Indoor greenery is spreading through the business world.
A lot of companies these days have conservatories where their reception areas should be. A visitor almost needs a machete to cut a way through to the desk. The firms claim that large-scale plant displays create a favourable first impression and an agreeable atmosphere in which to talk business. 'Professionally landscaped plants give vitality and a sense of scale to a building, and can have a calming effect on people,' says Paul Sturgess, quality manager at Rentokil Tropical Plants. Or is the greenery simply a designer's gimmick which swells the coffers of those - such as Rentokil - who supply and maintain the plants?
Such schemes are certainly not cheap. They do moreover require regular maintenance. Nevertheless, there are some lavish exponents of this particular green revolution, especially among shopping malls and other developments which attract large numbers of the public. Gateshead's Metro Centre, Europe's biggest shopping complex, houses £500,000-worth of plants, according to its manager John Bryson. 'They make our customers relaxed,' he explains. 'Americans call it putting people under an anaesthetic - it takes the pain out of shopping.' The banking hall at Coutts & Co in the Strand is another well-known indoor garden. The glass-topped atrium includes full-size trees, even a weeping fig that rotates so that its branches get an even spread of light. P&O Cruises flagship Oriana is also well-stuffed with greenery. Marketing director David Dingle maintains that living plants 'enhance the ambience for our passengers at the on-board pools and restaurants'.
If it's accepted that plants can add value, a canny way of cutting the cost is to choose the artificial variety. One client in four of interior plant specialist Greenleaf opts for silk replicas which are astonishingly like the real thing. One of their advantages, managing director Bryan Webber points out, is that they will flourish in locations where living plants might not survive and 'the maintenance is lower'. Motor distributor Lex Service has silk plants in many of its family car showrooms. 'Little Johnny won't be able to do too much damage to them while his parents are discussing cars,' says Tom Gillitt, procurement manager in Lex's property department. Some motor manufacturers even have precise requirements: Rover insists that dealers use beech planters to match its vehicles' interior trim; Peugeot insists on grey. Appropriately, for a producer of quality cars, BMW has real plants in its Bracknell head office and in its Park Lane showroom. 'Our plants are extremely important,' says facilities co-ordinator Lyndsey Stevens. The colours add a touch of panache at the all-important point of sale, and blend with BMW's blue, black and white logo.
But any company which introduces plants might find them difficult to get rid of. As Stevens says, 'Staff become fond of their plants - if we ever took them out there would be uproar'.