Post pandemic plantscaping. Part 2

What’s next for the interior landscaper?

The interior landscaping industry is having to adapt very quickly to changing market conditions, and it has been fascinating to watch how that is happening.

After the initial shocks of Lockdown 1, followed by the gradual reopening of offices and hospitality over the summer, many in the industry looked to adapting conventional ways of doing business to adapt to the physical changes in the workplace. A lot of effort was put into using vegetation to enable or encourage physical distancing – screens, barrier planters, plants used to enforce pedestrian traffic flow around a building, etc. These all had some short-term impact and kept many interior landscapers busy (and in business).

Clean Team Florence sanitizer planter from Livingreen Design

Others looked to diversify their offering. Innovative planter manufacturer, Livingreen Design, developed a range of planters that incorporate a hand sanitizer dispenser, which, along with other hygiene and disinfection services has allowed some plant companies to offer additional valuable services to their clients – although keeping plants extra clean is also a challenge.

It’s going to be relatively easy to wipe down desks and screens once or twice a day with a disinfectant wipe, but we don’t know how well, or for how long, viruses can survive on the surfaces of leaves, flowers or moss. We also don’t know the effects of using surface disinfectants or fogging on plants: many plants are not going to thrive with a daily dose of Dettol spray. With those considerations, it may be that companies decide that plants in offices are going to be too much trouble.

Great for desks and hard surfaces, but what about plants?

Lockdowns 2, 3 and beyond: What can plantscapers do?

Hoping that everything is going to return to the way they were, and planning on carrying on as before, is probably not going to work. The landscape of the workplace (as well as hospitality and retail) is going to be very different – for months, if not years to come. How can the interior landscaping industry adapt?

Doing nothing and hoping for a return to the pre-Covid ways of doing things is likely to lead to bankruptcy. Even with the promise of a vaccine being realised, too many businesses have noticed the benefits of home working and other hybrid set ups. Office costs will be lower, and office buildings will be reimagined. Employees will see many benefits from more home working (time and money saved on commuting, being one advantage) and the towns and suburbs might be revitalized as city centre business districts get quieter.

That means conventional interior landscaping will be less appropriate than it was before. Offices that do remain are likely to resemble co-working spaces and have more in common with hospitality venues than conventional open-plan offices.

Indeed, the trend to such design styles was made evident recently when Plants At Work, the UK trade association for the interior landscaping industry, held its annual awards ceremony. Case studies of some award winners, e.g. SLG Cheltenham, Farfetch or Uncommon, Liverpool Street really show how such a design style is becoming more common.

These new ways of designing interior landscapes may present some challenges. Individual spaces in buildings may be used irregularly, which may mean inconsistent lighting and heating, which may affect the choice of plants used, or their maintenance schedules.

Other interior landscapers are looking towards putting their expertise in designing plant displays, using high quality plants and planters, to use to supply the growing number of houseplant enthusiasts as well as homeworkers missing their office greenery (good examples are In-tray Plants from Indoor Garden Design, or Foli8 from Planteria).

Technology and flexibility

Adapting to customers moving away from their traditional locations in city centres brings a number of logistical challenges. With customer density changing, service operations have to become more efficient. This is where technology offers some interesting opportunities.

Nurtio Technologies has developed an innovative system that combines a sensor (that measures soil moisture, temperature, light and nutrient levels) and a clever artificial intelligence algorithm that can help plan service schedules and alert the interior landscaper if there are sudden changes to the environment.

By learning the behaviours of individual plants (and groups of plants at the same location), the algorithm can predict when, and how much, water should be added and enable some flexibility in service schedules. One interesting opportunity that might arise, especially if access to buildings is tricky, or if plant displays are more dispersed as a result of a move to remote working, is that the business of watering plants can be delegated, leaving more time, or capacity, for skilled horticultural technicians to do the more complex parts of the job: pruning, grooming, pest/disease management and carrying out changes and re-designs.

UK interior landscapers needing more information about the benefits of the Nurtio system should get in touch with me.

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