Depending on how fancy your workplace is, you might be lucky enough to share those gainfully employed hours of the day around plants. The Telegraph offices are fairly well-greened; there’s a pot of neatly lined-up sansevierias or peace lilies on top of most bits of office equipment, and foliage tumbles over those enormous chests of drawers full of mysterious things. I top things up with a Pika Plant, which attracts a pleasing amount of attention for an attention-seeking person, and there’s a kalanchoe on my desk, too.
But there’s certainly room for improvement, not least because a lot of office plants are kept looking immaculate by a team of contracted gardeners who come and replace them every few months. Office gardening isn’t sustainable, nor particularly creative: it’s greening by numbers.
So it was cheering to see that the theme set by the RHS for their Young Designer 2017 competition was inspired by increased working hours and how gardening could alleviate them. I caught up with Ula Maria, who won the prize earlier this week at the Tatton Flower Show, about how we can get more greenery into our workplaces and beyond.
Maria is 24 and originally from rural Lithuania, where she learned a love for gardening from her father and the natural surroundings she grew up in. She studied landscape design at Birmingham City University before working with garden designers. Her winning Show Garden, Studio Unwired, was inspired by the Baltic coastline she enjoyed as a child, and a determination to bring a sense of that natural tranquility into an urban, corporate landscape.
What was your starting point for Studio Unwired?
Working as a landscape architect, you’re always working to a brief of a client that you need to please. It was really important for me to take the opportunity with this garden to do something that I really love. I thought about what would make me happy when I’m working in an office, and found myself thinking about the happiest place from my childhood, that Baltic landscape. I wanted to create a courtyard that was a complete contrast to the cold and corporate urban environment and into somewhere where you can let nature take its course.
What plants did you use in your design?
Scots Pine (pinus sylvestris) was important, as that’s the coastal tree native to the area, and then I used a lot of grasses to evoke the planting you find at the seaside, such as feather reed grass, and crambe maritima. I used tall grasses to resemble the sand dunes, and the whole garden is accented with brightly coloured echinaceas.
What’s so striking about your design is how it does cling to a natural habitat, it feels more free-form than you would expect for an urban workspace.
I really wanted to capture the sense and the feeling of a space and atmosphere. My favourite bit in the garden is that the leaves are slightly going over. It was important for me to show that gardening isn’t perfect, because nature isn’t perfect. By bringing that sense of seasonality in, it’s a way of showing people working in London when seasons change, that gardening isn’t consistent, and it’s not always about evergreeen shrubs.
How can we improve the way we think about getting greenery into offices?
I think it’s probably not so much the plants but the way people use plants within their spaces. I have some cinquefoil (potentilla fructicosa Elizabeth) in my garden, which are considered quite, carpark-y, very corporate. But when I went to the nursery it was important to use the ones that were more naturally shaped. It’s worth remembering that each plant is a unique specimen, and to try to reveal its beauty. Even if it’s durable, it doesn’t have to be boring.