green walls

Bring nature in and enjoy the benefits

By PlanterGarden horticulturalist, Gary McGregor

What’s cooler and better for you than a hipster’s lightly-chilled Mason jar of kale-infused organic kombucha?

Why biophilic design, of course.

Pardon? Bio what?

Unless you are an architect or an office plant specialist, you may be unaware of this design movement, but it’s becoming a major force.

Biophilic design brings nature indoors in a way that improves our physical and mental health. Green walls and office plants are part of it, but the philosophy and principles go way beyond that.

According to Encyclopaedia Britannica, back in 1973 psychoanalyst Erich Fromm described biophilia as “the passionate love of life and of all that is alive”.

The term was later used by US biologist Edward O. Wilson in his work Biophilia (1984), which suggested the tendency of humans to relate to nature has some genetic basis.

Biophilic design, which developed out of these ideas, incorporates natural materials, natural light, vegetation, and other links to the natural world.

One of the experts in the field, Stephen R. Kellert, said: "The fundamental goal of biophilic design is to create good habitat for people as biological organisms inhabiting modern structures, landscapes, and communities."

So plants, natural light, fresh air, natural materials … it seems a pretty obvious way to make life better, right? But if this is such a no-brainer, why do so many of us still work in such depressing places? No one wants to spend their working day in a dingy, viewless office which stinks of acrylic carpet and photocopier fumes, but many of us do.

But at least employers are beginning to realise the benefits of creating a healthier, more productive workplace, while biophilic design is also being incorporated into public projects.

Melbourne’s five new Metro stations have been designed with biophilic principles in mind.

Dr Phillip Roös, a Senior Lecturer in Architecture at Deakin University, was principal technical advisor for sustainability to the Melbourne Metro Rail Authority when its Metro Tunnel Project went out to tender, and championed an innovative approach to the underground stations’ design.

“This isn’t just about low-impact features like green power or water recycling, it is also recognizing that humans are drawn to the patterns inherent in living things, so if we can create something that follows these rules of nature, humans will benefit as well as the planet,” he told Australian Design Review.

“By connecting us with nature, we believe biophilic design can reduce stress, improve well-being, help us think clearer and even assist with self-healing.”


Easy vertical gardens: All in all it's just a simple trick on the wall

Green walls (those created using plants, not just green paint) are all the rage, and with good reason.

These innovative vertical gardens create a calming, natural ambience without taking up valuable floor space in your home or office.

The downside is that they can be expensive, fiddly to set up and hard to maintain.

But there is a simple alternative.

Grouping some favourite plants together on a plant stand or bench is any easy way to create an indoor garden.

Two or three shelves, one above the other, can help replicate the green wall effect and it’s easy to move your pot plants around to achieve the look you are after.

To achieve the maximum wall coverage, put tall plants on the floor and vines such as Devil’s Ivy (Pothos) up higher, letting the stems hang down,

Grouping plants together helps create humidity around them, which is crucial for many tropical plants, while colourful orchids look even better framed by the leaves of deep green foliage plants such as the hardy Cast Iron Plant.

Succulents and other sun-loving plants should go on the brightest side of your “mini-jungle” to get the light they need while shading delicate species such as ferns.

Succulents (Snake Plant, Jade Plant etc) don’t like humidity, but will cope in medium to bright light indoors as long as they are not overwatered. You may need to water your Peace Lily deeply once a week (depending on conditions), but giving Snake Plant (or even a Fiddle Leaf Fig) that much water will probably rot its roots.

To avoid messy leaks, make sure your pots have deep saucers or opt for sealed cover pots.

Check plant labels to determine the appropriate light and water requirements for your plants and arrange the collection accordingly.

Follow these few simple rules and you will be enjoying your indoor rainforest for years to come.

Orchids look even more spectacular surrounded by Maidenhair and other lush plants.     Picture: Gary McGregor, PlanterGarden

Orchids look even more spectacular surrounded by Maidenhair and other lush plants.     Picture: Gary McGregor, PlanterGarden