Green Fingers

We may have been in the medals at Chelsea, but there’s no time rest on our laurels, lavender or lobelia, when the message needs broadcasting that plants in offices are good for you, says Ian Drummond

We’re still recovering from the thrilling exhaustion that is part and parcel of being an exhibitor at Chelsea Flower Show. In between fighting off the plant stealers and people who wanted to sit and have their picnic lunches right in our Living Workspace display, up at dawn and to bed in the small hours of the morning (if at all – there is still business to be done beyond Chelsea, and we were up until 5am working on the Secret Garden window displays for Harrods) we are still thrilled at winning a bronze this year from the judges.

While we’re not quite convinced that many of them actually understood what our stand was all about, complete as it was with a self-watering living wall and integrated fish pond – it’s worth plugging away to get the message across: plants in offices not only can enhance the interior design but are actually good for you.

It is something we at Indoor Garden Design have been on about for years now. Last year we took the message to Chelsea for the first time, and actually won a silver gilt for our indoor garden installation The Living Office, created in conjunction with Vitra.

The two displays really get to the heart of what we are about, that plants in offices and commercial spaces not only add to the aesthetics of the environment, but also can have real benefits to productivity by making the work space a healthier, happier one.

Various studies have proved, probably beyond reasonable doubt, that plants can improve the working environment by removing carbon monoxide from the air, and absorb noise and dust, all helping to combat fatigue, and improve concentration and memory retention. Plants also promote feelings of calm and well-being, which is helpful in combating stress.

When Indoor Garden Design was started up 36 years ago, planting inside offices was a revolutionary idea. Since then, and certainly during the 19 years I have been with the company, things have moved on a pace, and we find ourselves commissioned to creating living installations in offices, stores, festivals and events.

Shall I mention here the event landscaping we are doing for Sir Elton John’s annual White Tie and Tiara AIDS charity summer ball, the Secret Garden display windows for Harrods, the garden at Glastonbury to mark Environmental Week?

Now employing some 50 people, we’ve moved up a gear or two since the company’s founder Ed Wolf was loading his watering cans on to the back of his moped to do the circuit of maintaining his clients’ indoor plant display.

Some of those clients are still with us – Russell Reynolds, Rabo Bank, Logica and Reuters (now Thomson-Reuters) to name but a few – and happily a good few more.

While some of our competitors have found the recession tough going, we had, perhaps accidentally, recession-proofed ourselves. In order to walk the talk, of being seen to be environmentally aware while promoting green issues and eco values to others, about three years ago we downsized our 40 gas-guzzling vehicles to a fleet of just 12, including three electric ones, opting for using public transport whenever possible.

We restructured the way the company operated, making smaller, more cohesive team units that didn’t necessarily have to work out of our head office in Highgate.

It has seemed to work, and thankfully we have never been busier. But we are still trying our best to persuade people that beautiful plants don’t only make a good impression on visitors to their company, but that they also have a life-enhancing effect on their staff.

As a case in point, Dr Tove Fjeld, of the University of Agriculture in Norway, did a study for the Flower Council Of Holland, aimed at discovering how far plants could benefit people’s physical and psychological wellbeing.

Office staff, working in spaces of 10 sq m, were questioned on their health, particularly about symptoms related to spending a lot of time indoors and being under stress.

After two months without plants, a range of houseplants was placed in half of the offices. After a year, the plants were swapped to the offices without plants. After another year all the staff were questioned on what effect the plants had had on health and wellbeing.

The plants were looked after by professional contractors, so any benefits the staff had from them were from looking at them and the plants’ effect on the atmosphere and air quality, rather than from tending them.

The results demonstrated that when staff had plants in their offices, there was a not inconsiderable 25 per cent reduction in tiredness, coughing, sore throats and cold-related illnesses.

I personally believe that plants make interiors feel more spacious, looked after and clean. In other words, they make a valuable contribution to the ‘fitness’ of the office.

We encourage clients to think about planting not only as part of its image, but as a way of creating an eco-environment that can make the working lives of their staff more enjoyable, healthier and, as a consequence, more productive.

This article was first published in fx Magazine.

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