office plants

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 office plants: 10 tips for greening up your workplace on a budget

By Gary McGregor

So you've read all about the benefits of having plants in the office and now it's time to do something about it.

Greening up your office doesn't have to be difficult, time-consuming or expensive. Simply buy a few plants and look after them yourself.

And before you shout "but I'm a plant killer" while waving your black thumbs at me, check out PlanterGarden's 10 tips for office plant care. 

1. Get tough plants. Thirsty ferns will go to plant heaven fast if you often forget to water, but cast iron plant, dragon trees, yuccas and kentia palms are beautiful and hard to kill.

2. Provide the right pot or planter. Succulents don't need self-watering pots, but they can be good for peace lilies and ferns. Complicated watering systems, such as those used with some green walls, will eventually need maintenance, so opt for simplicity.

3. Find the right position. Maidenhair ferns don't belong in north-facing windows and snake plants, while tolerant of most conditions, can't live in the dark. 

4. Appoint a "designated waterer". I've seen office plants rot and die because two people were watering them, both thinking it was their job.

5. Put your plants on a diet. Moderate doses of slow-release indoor plant food (read the instructions) are all that's required.

6. Moth orchids and peace lilies bloom for months and are a great alternative to cut flowers. With a little basic care they may even flower again next year.

7. Give your plant babies a holiday. Sick plants may simply need a few weeks outdoors in warm weather (check light requirements) to soak up a little extra sunlight, but don't  leave indoor plants in hot summer sun. A shady spot that gets a little morning sun is often best.

8. All living things die eventually. Replacing a plant that's enhanced your quality of life for years is better than not having plants at all.

9. Safety first. Wear gloves if you have to trim plants and don't eat the foliage, no matter how much you've had to drink at the office Christmas party.

10. Ask Google. There's plenty of good plant care information online and it's usually obvious which info sites know their stuff.

And don't forget to smile. Air quality, mood and productivity are all better with some nice plants around.