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The People-Plant Relationship
Posted on January 6, 2012 by Ed Ellis

I have often heard people say how difficult it is to run a service company.  And especially one such as a plant service company, where we are taking care of thousands of plants in companies populated with thousands of people and the combination could be populated with problems, complaints and frustrations.  People have myriad personalities with challenges on and off their jobs.  They are sometimes supervised incorrectly, often underappreciated, and forced to work around those that may add to their burden.  Plants are also often under stress indoors, with insufficient light, environmental pollution, too high or low temperatures, dry air, and incorrect watering.  The confluence of these factors could be quite a challenge to those of us whose charge is to maintain plants in a healthy condition.

I am truly amazed that it all goes so well, and in fact, the indoor urban forest is doing quite well and I think partly it is due to the affection the plants receive from those who spend their days around the plants, and those that tend the plants.  It also seems to come from a life spirit existing in the plants, honed over millions of years of evolution – a will to survive and even thrive.  I have seen our technicians consistently overwater some plants, and they  adapt to that level of moisture. Another technician will take over the route, give the plant the proper watering and it will go into decline for a while. Perhaps a ficus tree is put into a office without windows, because the employee was moved there with their favorite tree. Over time that ficus will grow smaller thinner leaves, and over the weekend it will receive no light, however it will continue to survive for years.

If we look at the buildings that we often install plants in, they are steel, concrete, glass, marble, and have synthetic furnishings.  Plants are the complete opposite, and are our link to the outdoors, to the trees in our neighborhoods, to our own house plants and the greater biota.  They filter out harmful chemicals and infuse our indoor air with more oxygen, less carbon dioxide and establish optimal humidity levels.  There is also an emotional factor where either employees take care of their own plants on site, or a plant company will, and a bond develops between people and the plant(s) around them.   About 15 years ago, an attorney at a large law firm in Century City called our office, in a state of anger.  One of our employees had trimmed his ficus benjamina “hard”, meaning that it resembled a 5 foot high plant, 1 foot wide, where previously it had been 4 foot wide, with leaves only on the ends of the branches.  I took the call and listened to a “rant” or “tirade” for close to 3 minutes.  Within that time he told me that the ficus was often the only living thing he would see for many hours, and it meant so very much to him.  He was almost in tears, and I could sense the pain of his job and the affection he had for his ficus tree.  I went to his office and saw it, and offered to exchange it for a fuller plant, he declined theoffer.  4 months later, in July, I visited his office and the ficus had filled out to be a very beautiful  plant.  Out of this we learned to ask  permission to trim an existing plant, if the trimming was going to alter the appearance a lot.  We were also reminded about the depth of feeling people can have about their plants, and that depth may also say something about their lives and the situation they are in.

We are in the business of taking care of plants and that overlaps into taking care of people.  We may see a gift plant and bring a free deep liner, so it can be watered by the new owner, or bring a larger saucer for a gift basket, which often leak.  We often see the stress of the office/facility manager, who have an unbelievable burden of running a large firm, with its employees, and constant maintenance and upgrade of its technology.  Our task is to be that part of their job that needs little or no management.  They appreciate that, which brings the end of this blog:  My experience over 35 years of running a service business, is that people are good, they are fair, they want to be heard, and appreciate being listened to, they care about others, and they care about the plants around them. And about listening; a popular philosopher recently said that the most revolutionary thing you can do is to really listen to someone.

next post: We Are What We Breathe