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Indoor Plants for Health and Wellness

By David Kish

On the Vineyard people know me as the jazz radio guru and plant enthusiast and partner to Mariko Kawaguchi, the regular plant columnist for this magazine. I work with Mariko doing research, conducting interviews, taking pictures, editing content, and gathering data for this column. Mariko thought that I would have an interesting slant on this subject of indoor plants for air quality improvement, so I am taking the helm this time around. The interest in indoor plants for health benefits indoors during winter months has hit social media like a firestorm in recent years, and this article aims to trace some of that history and provide some recommendations for plant lovers. It also is a tribute to those who are equally passionate about music as they are about plants, and how some have tried to combine those worlds at various times.

I am an enthusiastic jazz radio host all year long, but the winter provides extra time and space for more in-depth radio programs and creating serious tributes to musicians and specific eras and events in jazz history. My obsessive vinyl and CD collection is sprawled chaotically in many places, but the majority of the jazz portion shares space with an eclectic group of houseplants, including orchids, geraniums, succulents, Hindu Indian rope plant, African violets and many other exotics. The music resides on one wall, and the plants hold court on the opposite side, each group threatening to encroach and take over the other at any given time.

On many occasions I catch myself in the act of thinking out loud about music and the radio show, and quickly realize that I am one of those people that “talk to their plants” as if they are friends and fellow music scholars. As a child growing up in the 1970s, this was a practice I experienced many times with my elders, usually resulting in me slowly backing away without uttering a peep. The 1970s was considered to be the “Golden Age Of Plants” and I vividly recall the dried flowers in Mateus bottles, macramé plant hangars, pet rocks, alfalfa sprout madness, purple passion, chia pets, and the music. Yes, the music you played to help your plants bloom, to blossom, and to thrive even in winter. New York based dentist Dr. George Milstein produced an album “Music To Grow Plants” which came with a pack of seeds, and a booklet on how to grow houseplants successfully, but the music is merely pleasant instrumental, easy listening sounds, with high pitched tones (to “soothe” the plants, supposedly) in-between the songs, like “Mantovani for Maidenhair” perhaps? The aptly titled Green Goddess Orchestra joined forces with sentimental kitsch poet extraordinaire Rod McKuen to create another botanical classic “Beautiful Music To Make Your Plants Grow,” which could almost be the soundtrack to an art film about a mood ring changing its hue. Pioneering electronic composer Mort Garson made one of the most notable plant based albums in the mid 70s, “Plantasia,” which made extensive use of the moog synthesizer, very much in vogue at that time. Perhaps the most well known recording of the era would be Stevie Wonder's intriguing album “Journey Through The Secret Life Of Plants,” which became the soundtrack to the film “The Secret Life of Plants.” An ambitious and bold double album, it contains some very beautiful music to supposedly enhance your plants.

As an ornery and cantankerous child however, I had little use for jazz and other musical subtleties, and considered myself a bone fide rocker. I once watched a program on music and plants on public television with my mother, and observed how certain plants (in time lapse photography), seemed to miraculously bloom and blossom when exposed to classical music in a greenhouse. In contrast those same plants withered and drooped when assaulted by hard rock over a period of time. My mother emphatically declared that I was headed down the same path of doom, if I continued to listen to that “dreadful loud noise.” Of course that simply made me want to drag my portable “close and play” record player down to the basement and blast the evil spider plant lurking down there in an ominous giant clam shell with “heavy metal thunder.”