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Horticulture Industry Research

There is increasing industry research about the benefits of interior landscaping in a wide variety of settings. Horticulture industry research indicates that interior landscaping has become increasingly popular during the last 30 years. Most architects now include plants in their design specifications for new shopping centers, office complexes and other public spaces.

What is it about plants that make them such an important building accessory?

The most obvious answer is that they look attractive – who can fail to be charmed by the graceful arch of palm leaves or the exotic beauty of orchids? However, recent industry research has shown that the value of plants goes far beyond the purely aesthetic. Plants are actually good for the building and its occupants in a number of subtle ways and are an important element in providing a pleasant, tranquil environment where people can work or relax.

Indeed, industry research indicates that plants may help to reduce absenteeism, increase retail spending, help buildings feel more pleasant and attractive and garner more favorable reactions, make a significant design statement, help direct pedestrian traffic, improve the indoor environment, hide unattractive parts of a building, teach people to appreciate and learn about nature, and preserve and express different cultures. In short, industry research indicates that plants provide a number of benefits, as noted in the horticulture industry research summarized below.

For more detailed information, follow the links in the text and/or select a subject from the menu on the right-hand side of this page.

Plants may help to reduce absenteeism.

The humble plant may be part of the solution. There is now a wealth of evidence to show that putting plants in buildings can significantly reduce absence from work. It isn’t necessary to fill every available space with a plant to achieve this; just a few good-quality specimens located near to where people work and take their rest breaks seem to suffice. The reasons why this has a beneficial effect are probably a subtle but complex mixture of the physiological (improved humidity, reduced noise etc.) and psychological. Being around plants certainly seems to reduce stress and engender a feeling of well being in most people; a benefit that is even more acute if correct lighting is in place. The fact that the employer has been prepared to spend money on something that has no obvious function other than to make the workplace more attractive may also be a contributing factor, by sending a signal to the staff that management cares!

They help to increase retail spend.

The following two extracts from papers written by an American researcher and a British shopping center manager highlight the importance of plants in retail environments:

“Retailers have long understood the importance of store environment in enhancing the shopping experience. The outdoor landscape can be a seamless extension of shop interiors, providing indoor/outdoor continuity for a positive shopping experience. Urban forestry can play an important role in business districts. Interior plants and landscape may create store interiors more favorable for retail activity.” (Ref: “Retail and Urban Nature: Creating a Consumer Habitat”, K.L.Wolf, at the People/Plant Symposium, Amsterdam, 2002.

Plants make buildings look more attractive and welcoming.

Perhaps the most obvious reason for installing plants and one that is backed up by research. A postgraduate study carried out in a London hospital in 1995 provided clear evidence that people do react more favorably to a building when it contains plants than when it does not. Hospital visitors were asked to respond to a descriptive choice test using twenty pairs of bipolar adjectives (quiet v noisy, cheerful v gloomy etc.). The results showed that when plants were present in the reception area of the hospital, users perceived it to be: 17% more ornate, 17% more interesting, 17% more cheerful, 16% more welcoming, 15% more relaxing, 11% less stressful, 11% more expensive, 11% tidier, 8% quieter.

There were no negative findings and all the results were independently verified as being statistically significant. (Ref: “Human Responses to Interior Planting”, J.V. Stiles, PhD, Oxford Brookes University, 1995).

Plants make a design statement.

Interior landscaping is becoming a fashion-driven business, where as much effort is now put into the design of the containers, accessories and overall “look” as into plant selection. The current trend is for minimal, clean-looking containers and strongly shaped architectural plants. Tall, tapered containers in galvanized steel or aluminum and the “stone” look are particularly popular. Simplicity is the key – under planting and the jungle effects are definitely out! (See also our article on plants making a design statement.)

Plants can be used for directing pedestrian traffic.

In many buildings there is a need to channel pedestrian traffic towards significant landmarks, such as exits, check-in desks, escalators and common passageways. This is particularly important in premises with large, open areas such as those found in airports, shopping malls, hospitals and many large offices. Plants offer an attractive and practical solution, providing a living barrier that gently guides people to where you want them to go. (See also the article on navigational architecture.) Choosing the right plants and containers for this purpose is very important. Spiky plants or those with sharp-edged leaves would clearly be inappropriate in an area designed for heavy pedestrian traffic flow. Containers need to be robust, take up the minimum of floor space and in some situations be linkable to form an impenetrable wall.

Plants improve the indoor environment.

There is now general agreement within the scientific community that plants improve the indoor environment, and are useful weapons in the fight against the modern phenomenon known as sick building syndrome (SBS). No specific cause of SBS has been identified, but poor air quality, excessive background noise and inadequate temperature and light control are thought to be important factors. Because plants have large surface area and exchange water and gases with their surroundings, they have a unique ability to tackle many environmental problems. In particular, plants can:

  • Reduce levels of carbon dioxide, which can accumulate in buildings from the breathing of its occupants and the by-products of heating systems and electrical equipment.
  • Increase relative humidity, which should be between 40% and 60% RH for maximum human comfort.
  • Reduce levels of certain pollutant gases, such as formaldehyde, benzene and nitrogen dioxide.
  • Reduce airborne dust levels.
  • Reduce air temperatures.
  • Reduce background noise levels.
  • In short, every plant is a miniature air-conditioning system!

Plants can be used to soften/hide less attractive features.

However well designed, most buildings have features that are best kept covered, such as service areas, storage facilities and harsh structural elements. Plants, with their wide range of size, shape, habit and leaf form provide an elegant solution that is both attractive and functional.

Plants are educational.

Bringing a little of nature indoors, especially in urban areas where people may not have had much exposure to plant life can be both stimulating and educational. Where else, other than the tropical plant houses of botanical gardens, will you see the variety of exotic and unusual plant species usually on display in shopping centers and large office atria? The increasing use by many establishments of plant labeling, with information on species, origins and history, is increasing this benefit even further and encouraging people to take more interest in their surroundings.

Plants can be used to reflect national or cultural aspects of a business.

In the multinational world of commerce, every country has businesses, whether banks, hotels, manufacturing facilities or airlines, from every corner of the globe. Many of them are proud of their origins and wish to reflect it in the style of building they occupy and the way it is furnished. This doesn’t always just apply to the decor, fittings and building design; companies are increasingly turning to interior landscaping to make a national or cultural statement. The stones, water and plants that form the basis of Japanese gardens in many Far Eastern organizations are an obvious example.

In conclusion…

Research clearly tells us that people do respond positively to the presence of plants in buildings. Healthy, well-maintained plants in well-designed displays enhance the character and appearance of a building and improve the psychological and physical well-being of its occupants. Above all, interior landscaping has been shown to be a sound investment by reducing sickness absence, improving mental agility, increasing use of communal facilities and positively changing a person’s perception of a building.

Plants in Buildings: