Good Plants for an Office

For those who work in grey, lifeless offices filled with the hum of different technology and overhead strip lighting, it will come as no surprise to learn that these environments are dangerous for human health. However, by just introducing a few common house plants, it is possible to improve the air quality and create a more refreshing and relaxing work environment.

Greener Office Space

Everyday Pollutants

As long ago as 1989, NASA conducted a study on house plants to ascertain which species most effectively filtered and purified indoor air. The average urban office is likely to have high levels of pollutants in the atmosphere; either the windows cannot be opened, trapping all the emissions from the various machines within the office, or, if the windows can be opened, indoor pollutants are exchanged for external ones, such as vehicle exhaust fumes.

The worst offenders as regards pollutants in the air are trichloroethylene, xylene, formaldehyde, ammonia and benzene, which can variously cause symptoms from a relatively innocuous irritation to the eyes, nose and throat, to the more severe nausea, dizziness and fainting with prolonged and massive exposure. These may sound like dangerous industrial chemicals, but they are found in everyday items, including some cleaning agents, printing inks, paint, exhaust fumes and even paper towels and tissues.

What to Plant

A few well-placed plants on a desk and around the office can go a long way towards creating improved air quality, as well as giving everyone some greenery on which to rest their eyes. The best plants to choose are as follows.

Chinese Evergreen (Aglaonema modestum)

This is an evergreen plant, native to the tropical rainforests and swamps of southeastern Asia. It has waxy green leaves, and may occasionally produce a white or yellow flower, followed by orange or red berries. It prefers a shady spot, as direct sunlight can scorch its leaves.

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Tail Flower (Anthurium andraeanum)

This is an evergreen perennial, with large, simple leaves and a distinctive bright red and yellow spiked flower. It originates from South America, particularly Colombia and Ecuador, and prefers a constant temperature and high humidity. It should be watered regularly, with the use of a liquid fertiliser.

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Bamboo Palm (Chamaedorea seifrizii)

This indoor palm easily adapts to any environment and is native to Mexico and Central America. It grows very slowly and has delicate, lacy leaves, which should be trimmed off if they die. They prefer bright light and humid air, which can be sustained by standing their pots on a bed of pebbles.

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Spider Plant (Chlorophytum comosum)

This is a favourite plant for novice gardeners, as it is easy to grow, maintain and is virtually indestructible. There are nearly 200 different varieties, and they are often used as a part of a display in hanging baskets. They need very little light, and consistent temperature, and will tolerate any type of soil.

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Pot Mum (Chrysanthemum grandiflorum)

Ideal for containers, this is the most versatile of the species and is available in many colours, including white, red, orange and purple. They are easy to grow using rooted cuttings and require daily watering in warm conditions. They typically bloom in late summer or autumn but can be forced to flower all year round.

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Madagascar Dragon Tree (Dracaena marginata)

This is easy to care for, an indoor plant, which can survive in lower light conditions, as direct sunlight will burn its leaves. Overwatering is the main reason this plant dies, as it causes the roots to rot; once every three weeks is enough. Originally from Hawaii, they prefer high temperatures and average humidity.

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Benjamin Tree (Ficus benjamina)

Also known as the Java Fig, this plant can be evergreen or deciduous and has simple, leathery leaves. It has tiny flowers, quickly followed by reddish fruit which turns black. It originates in South Asia and is easy to care for, rarely suffering from any diseases. Be aware, that the leaves can cause an allergic reaction.

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Barberton Daisy (Gerbera jamesonii)

This pretty pot plant is related to the familiar yellow and white daisies, but is a striking red colour, and much more prominent. Its name dates back to 1889, after the German botanist Traugott Gerber. It is one of the more challenging plants to grow indoors, as although it requires sun, it doesn’t like heat.

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Common Ivy (Hedera helix)

This is an evergreen climbing plant, which has green-yellow flowers, soon followed by black berries. It originates in both Europe and Asia and can become somewhat invasive if left unattended. Its ideal for planting around the edge of containers, allowing its leaves to spill over, but be aware its sap can be irritating to the skin.

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Lily Turf (Liriope)

This is an evergreen perennial, with densely packed spikes of purple flowers, followed by black berries. It originates from China, Japan and Taiwan, and can survive in most conditions, easily coping with drought. It can swamp other plants, so needs to be taken care of by pruning if necessary.

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Boston Fern (Nephrolepis exaltata)

This particular fern enjoys a warm atmosphere and is easy to care for. It has graceful fronds, ideal for drooping naturally over the edge of a container. It doesn’t like draughts and is renowned for being able to soak up vast amounts of water, therefore increasing the humidity of the air around it.

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Plants for the Office

All of these plants are sold commonly in garden centres, and all will filter at least one, if not several, of the pollutants from the air listed earlier. For desks with only space for one plant, choose Sansevieria or Spathiphyllum, as they are the ones that will filter all five of the worst toxins. Larger plants can also be useful for dividing up space in an office and can be a pleasant distraction in a relaxation area, taking away the stress of work. Which plants do you have in your office?

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A Christmas Plant Display

House plants come into their own in winter, when they bring real cheer and life to indoors compared with an often drab and dreary world outside. By putting a few carefully selected seasonal plants together in a large container, a stylish and annual display can be created very quickly. How much glitter and tinsel to add is entirely down to personal taste!  A Christmas Display

An Evergreen Arrangement

The dark green tones of conifers and ivy show that their leaves are full of chlorophyll, and they are used to relatively shady positions, making them ideal for an indoor planter in winter. They will happily last through two or three months, including over the Christmas period, but will appreciate being potted up and moved outside in spring to recuperate (bring them back in again the following winter to repeat this temporary display).

What to Plant

Try using miniature or young conifer trees; those of a classic Christmas-tree shape are commonly sold relatively cheaply in supermarkets and garden centres in winter as baby Christmas trees and use young ivy (Hedera helix) plants.  A Christmas Display

Plant up a large bowl, putting one or more (odd numbers work best aesthetically) trees in the centre and filling around the edge and underneath with ivy plants.

An alternative would be to use a standard (lollipop-shaped) bay (Laurus nobilis), olive (Olea europaea) or rosemary (Rosmarinus officinalis) tree as the centrepiece, providing it can be displayed in a bright spot. Use multipurpose compost and water as required so that the compost does not dry out.

Using Forced Bulbs

A more colourful temporary display can be created using forced bulbs, though the timing can be quite varied, and it’s best not to rely on them being in bloom for a particular date.

Amaryllis (Hippeastrum) and paperwhite daffodils (Narcissus) are the two most commonly forced bulbs for mid-winter and are widely available either as dry pre-treated bulbs or ready-potted and growing. Both will have been subjected to a cold spell, and bringing them into a warm house then tricks the bulb into thinking it is spring and time to flower. See below for more details about these specific bulbs.  A Christmas Display

Pot up dry bulbs into a multipurpose compost; putting in as many as will fit in a single layer for the best display, as they will be split and replanted after flowering, and water as required.

Keep in the brightest, sunniest spot possible, although they can be moved once flowering to a better position. The warmer the room temperature, the faster the flowers will go over.

Facts About Amaryllis (Hippeastrum)

Bulbs make rather good house plants, albeit temporary ones. This is a classic bulb, planted alone in a pot, and bought for Christmas displays. Usually red or white flowers, sometimes with several per stem. Leaves appear after the flower spike.

With its glossy leaves and stunning trumpet-shaped flowers, the amaryllis plant will bring brightness and colour to the dullest of winter days. And if planted at the correct time, will bloom at Christmas, a perfect addition to the celebratory table, alongside the roast turkey and mulled wine!

The plant originates from South Africa, and its correct name is Amaryllis belladonna, which is often grown outdoors in the UK, and it actually translates as a naked lady! The indoors variety is composed of over 90 species and is correctly termed as Hippeastrum, but most people call it amaryllis. The name hippeastrum is of Greek origin, translating as knight star, so called as the flower is said to resemble an ancient knight’s mediaeval weapon.

Amaryllis have actually been cultivated since the nineteenth century, and are mainly used as house plants during the winter, but can be left outside in the warmer summer months.

If buying from a garden centre or supermarket, the bulbs should be thoroughly checked to ensure they are firm and in good condition. Select the larger ones if possible, as they produce more flowers. Store in a cool, dry place until ready, otherwise, they may rot. If requiring them to be in bloom for Christmas, then the end of October is the ideal time to plant the bulbs. Once the flowers start to open, it is best to move the pot to a cooler position and water regularly, but sparingly for the best long-lasting results.

Facts About the Daffodil (Narcissus)

Specific daffodil varieties have been developed that are ideal for either forcing (such as “Paper White”) or small pots (“Tete-a-tete”). The name narcissus is the correct term for the daffodil family, and is Greek in origin, translating as numbness. This is a reference to the bulbs having a toxic substance, making them poisonous if consumed. In the past, they were actually used as a medicine to make people vomit, although this is not to be recommended!  A Christmas Display

The appearance of the daffodil is very distinctive, with its long, narrow stem, the inner cup of the flower (known as the corona), and its three petals. It is usually yellow or white, with the central corona occasionally being a different colour, depending on the variety. They are typically found in the Mediterranean, but some species are native to Asia and China. They are a popular choice of decoration for the Chinese New Year. It is the national emblem of Wales and is traditionally worn on St David’s day.  A Christmas Display

Narcissus plants are ideal for an easy to grow and maintain indoor Christmas display. The bulbs need to be planted in pots which allow for adequate drainage and can be grown from August to November, but the earlier, the better. Surprisingly, they can be grown just in a mix of water and pebbles, with no soil at all.  A Christmas Display

The blooms will appear between October and April. Once they have ceased flowering, they need to be dead-headed, as this stimulates seed production within the bulb. The leaves should be left alone, as they release valuable nutrients into the soil, ensuring the successful growth of the daffodil the following year.

Which plants would you recommend for a Christmas display?

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Sensory Garden Plants

A Child's Sensory Garden

A stimulating sensory garden is undoubtedly an excellent way to teach children about plants. It can also be seen as an ingenious method of getting them interested in gardening as a whole. There are many types of sensory gardens, and a myriad of different ways of creating them, but overall, the more plants you use, the better. It is possible to create something which stimulates all five senses to maximum effect, the perfect sensory garden.

The idea behind a sensory garden is to create an exciting area, where there are not only visual, but textural plants and these can include sounds, tastes and fragrances.

A Child's Sensory Garden

A houseplant or two is an excellent addition to a child’s bedroom, but why not take it a step further and create a miniature garden? It’s an ideal project to do together, and giving a child (of almost any age) some autonomy over plant choice and decorations means that they will engage with it that much more.

The child’s age will, to some extent, influence the type of garden that is best to create; for example, a display full of prickly cacti is probably not the best choice for toddlers. Encourage children to look at the colours and feel the different shapes and textures of plants, and to take some responsibility for looking after them.

A Child's Sensory Garden

The following suggestions include some ideas for plant displays that will work well together and have mainly sensory properties. As long as the plants all have similar light, heat and watering requirements, it’s possible to let their creativity run riot.

Visual Appeal

Excitement and interest can be added to the sensory garden with the use of bright, fun colours, mainly red and yellow. These plants will stimulate the eyes, and foliage will also serve the same purpose, with interesting patterns and shapes. It is surprising as to actually how many shades of green can be found, along with more unusual colours such as silver, purple and gold. Green is also relaxing.

A Child's Sensory Garden

Visually appealing plants can also help with teaching children about colours and can be grouped together with labels for easy identification. Colourful accessories can be added to any display, such as little walls, hand-painted stones and steps, creating interest all year round.

Textural Appeal

Being able to touch the plants and explore their different textures will add a whole new dimension to the gardening experience. Try to aim for a mix of soft and spiky, and take the opportunity to explain about which plants should be avoided. Think about the thorny stems of roses or the stinging nettle leaves.

There are many sensory plants which have textures that are either feathery, soft or succulent, and children will enjoy comparing the different feel to each of them.

A Child's Sensory Garden

Carnivorous plants appeal to the vivid imaginations of children, and they will be fascinated by the likes of the African sundew, and its sticky leaves, designed to trap insects. Other textures to add, include little walkways made of bark or pebbles, or maybe a water feature. A simple dish of water among the plants simulates the addition of a pond, and even if it develops slimy algae, it is something new to discover.

Fragrance, Sound and Taste

Fragrant plants add a new dimension to a sensory garden, and using herbs for this purpose is simple, and they are easy to maintain. Popular choices which can be grown all year round include lemon balm, mint and rosemary. Plus, you have the bonus of using them for culinary creations.

Splashing water over the plants is a fun activity and good for them too, or just merely trickling the water over the soil, between the fingers is a sensory experience. Think about including plants whose leaves can be rustled or adding those that have seed pods which can be snapped open or shaken.

A Child's Sensory Garden

Edible plants, fruit and vegetables can quickly be grown indoors and can lead to a useful discussion as to what is safe to eat. Children will be astonished that you can actually eat nasturtium flowers, although they may not enjoy the slightly bitter taste. Salad vegetables are favourite and grow quickly enough to keep children interested and not get bored waiting for them to be ready to eat. Cucumbers, strawberries and tomatoes are easy to grow, and for the more adventurous, hot chillies are a great option and a definite conversation starter.

A Hot, Sandy Desert

The varied forms and low-maintenance nature of succulents make them ideal starter plants for children.

For the cowboy fans in your life, create a little desert landscape in a full, shallow container.

Plant miniature succulents, such as money tree (Crassula ovata), aloes (Aloe vera and other species) and living stones (Lithops). For older children, perhaps add some differently shaped cacti.

A Child's Sensory Garden

Leave some space between the plants or around the edge, and cover the compost surface with a layer of sand and /or glass pebbles or gravel, which will introduce different textures.

This display could be the basis for some imaginative playtime activity with desert animals, or for acting out a Hollywood western.

A Jungle of Textures

A broad, deep and stable pot housing some plants of different heights and textures can bring a jungle feel to the corner of a room.

Planting everything in one large pot, rather than having a collection of smaller ones, means it is less likely the container will get knocked over (intrepid explorers may want to hide in this new “jungle”).

The tree-like ornamental fig (Ficus) can look effective in a jungle display and will leave enough root space for other plants to grow. Ctenanthe work well with other leafy plants, such as the colourful croton (Codiaeum) or banner plant (Anthurium), with its weird waxy flowers.

A Child's Sensory Garden

Underplanting Fittonia, which has brightly veined leaves, completes the jungle layers. Enlist little hands to help mist and clean the leaves regularly.

Jungle plants are ideal for budding naturalists and explorers.

Which plants would you recommend as an essential addition to a child’s sensory garden?

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