Plant pro Summer Rayne Oakes on why greenery makes you happier and more productive

People have been putting plants on their desks ever since the inception of the office. But as it turns out, plants are helping us just as much as we’re helping them – research has shown they make us happier, more productive, and even more creative.

Summer Rayne Oakes is a plant expert and the owner of over 750 houseplants, which live with her in her Brooklyn apartment. She’s the author of the new book, “How to Make a Plant Love You,” out today. She told Ladders how plants help us at work – with efficiency, productivity, relaxation, and imagination.

“Within the last 20 years, there’s been an increase in studying how plants affect our performance, our productivity, our mood, and even creativity,” said Oakes.

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“These studies largely examine office workers,” she said, people toiling in “a more sterile environment – they’re often short on light, not everybody has the privilege of getting a cubicle or space next to a window.”

“The investigations looked at how indoor plants affect task performance or mood.” They are mostly smaller research studies, she said – 30 people, 50, or 200. She hasn’t seen anything large-scale yet, “where it’s involving thousands or tens of thousands of people.” 

Just looking at a plant helps

The results of the studies, Oakes says, “often show that people perform better when they’re just even in view of a plant. So that could be a desk plant. It could be even a view [of greenery] from a window.”

But the facts are clear – there’s a difference in the quality of workers’ performance simply from simply being within the presence of one plant. That major revelation has, she thinks, hopefully, shifted the viewpoint of office managers or interior landscaping officials – “anybody who has the capacity to be able to change a workspace landscape.”

So will offices be getting better and more pleasant to work in? There are two basic places to start.

Begin with some plants and good lighting

Start small. “I feel like the lowest common denominator for an office is to just get an office plant or a floor plant,” said Oakes. 

Ideally, Oakes told Ladders, building managers or architects would think about a workspace’s lighting needs “from the beginning, as opposed to having it as an afterthought.” If that happens, “they begin to think about other things that make people more creative and more productive – and that includes lighting conditions, offering windows or skylights, or cooler colors.”

Natural lighting is ideal, Oakes said, but if you don’t have perfect conditions, think about “good supplemental lighting… you can get lights that are decent for plants and also that are within a certain temperature [that’s good for people].

“The color of light is measured on the Kelvin scale… there’s a happy medium for our eyes and a happy medium for the plant, as well. So finding that right kind for both people and plants is kind of like Goldilocks – not too this, not too that.”

Who’s doing it right

Oakes mentioned that most of the WeWorks she’s been to have “some form of landscaping,” but a coworking space called the Assemblage is an example of a workspace that’s taking green to the extreme. 

“They really went over the top with plants in the actual interior, as well as the exterior landscape for people to work with.” The coworking space plant wars “could be a little bit of one-upmanship,” competing to attract members, she said, but regardless, “it seems it’s trending that way [anyway]”

Could there be a thing as too much green?

There’s actually some research out there that suggests there could be a thing as too many plants. “I should say there has also been research studies to show that the more plants might actually make people less productive,” Oakes admitted.

But the same research found that plants could still elevate people’s moods, “so there might actually be a happy medium, and it may just depend on the office and other factors and not just looking at the plants.” 

In other words, buy all the plants you want. Even 750 of them.