Fire, water and green plants all evoke similar responses in people everywhere, answering some basic need set deep in the human psyche. Looking into a fire, or out over a stretch of water, or being surrounded by tree lopping Maroubra, satisfies the soul in a way nothing else can. Once they were part of everyday life. Now, in our increasingly crowded cities, we struggle to satisfy those needs.
Many people dream of an open fire in their homes, most have to be satisfied with flames in their gas heater or even a burning candle. The current popularity of fire pits in the garden is an indication of just how much we crave the sight of fire. There are certainly easier and cheaper ways to keep warm. Properties with a view of the water command high prices. The less fortunate may build a water feature in the garden, a fountain or a pond.
Having green plants in our lives however would seem relatively easy. Throughout history gardens have been an important feature of homes. Although high density living means not everyone can have a garden maintenance, indoor pot plants are always an option. Recent trends are therefore disturbing. Outdoor areas are now seen as outdoor rooms; more about hard landscaping and furniture than plants and nature; and indoor plants are becoming less popular.
Indoor pot plants admittedly present a few problems. They need to be close to a window to get enough light to grow well, although there are plants such as Aspidistras which will survive for a long time under low light conditions. They also require regular watering. Water under pots from over watering can damage floors and leave stains on carpets that even professional carpet cleaning can’t remove. Potting media isn’t sterile and contains many microorganisms. These microorganisms are useful as they absorb many harmful chemicals, cleaning the air, but some may be pathogens, which is why regulations governing hospital cleaning usually prohibit indoor plants and similar regulations apply to factory cleaning where food is processed or handled.
In offices the sad neglected pot plants are already being replaced by artificial plants which only need occasional dusting. No need for light or watering, no water stains, no potting media to harbour microorganisms, no fallen leaves, no pests except dust mites. And the trend seems set to continue. After all, if it’s acceptable to have plastic grass in the garden, the logical next step is plastic pot plants inside. Artificial plants are not only made from plastic of course, they can be made with silk and similar fabrics and may incorporate other organic products. Many of them look quite realistic from distance, and sometimes even up close.
But it is only an illusion and deep down that isn’t enough. They aren’t alive; you can’t watch them grow; the air around doesn’t smell fresh; and they will never come close to satisfying that need we have to feel part of the natural world.