Inside plants produce outsized benefits

Local interior-scapers will put together a better working environment for you

Posted: Thursday, April 03, 2003

Though Juneau's outdoor planting options are limited by the short growing season, the large amount of precipitation and the lack of light, indoor plants can thrive here. Juneau residents Teresa Busch and Suzanne Sakewitz know that, and they have started a business to bring plants to Juneau's offices and homes.

"People have this feeling that plants don't do as well here because it's dark," said Busch, who started The Plant People, an interior landscaping business, with Sakewitz in September. "But you can grow dwarf citrus trees inside, you can grow banana trees - and even get some of them to produce. Suzanne has a passion for passion flowers right now, because you can watch them grow and they purify the air so much."

Plants increase a worker's productivity, improve office morale and have been shown to reduce the number of illnesses suffered by employees, Sakewitz and Busch said.

"There's just something about having something living in the room with you," Sakewitz said.

Studies show that The Plant People is onto something, according to Plants at Work, a national information campaign sponsored in part by the Associated Contract Landscapers of America.

"I don't think that there's one asset that a commercial facility manager can invest in that will deliver as many diverse positive benefits," said M.J. Gilhooley, director of media relations for the campaign.

Interior landscaping "restores indoor air to its perfect level for human comfort: 60 percent humidity," she said. "It absorbs many of the chemicals and common office toxins, especially in sealed commercial office buildings."

But not all plants purify equally, Busch said.

"Some do better than others at cleaning the air," she said.

The Plant People recommends the pathos plant, the spider plant, the bamboo palm and Algerian ivy as particularly good indoor plants.

"Bamboo palm actually does really well here in Juneau," Busch said. "It's a low-light palm, and it's an undergrowth plant in rain forests in South America, so its requirements for light and heat are a lot less."

Busch and Sakewitz don't base their plant choice solely on air purification needs, though.

"We do a walk-through to see what their light requirements are and space, and we make recommendations from that," Busch said.

She and Sakewitz have a selection of cross-pollinated and genetically modified plants that need less light than most or that thrive in fluorescent lighting.

Most of their customers have some idea of the kinds of plants they want in their home or office, but they don't know specifics.

"They'll say, 'I want something tall for the corner' or 'a hanging plant for that corner,' but that's about it," Sakewitz said.

Sometimes, customers call The Plant People to find out more about the plants they already own.

"We get a lot of calls with people saying 'What's this?' for their plants," Busch said. "They'll send in digital photos, give us lengthy descriptions. ... People are great about their plants."

Sakewitz and Busch have gardening in their roots. They grew up on farms - Sakewitz in Texas and Busch in Florida - and have spent most of their lives living around and caring for plants. They met seven years ago when they were working part time at Auke Bay Gardens, a retail plant nursery and landscape business.

When Busch and her husband had to live in Seattle from 2000 to 2002, she took advantage of the time to learn more about horticulture and interior plant design. She worked on interior gardens and plant displays for a company called Botanical Designs, and decided to start the same type of business in Juneau when she moved back.

Sakewitz, a certified master gardener who has lived in Juneau for seven years, joined Busch as a partner in the new business.

So far, the company's clients include Heritage Coffee, DIPAC, REACH and several other local businesses and organizations.

REACH, a nonprofit agency that teaches life skills to people with disabilities, will benefit from The Plant People's services when the agency moves to its new downtown location in mid-April.

"They've been so helpful and thoughtful and generous with us," said Martha Stracener, deputy director for REACH. "Basically we're buying our plants from them, which we would have to get anyway, and they're going to help us take care of them and teach us to take care of them."

Busch and Sakewitz have volunteered their time to teach a class to the organization's clients so they can take care of the plants themselves, Stracener said.

Most customers, though, will have to pay for The Plant People's services. The cost of its services varies considerably, depending on the size of the building and the amount of care the plants require. But the minimum monthly fee for plant upkeep is $50, Busch said.

The Plant People also plans to offer plant-sitting services and plant leasing for special events, as well as retail plant and pot sales.

The company will hold a plant show from noon to 7 p.m. April 26 at the Hangar ballroom at Merchants Wharf.

"We want to show people what we have to offer," Sakewitz said.

She and Busch will use the show to gauge the need and desire for another retail plant store in Juneau.

If they determine there is a market, they will look for a location. Until then, they are keeping their inventory in their houses - plants at the Busch household, pots with Sakewitz.

The Plant People can be reached via e-mail at theplantpeople@gci.net, or at 209-6613 and 209-6614. Its Web site is www.akplantpeople.com.

Christine Schmid can be reached at cschmid@juneauempire.com.



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