Horticulturist Joelle Steele wrote a very extensive article on the history of interior plants. It’s an interesting history and we’ve gathered a synopsis of the article for our readers. To read the original article and learn more about the people that built the industry, please read the entire article here.
According to the article, people have been using plants and flowers to decorate their homes and their bodies since prehistoric times. In the tombs of Egyptians and other early civilizations dated back to over 3,000 years ago, images of potted plants were carved on the walls. Terra cotta pots were found in the ruins of Pompeii. These are first recorded proof that humans created green spaces to decorate their surroundings and make them pleasant to enjoy.
In Medieval times, gardens were grown to produce fruits, vegetables and herbs for medicinal and culinary purposes. House plants didn’t see their revival until the 1600s when greenhouses appeared on the scene in the homes of the wealthy. The Palace of Versailles had an orangery with over 1,200 citrus trees and hundreds of plants. In the 1700s, the first hothouse for tropical plants was build in the U.S. and quickly became big business. By the mid-1800s foliage was used indoors of the homes of the wealthy, and (as Joelle says), “even the lowliest parlor had at least one big splashy plant.”
An early pioneer in the floral industry was Julius Roehrs who came from Germany to settle in New Jersey, leading to its nickname as the Garden State. After a ban was placed on the importation of plants grown in soil, tissue culture would become widely used in farm crops and became the future of interior landscaping.
In the 20th century, the electric light and central heating made growing plants indoors more difficult and plant use declined. But during the Great Depression of the 1930s houseplants experienced a revival in the form of dish gardens. Interior landscaping got a second wind in the 1940s when New York City downtown buildings and restaurants added potted plants and flowers to their interiors.
In the 1970s, the interior landscaping industry took off. The theory that humans are genetically programmed to connect with plants was accepted. Everyone wanted plants in their homes and offices. Macramé plant hangars were everywhere! It was also when the EPA revealed construction materials could be carcinogenic, and when NASA scientists proved that plants can control environmental pollution.
By the 1980s we knew that indoor spaces with plants had higher comfort ratings. Enter: irrigation and self-watering plantscapes. The recession of the mid-1900s shrunk the industry as small companies closed or merged with others. But the science of plants and their relationship with humans had been established, and by the end of the 20th century the industry entered a new era.
In the 21st century, green walls (also known as living walls) are bringing urban gardens to homes, offices, malls, and restaurants. With today’s technology, entire high-rises can become vertical gardens. Water systems are designed to reuse and/or recirculate water. Green materials are being used for potting and fibrous material instead of soil surround roots. The possibilities for pollution-fighting, human friendly plants is endless and the future bright for the interior landscape industry.