With the number of open-plan offices constructed in recent times increasing, living dividers have become quite the trend. The benefits of using plants to divide rooms into smaller, more workable spaces varies depending on which species are planted and how. Likely benefits may include improved air quality, better aesthetic impact, reduced noise pollution, more privacy and generally less distraction for those people working within that space. Who hasn’t felt the frustration of trying to meet a deadline whilst colleagues are chatting about their weekend around the photocopier near your desk? The careful placement of indoor plants can help create more content workers and hence prosperous office spaces.
A simple living divider can be created using small plants in pots on a shelving unit or similar. However, more screening will be provided by using shrub-or tree like species with broad, strappy foliage from head to toe in large planters. Members of the Dracaena genus (Corn Plants) possess strappy foliage excellent for screening indoors, e.g. D. marginata, D. deremensis ‘Janet Craig’, D. fragrans ‘Massangeana’. The foliage of D. reflexa ‘Variegata’ (Variegated Song of India) will stay dense to the base if this plant is grown with enough light, as will Schefflera arboricola (Dwarf Umbrella Tree) and Fatsia japonica (Aralia). Choosing plants with glossy, light reflecting leaves rather than matt, light absorbing leaves will help to keep space light-filled if necessary, e.g. Ficus elastica (Rubber Plant), as will the selection of variegated species. For narrow spaces, choose a slender species such as F. benjamina (Weeping Fig). If you have a little more room to fill out, perhaps consider F. binnendijkii (Sabre Ficus) or even Monstera deliciosa (Swiss Cheese Plant).
Trailing species have traditionally been suspended in rooms in hanging baskets. These days, more advanced methods are being employed to suspend plants in this manner, using light-weight planters fixed above pergola/arbour-like structures. This approach can save valuable floor space usually taken up by bulky planters. With its long, grassy leaves, Chlorophytum comosum (Spider Plant) is an excellent trailing plant. Cultivars are available in green or striped yellow or white, e.g. C. comosum ‘Variegatum’. Other trailing species of note include Epipremnum aureum (Devil’s Ivy) and Tradescantia fluminensis, e.g. ’Variegata’, ‘Aurea’ or perhaps T. zebrina (Silver Inch Plant). Pelargonium peltatum (Ivy Geraniums) can grow to a length of two metres and provide some indoor colour. Alternatively a curtain of Tillandsia useniodes (Spanish Moss) suspended from overhead planters would definitely create the wow factor.
A more effective all-year round indoor screener can be achieved by selecting evergreen, climbing species planted into a planter. To get the most effective coverage with this approach, it is necessary to understand how the selected species climbs so as to construct the right trellis/support structure into that planter. Self-clinging climbers using adhesive-suckers or aerial roots to climb such Ficus pumila (Climbing Fig) and Hedera helix (English Ivy) require no support when grown directly on a building’s wall. However, they will need support if wishing to grow them indoors as a living divider away from a wall. Twining plants (vines) such as Philodendron scandens* (Heart-leafed Philodendron) require a single vertical support, i.e. wire rope, to allow their growing tips to spiral around, although they may prefer moss sticks. Leaf-stem and leaf climbers require a grid-like or reticular structure around which their leaf stems or other attaching structures can coil, e.g. members of the Cissus genus, including Cissus antartica (Kangaroo Vine), C. rhombifolia (Grape Ivy) or the striking C. discolour (Rex Begonia Vine). Scrambling plants require multiple horizontal supports (wires) on which their epidermal outgrowths such as bristle, hook-like thorns and prickles can hook.
Indoor ‘green’ or ‘living’ walls are felt-based or pot-based systems with a drainage basin underneath, and are now available as mobile units. Epiphytic or lithophytic plants are generally selected in these walls given their ability to grow in very limited substrate depths. Commonly used green wall plants in Australia include Aeschynanthus longicaulis (Lipstick Plant), Anthurium ‘Dakota’, Chirita sinenis, Davallia spp. (Hares-foot Ferns), Humata tyermanii (White Rabbit’s Foot Fern), Peperomia enervis, Philodendron ‘Atom’ and ‘Super Atom’, Philodendron scandens (Heart-leaf Philodendron), Pyrrosia lingua (Japanese Felt Fern) and Spathiphyllum ‘Petite’. To change plants regularly for interest, use an interchangeable pot-based system.
Research into the benefits of urban greenery is increasingly showing the importance of ‘green’ micro-breaks can have in helping to restore one’s attention to a task at hand (Reference 1).Living dividers could be used to create more quiet reading and working spaces not only within offices but also educational institutions and libraries. Increasing the mobility of trellis planters and green walls may provide more flexibility to change the dynamics of these spaces to allow for them to be used to meet different needs at different times. The availability locally of a greater range of plants with foliage and colour interest capable of being grown in these often dry, low-light indoor conditions could spur this development.
Gabrielle Stannus (MAIH)
IPA member| IPA Executive Board member
* Strictly speaking, Philodendron scandens is a synonym for Philodendron hederaceum var. oxycardium but is still commonly used in the nursery industry
This article appeared in Hort Journal Magazine Feb 2018 issue www.
- Lee, KE, Williams, KJH, Sargent, LD, Williams, NSG & Johnson, KA 2015, ‘40-second green roof views sustain attention: The role of micro-breaks in attention restoration’, Journal of Environmental Psychology, vol. 42, pp. 182-189