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June 11, 2018 | last updated June 11, 2018 1:10 pm

A touch of nature: Plantwerks creates a living wall at UNE's Biddeford campus

Photo / James McCarthy
Photo / James McCarthy
Lynne Petty, an interior landscape designer and salesperson for Plantwerks, stands next to the living wall inside the new Danielle N. Ripich Commons Student Center at the University of New England's Biddeford campus.

Plantwerks, an interior landscaping company in business for 34 years, adds a touch of nature to corporate office buildings that otherwise are simply enclosures made of brick, concrete, wood or steel. From its home office and showroom in Salisbury, Mass., it covers a territory that extends from Boston to Portland and into southern New Hampshire. It has 14 employees (which can grow to more than 20 during the busy holiday season).

Maine clients include the Portland International Jetport, Bates College, Vets First Choice, R.M. Davis, Certify LLC, Two Monument Square and Dirigo Management properties that include One City Center. Its horticultural experts (i.e. those who care for the plants installed in office spaces) live in the states they service.

Plantwerks recently installed a 400-square-foot living wall in the new Danielle N. Ripich Commons Student Center at the University of New England's Biddeford campus. It's one of the largest in Maine and the first the company has installed at a college or university. That's where Mainebiz met Lynne Petty, an interior landscape designer and salesperson for Plantwerks, for this edited interview.

Mainebiz: Tell us about the 'living wall' you created at the Danielle Ripich Commons at UNE. How did this come about?

Lynne Petty: We were approached by Allied Construction's management construction team on this project. They told us the University of New England was building an eco-friendly building on its Biddeford campus and wanted to incorporate a 'living wall' into the space.

During the pre-build phase, we worked with UNE and Allied to design this wall for the particular space — to get down the parameters and size. We had to work with them to understand the structural design's details, such as the wall materials and the plumbing for the irrigation system. We also had to take into consideration what features would be added in concert with the green wall, such as the staircase.

Our whole Plantwerks team — our researchers, our management, the plant brokers and growers, operations, the installation team, to our silent hero, who is our horticultural technician — became involved in creating this living wall.

MB: What plants were used in making this wall?

LP: There are 960 plants in the wall. There are five types: There's neon pothos, jade pothos, marantas, dracaena compacts and variegated spider plants.

MB: Is a living wall an unusual project for your company?

LP: We've been installing living walls for a while, but it's becoming more common because the systems that are being developed are reducing the maintenance costs. More and more organizations and industries are taking on living wall projects. We've put walls up that are 30-inches-by-40-inches and we've put walls up that are 8-feet-by-10-feet. Some places almost use them like live art hanging on the wall.

MB: What kind of plants do you use in a business-office environment?

LP: Ficus lyrata is a very popular trending tree. It's a lush, leafy tree. Ficus moclame is also a popular tree. The podocarpus tree is nice, because in Maine specifically they almost look like pines; however they're soft, so they look like they're indigenous to the area.

MB: Do your recommendations try to strike a balance between visual appearance and ease of maintenance?

LP: Yes. Physical appearance is important but we stick with tried and true plants in the interior space — ones that are familiar to the horticultural community of experts.

MB: Are businesses thinking more than they might have a few years ago about adding plants in their office spaces?

LP: It's extremely exciting that plants are trending overall. It's exciting that when it comes to building designs a greater focus on environmental connection is taking precedent. Humans have an inherent connection to nature.

Plants aren't just about the 'wow factor' and being part of an aesthetically pleasing corner any more. They are an important part of employee happiness, employee productivity. They increase creativity. They decrease absenteeism. Millennials want plants. They want nature.

By bringing nature indoors we're helping everyone. So there are true economic and financial benefits, according to studies that prove by bringing live plants into a built environment the financial benefits are there.

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