Early in the coronavirus pandemic, I started thinking about what might be left behind in all the empty office buildings in downtown Boston and office parks in the suburbs. From an assignment years ago at a construction company's office, I knew that many office buildings hire outside companies to provide and maintain their plants. After a few google searches and phone calls, I found a handful of Boston-area companies that maintain office plants and discovered that they were indeed still working during the pandemic while offices remained empty.
I reached out to Brent at the New York Times Sunday Business section with a pitch about office plants left behind during the pandemic, and was happy to hear he liked it. After that was a lot of phone calls and emails working out the logistics and permissions with three office landscaping companies and then, at long last, a few days at the end of May hopping between office buildings following along as the horticulturalists pruned, watered, and turned plants toward light in offices all around the greater Boston metro area.
One thing I've got to confess is that prior to this story, I didn't know much about office plants. But afterward, with the patient help of all the horticulturalists I shadowed, I can pretty well identify most of the plants you'd run into in a sea of cubicle or near an elevator bank. I can spot a ZZ plant or Bird of Paradise from a distance. I can point out Dracaena 'Limelight' in a lobby full of Dracaena marginatas. I might even be able to tell you when your Fiddle Leaf Fig needs to be pruned.
Huge thanks go out to the teams at Cityscapes, Garden Streets, and Plantwerks, for all their help making this project possible.
And of course thanks to Brent and the team at the NYT for the support, for making the pictures sing on the full page I got for the story, and for coming up with the wonderful title "Semper Ficus." You can also see how the story ran on the New York Times website.