British Columbia

Plants aren't just taking over homes. They're turning drab workspaces into jungles

Hoarding all those plants at your desk is good for you, too.

Hoarding all those plants at your desk is good for you, too

Adele DeVuyst, a microblading artist, has blanketed her closet-sized work studio in East Vancouver with dangling pothos plants. (Ben Nelms/CBC)

The plants outnumber the workers at Vancouver's East Side Games.

Ninety or so employees, on any given day, work in the video game company's office in the City Square Shopping Centre. At every turn, they're surrounded by greenery.

Pothos leaves spill out of shelves and zigzag along the white walls. A bird of paradise blooms in a sunny corner. The arched leaves of a dracena graze a pinball machine.

More than 100 varieties of plants populate the 8,500-square-foot office. 

They fulfil the office philosophy of Josh Nilson, the studio's chief executive officer: A workspace, where many of us spend one-third of our days, shouldn't mean greyed carpets and fluorescent lights. Instead, Nilson says, an office can resemble a bright, airy coffee shop.

"We're packed in these same offices day in and day out," Nilson, 46, said. "It's so nice to come in and see something that's living in there."

More than 100 plants fill the East Side Games office in Vancouver. (Ben Nelms/CBC)

Plants are blossoming in popularity, fuelled in part by millenials who prize their Instagram-friendly aesthetic. Sales for plants and flowers in Canada jumped eight per cent between 2014 and 2018, from $1.4 billion to nearly $1.6 billion, according to Statistics Canada. 

That penchant for greneery has spilled into the workspace. Companies, office workers and small business owners are finding that plants are their favoured office accessory, blending aesthetic appeal, practicality and wellbeing.

"It's very therapeutic," said Kylie Bolton, 41, who has earned the title of "plant lady" in her Vancouver accounting office for the dozen-plus plants that crowd her desk. Her specialty is reviving abandoned plants — the ones gifted at Christmas parties or left to languish in dark conference rooms. 

"Sometimes with work being stressful, it's nice to have them around," Bolton said. "It's something that's deep-rooted and represents nature."

Companies like East Side Games are hiring plant stylists to improve their space's aesthetic and improve worker morale. (Ben Nelms/CBC)

Plants, in fact, offer tangible health benefits. A 2010 industry-funded study at an Australian university found that introducing even just one plant to a workspace can boost office morale. Other research has linked plants to spikes in workers' productivity, memory retention and happiness.

Companies have noticed, with some even hiring plant stylists and spending thousands of dollars to transform their spaces into jungles.

"There's a big push in the tech office industry for plants," said Britt Wainwright, 34, a trained horticulturist who runs Foliosa, a Vancouver-based company that installs greenery in workplaces. 

Wainwright's clients include East Side Games and BrainStation, a digital education company housed in a 1,850-square-metre office where plants are lovingly sprinkled. They separate rooms, buffer noise and filter light, taking the place of room dividers and blinds.

"We try to lean into a more creative but practical side of indoor plants," Wainwright said. "So we go for an abundance of greenery everywhere, rather than just one box filled with a bunch of snake plants."

Studies have linked plants to spikes in workers' productivity, memory retention and happiness. (Ben Nelms/CBC)

Offices can prove trickier environments than homes. The temperature, for one, wildly varies, with heating and cooling systems activated during the day and turned off at night. The natural light is spotty. And who exactly is going to water all those plants?

Companies like Foliosa offer regular upkeep. The plants at East Side Games are cared for once a week — watered, fertilized and their dead leaves pruned — while some of the foliage is swapped out seasonally.

Small business owners have to be craftier with their flora. Adele DeVuyst, 36, struggled to find an affordable space in 2017 for her eyebrow microblading business. She finally landed on a closet-sized room in an artist's studio in East Vancouver. 

With no floor or wall space for plants, DeVuyst blanketed the ceiling instead with hanging pothos plants.

Small business owners like Adele DeVuyst use plants to make their space welcoming for clients. (Ben Nelms/CBC)

"I wanted it to not feel like a sterile, white box," she said. "I thought the best way to make something feel really vibey and cool was to go with as many plants as I could cram in there."

"The clients," she added, "are always blown away when they come in."

But what if you don't feel like spending hours collecting wilted leaves, measuring fertilizer and wiping away dust? What if you just opt for a fake plant?

Josh Nilson, the CEO of East Side Games, laughed at the idea.

"That would be like serving decaf coffee at my office," he said. "I can't do that." 

About the Author

Alex Migdal

Journalist

Alex Migdal is a reporter and social media editor for CBC News in Vancouver. He's previously reported for The Globe and Mail, Guelph Mercury and Edmonton Journal. You can reach him at alex.migdal@cbc.ca.

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