From the beginnings of recorded history, plants have been used for decoration. Excavated ruins of Pompeii have elaborate mosaics portraying colorful flowers and huge olive and shade trees. Exhumed mummies from pharaoh’s tombs have plants, herbs, and seeds incorporated into the shrouding that wrap the bodies, and the tombs themselves often have bulbs and seedlings of the royal’s favorite plants included, so they can journey to the afterlife together. Thus begins the convoluted history of plants as decoration.
Plants as Decoration: Bring the Outside In
Some of the purposes of decorating with plants stemmed from the desire to bring natural beauty indoors. The legend of the Christmas tree is a perfect example of this. After seeing the night stars twinkling in the branches of a pine tree in the forest, a man cut a tree down and brought it indoors for his ailing wife. He tied candles to the branches to simulate the twinkling of stars, and the Christmas tree was born.
Even the ancient Greeks believed in the benefits of indoor plants. They believed, correctly, that plants purified the air. Therefore, when anyone was sick, they would bring plants in to absorb the illnesses present. Today, a scattering of plants in the home helps to reduce the risks from formaldehyde, radon gas, and many other chemicals used in construction materials. In fact, businesses often keep living plants in their offices and waiting rooms for that very reason – just a few judiciously placed plants can completely cycle all the air in a building every 24 hour period. Keep in mind, too, that plants absorb carbon dioxide and release oxygen into the air.
Outdoor Beauty Comes Indoors
The custom of cut flowers was first recorded in ancient Rome, when Anthony gifted Cleopatra with cuttings from fragrant gardenia bushes. This desire for fragrance, color, and texture has been recorded throughout history, and plants serve the role quite well. Cut flowers continue to be one of the most frequently given gifts across the world, and are appropriate for any occasion from birth to death, from wedding to anniversary to birthday.
Even the Roman Coliseum had potted plants in the atria. Palm trees lined the Roman baths, and every villa of note had its own atrium with both potted plants and gardens. This ultimate version of indoor gardening was a symbol of wealth and health, and in the minds of the citizens, elevated nature to its deserved ranking in human priorities. To this day, plant pots take a significant place in our homes.
Interior decorators today often say that there should be an element of nature in each focal point in a room. Potted plants play perfectly into that scheme, providing height in corners or as frames for elegant furnishing, or as texture in a carefully planned still-life. The colors available in foliage, as well as size and textures, make them some of the least expensive accessories for your home.
If you decorate your home and office with plants, you are right in step.