Our conversation with a real, live plant scientist who delivers the cold, hard facts on biophilic office design.
As you stroll into the office of your new job, you suddenly panic and think, “Did I just get transported to the jungle from Jumanji?” But no, you’re just starting at a company who favors your health and wellbeing, as they have brought in lots and lots of office plants.
Biophilic design, which “seeks to connect our inherent need to affiliate with nature in the modern built environment,” is all the rage right now. And if you don’t have the budget to hire a full-time horticulturist like Amazon, we put together a series on why plants matter with suggestions from the experts on how to go about greening up your office.
The plant pros at The Sill tell us all about the why, what, and how of office plants
Gabrielle Dalvet: Seems like a lot of offices are including plants in their design, but what’s the thinking behind that?
Christopher Satch: To put it simply, there are no negative costs to having plants — only positive benefits. Americans spend about 90% of their time indoors and away from nature. However, we don’t realize that we are in fact still a part of nature. Being separated from nature takes a creeping psychological toll that manifests itself in many innocuous ways — irritability, depression, anxiety, and so on.
Plants bring a return of nature into our otherwise lifeless and artificial environments. Homes and apartments feel more welcoming, and offices are less sterile and more fun when plants are present. Parks and gardens are never really considered a negative place, and it’s all because of the plants.
GD: What kind of trend do you think this is — short term or in it for the long haul?
CS: I actually don’t think that it’s a trend at all but a shift in values and thinking. The current generation realizes how far we’ve come as a society, and values nature. Managers see the intangible benefits like increased mood and happiness and the tangible benefits like increased productivity, so it’s a push from both ends — employer and employee. I’m actually happy that this trend is happening. Humans are a part of nature, and we’re coming around to realizing this and making it so.
In places like Singapore, entire new skyscrapers are built with vines, trees, and orchids planted on every balcony. Millenials and the current generation of renters and home buyers want big windows and gardens. City dwellers would rather pay more to have a balcony — and current building trends in NYC are reflecting that. I think that plant love is here to stay.
GD: What kind of plants are right for the office? I feel like I always pick out the wrong ones (or maybe I just don’t have a green thumb).
CS: ALWAYS consider your lighting and know that plants see light differently than we do. Anything more than 5 feet away from a window is low light. Understand that different plants have different light needs, and ALWAYS buy from a reputable source, like The Sill. Never buy from a place where the staff can’t tell you about plant care or they don’t even know the names of the plants. Try to recreate a plant’s natural environment as best as you can.
For example, cacti and succulents are desert dwellers. They need to be blasted with sun and watered infrequently. Ferns grow by waterfalls, so they like high humidity, indirect light, and frequent waterings. Remember that plants are living things and will respond to your environment. They are not furniture as they cannot just be placed anywhere, and if you treat them as such, you will kill your plants.
GD: About that green thumb. Any more advice on caring for these organisms?
CS: Again, try your best to recreate your plants’ native environments or choose plants that will survive in the space. We may want the lemon tree, but without direct sunlight, that plant will not survive. Opt for plants with lighting requirements that fit the space.
Remember, it’s ok to experiment and try your luck with different plants. You may find that you innately can take care of certain plant types better than others. It’s also ok if your plant dies. We’ve all killed our fair share of plants and we have learned from our mistakes. It’s all about hands-on learning.
If you’re unsure about any plant, your local garden center or plant shop should be able to help you select a plant that fits your needs. We at The Sill even have workshops to help you choose and care for the best plants for your space.
GD: What would you recommend to individuals looking to decorate their own personal desk with a plant?
CS: If the desk is closer to a window (5-10 feet) then you can get away with most anything. If the only light you get is artificial or you’re more than 10 feet from a window, opt for a lower light option like a Marimo ball or a ZZ plant.
GD: Do you think plants actually make us more productive in the office?
CS: Studies have shown that plants increase productivity and mood. Who wouldn’t like that?