Cleaning & Maintenance Management Online
July 2012 Cover Story

Interior Plantscapes Are A Growing Trend

Indoor gardens are challenging the notion that flora can only be found outdoors.

October 26, 2012

Vertical walls, vegitecture, living art, vertical gardens, biotecture, green walls — call them what you will.

Interior plantscapes are becoming a soughtafter addition to commercial spaces looking to add aesthetics and improve indoor environmental quality.Green Wall Drexel University

According to Vince Elliott, founder of Elliott Affiliates Ltd. and president of the Chemical Free Cleaning Network (CFCN), research is demonstrating that certain plants are very effective natural air purifiers.

"Not only are they cheaper to buy than chemicals or mechanical air purifiers, they don't need filter changes, use no electricity and improve our health," says Elliott.

By selecting specific plants that complement a certain décor, building owners and facility managers can add that final touch to an interior space to make it more welcoming.

Aside from various colors and textures of plants and the containers in which they grow, each variance of foliage has a specific role.

For example, vegetation like bamboo palm, peace lily and spider plants are great at removing formaldehyde — which can be found in cleaning products, fire retardants in furnishings, carpet backings and elsewhere — from the air.

"Vertical gardening provides air filtration, climate moderation and visually stunning plants in places not conducive to traditional gardens," states Daryl McCann, senior landscape architect for Gregory Lombardi Design Inc.

Where To Start?

Large and small, tall and short — interior plantscapes can be incorporated into virtually any space.

And, you do not need dedicated irrigation systems, dirt, mulch or peat moss if your facility cannot accommodate it.

If potential pests are a concern, soil-free systems are an attractive option because they eliminate the moist soil and mulch that bugs like to make their hiding spots.

Green Wall Installation"Soil-free growing entails less weight, less mess and less bulk than traditional green walls, making it particularly well suited to courtyards, roof terraces and small indoor spaces," notes McCann.

Instead of soil, these systems incorporate crushed stone or synthetic medium that allow roots to take hold and, depending on your array, a hydroponic system to deliver fresh water.

However, many interior plantscapes — like those commonly found in resort lobbies or hotel atriums — use traditional growing medium.

These systems are, essentially, large potted plants grown indoors.

Regardless of the type of system selected, a key consideration is the amount of light received by the plants.

Without adequate lighting, photosynthesis will not occur and the plants will not survive.

The best location for an interior plantscape is one that receives plenty of indirect natural sunlight — direct sunlight can cause premature drying of soil and degradation of greenery in some species.

"You can grow them with artificial lighting, but it is not very environmentally conscious," points out McCann.

A Green Thumb

Unlike the Ronco Showtime Rotisserie infomercials that used to dominate early morning airwaves, there is no "set it and forget it" option with interior plantscapes; like anything in a commercial space, they need ongoing maintenance.

The simplest aspect of maintenance is adequate watering.

While soil-based systems generally do not require daily watering — dirt is very good at retaining moisture — those that use stone or synthetic medium will need to be watered every day, if not multiple times per day.Interior Plantscape Watering

For larger plantscapes, it is recommended that irrigation systems be incorporated into the initial design, virtually eliminating the guesswork around watering.

McCann asserts that regular maintenance is about the same with a soil-based or nontraditional setup.

One factor to consider, however, is root binding and nutrient depletion in soil-based systems.

"Depending on the situation, a soilbased system will probably need to be changed out every two to three years as the soil wears out and the plants become root bound," cautions McCann.

This is not dissimilar to what occurs with household plants.

Other things that will need to be done with regularity are removing dead leaves and nonliving plants and tilling and measuring the pH of the soil — if applicable.

The ideal pH for most plants is between 6.5 and 7.5, with 7 being neutral.

Anything too acidic and the soil can begin to eat away at the roots; if the alkalinity is too high, it can actually poison the plants.

There are exceptions, such as plants native to desert areas that prefer more alkaline soil, and some fruits and vegetables that thrive in slightly acidic soil.

While basic plant maintenance is not overly difficult and can be done by in-house staffs if the plantscapes are not too large or complex, some facilities look to a specialized contractor or landscaper familiar with the specifics of the plants in their buildings.

Holistic Benefits

It is undeniable that interior plantscapes — in their many sizes, configurations and functionalities — look great.

Green Wall HealingBut, they can also help lift the spirits of building occupants both physically and metaphorically.

In speaking of the healing properties of vegitecture, Sue Wieland, national sales and design consultant for Ambius, says, "We believe that incorporating foliage into the public spaces of the Baylor Sammons Cancer Center brings peace and a sense of calm to this high trafficked healthcare facility where plantings lift the spirit of patients, family and visitors alike."

Studies have suggested that "green" buildings lead to higher productivity and increased morale and, beyond the literal green color of plants, interior plantscapes can help a facility qualify for Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) certification points.

Interior plantscapes, according to McCann, can positively impact several aspects pertaining to LEED, including energy efficiency performance; occupant comfort, green cleaning and innovations in operation; and best management practices.

Vertical walls, vegitecture, living art, vertical gardens, biotecture, green walls and other interior plantscapes can be a sense of pride for occupants and owners and an impressive statement to visitors.

And, because they can be incorporated into virtually any space, the only question is, "Are you ready to let your aesthetic and environmental creativity bloom?"