. Not only do plants look good, they also help purify the air.”

Leanne Johnson, president of GardenWorks, a chain of garden centres in the Vancouver area, says with so many of us working from home, plants are a simple, creative distraction that gives us “the satisfaction and mystery of watching something grow.”

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Imperfect, a design for a restaurant that incorporates Biophilic Design.A. Marthouret/Révélateur Studio

Johnson says gardening, once a seasonal pastime, has become a year-round obsession that can be sated in any number of ways: growing indoor tropical plants with “easy to keep alive” varieties such as ZZ plants, snake plants, monsteras, orchids and succulents. “Also super popular are fragrant citrus plants that are kept indoors now but can move out onto a balcony or patio come early summer,” Johnson says. “In years past, people would not have put in the effort to bring plants indoors. Now it’s common practice to incorporate plants in every room in the house.”

Businesses, especially in the hospitality sector, are also embracing the trend to go green. The Westin Hotel chain, for example, is using biophilic design – with living walls, textured wood, sustainable fabrics and earthy colour palettes – to reconnect guests with nature and create serene environments in their common areas.

Danny Tseng, an architect with Syllable Design in Toronto, says biophilic design has caught on in such a big way because it fulfills the basic human need to feel connected to the world in which we live. “It helps calm our mood and has a grounding effect,” says Tseng, whose firm designed a lush trellis of preserved plants that dangles from the ceiling in the Toronto eatery ImPerfect Fresh Eats. “There are endless ways to achieve a harmonic balance between the natural and artificial,” he says.

Or, as Johnson says: “Really it’s all about creating a living space that is alive and loving you back.”

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