An encounter with the world of corporate plant services.

On Thursday I was returning to the office with my teammates when we met a woman who was on her way out. She had a dolly with three large plants on it and after a seconds pause I asked her what she was doing with them. The response shouldn’t have been a surprise — she informed us that these plants were no longer up to her company’s beauty standards and were on their way to be disposed. I peered closer at the plants, they looked just fine to me, if extremely dry.

I asked a few more clarifying questions, and ultimately asked if I could have one of the plants instead of seeing it composted. Another coworker came forward to save a second plant. She warned us that they needed water and that they weren’t likely to get any prettier, but agreed to let us take them (I hope she won’t get in trouble). We all laughed about how silly we were being, but the social commentary of a system that throws away what isn’t deemed beautiful anymore wasn’t lost on any of us.

I had noticed the plants in the office but I hadn’t wondered who cared for them. It had not occurred to me that there might be a company who periodically swept away spent plants and replaced them with brighter versions of themselves. It was like the story of a parent who buys their negligent child a replacement gold fish. I wondered, not for the first time, what the demand for consistency and constant beauty really costs us.

Someone in the building is aware that we are paying a bill to beautify, greenify, and maybe even scentify our space. It makes sense that these specialized businesses exist; they quote studies claiming that greenery increases worker happiness and productivity, and specific holiday scents stimulate purchases. My query is if the plants that appear trapped in time give the same benefits as ones that grow and age.

It’s late, and I’m realizing that this conversation about plants is kind of silly, but there is something here that tugs at me. What does the demand for consistency and constant beauty really cost us? How will we ever learn to age gracefully when we refuse to see it? Or are denied opportunities to see it, even in the literal scenery.

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