A green cube of one’s own



It’s one thing to play about with indoor gardening when you know the real thing will be outside your back door in a couple months. It’s quite another to deal with the year-round, day-in, day-out sterility of the office cubicle. Yesterday, Victory Garden, the PBS stalwart that’s been around long before any of the HGTV crap we like to complain about here, had a short segment on how to green-up a standard office workspace. I took note, because, unlike some of our luckier readers and Ranters, I actually have to report to such a gulag (an office with a door, thank god) five days a week for at least eight hours a day.

Many plants seem to do quite well in office spaces. I wonder if it’s all the fluorescents; certainly the cultivars in my home plant room seem to be thriving under them. The Victory Garden segment was about a makeover of a typical—well, worse than typical—cubicle, all white resin, or plastic or whatever they make these modules out of. The plants chosen were sansevieria (mother-in-law’s tongue), schefflera (umbrella plant), bromeliads, ficus elastica (rubber plant), and some other smaller cultivars, including phalaenopsis orchids. Then they added photographs and lined the cube with some fake turf, which looked pretty good, though it wouldn’t be my choice. They also demonstrated some nifty watering devices to handle the plants during vacations and other absences.

In my view, the best plant for an office space should be somewhat large—really, any inside plant needs to be imposing to make an impact. (I realize smaller flowering plants like African violets and cyclamen end up looking prissy, though I still like them.) The large sansevieria and schefflera in the segment were effective. Even philodendron can be fun; I have a couple that actually attach and crawl up the walls of my office until impeded.

One way to pull it all together—and they did this very nicely on the show—is to include photographs or paintings of plant subjects. They had close-ups of veined leaves. I have mixed media paintings of trees. You have to look at it this way: many of us spend a hell of lot of time in these self-selected prisons. Filling a cube with plants might be one of the cheaper and easier ways to make it livable and healthy. I’ve been gardening in my workspace for eight years now. How about you?

The image above is from the Sensevieria Films website. Nothing much to do with plants per se, but they seem a cool indie group.

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Elizabeth Licata

Elizabeth Licata has been a regular writer for  Garden Rant since 2007, after contributing a guest rant about the overuse of American flags in front gardens. She lives and gardens in Buffalo, N.Y., which, far from the frozen wasteland many assume it to be, is a lush paradise of gardens, historic architecture, galleries, museums, theaters, and fun. As editor of Buffalo Spree magazine,  Licata helps keep Western New Yorkers apprised about what is happening in their region. She is also a freelance writer and art curator, who’s been published in Fine Gardening, Horticulture, ArtNews, Art in America, the Village Voice, and many other publications. She does regularly radio segments for the local NPR affiliate, WBFO.

Licata is involved with Garden Walk Buffalo, the largest free garden tour in the US and possibly the world,and has written the text for a book about Garden Walk. She has also written and edited several art-related books. Contact Elizabeth: ealicata at yahoo.com


  1. I once worked in a basement office at a really intense job that required every ounce of concentration I could muster, plus every minute of time that I could manage to stay awake. Just looking at a gardening book now and then would make me feel better.

  2. I don’t have to do time in an office but I did see something that caught my eye the other day in a public bathroom in PetCo. There was a plant on the vanity in a corner. It looked healthy. I was intrigued because it looked like a contorted piece of wood with leaves. I asked the girls working there if anyone knew what it was, of course no one knew. One gal remembered that instructions said not to water it. Another knew it had been in this spot for over a year. There is no natural light, only the florescent lights that are on while the store is open. I wish Iknew what it was. I would seek it out and buy it. If it could live there it could survive my attentions at home.

  3. Well, I am not working right now, but a few years back I was working in a small building in FL. There was a fence around the AC unit that was extended to cover the whole side the unit was on. This left a cubicle-sized space empty where the groundskeepers didn’t mow (it was clogged with weeds when I got there).

    I ended up turning that into my little garden space. It was a lot of fun, even had a couple cherry tomatoes. My boss loved it.

    The little building has since been destroyed and replaced with something large and full of offices.

  4. Dear god, Elizabeth, this gulag workspace of yours sounds absolutely awful. I should drop by and pay you a visit sometime.

    (Insert sideways punctuation here for the benefit of other readers.)

  5. I saw that show with Jamie D. He is easy to look at. I liked his concepts of using all those plants. They are a great air filtration system. I did feel that he used the most hideous containers! Did you notice that? None of them matched. They took away from the plants in them. Also, plastic grass? I would have opted for some bamboo covering for the walls instead of the plastic which, I think, probably looked best from far away. To his credit, it was a vast improvement. Plants in an office would be the only way to get me in an office!

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