A Growing Love for Office Plants

For Duke’s green thumbs, plants brighten workdays at home and on campus

Office plants are a special part of the workday for Duke colleagues.
Eva Paige Bahnuk is joined by her dogs as she sits by the plants in her home office. Photo courtesy of Eva Paige Bahnuk.

Growing in popularity during the pandemic, indoors plants have been shown to provide various health benefits such as lowering stress and anxiety and increasing productivity on the job.  

For on-site and remote Duke colleagues, a workday without office plants just wouldn’t be the same.

“Being around plants all the time, it’s definitely calming,” said Beth Hall Hoffman, plants collection manager for Sarah P. Duke Gardens, who keeps a record of and labels thousands of plants across the gardens. “If there’s a day when I don’t get to go outside or if I don’t get to go into the greenhouses and take a peek, I notice a difference.”

Working@Duke talked with colleagues about their office plants, to understand how they brighten their days.

A Reflection of Authenticity

Mitch Moste is surrounded by plants at his office in Rubenstein Hall. Photo by Jack Frederick.

Mitch Moste’s 20 plants, including a winding Pothos Plant climbing up a wall,  can sometimes make his workspace in Rubenstein Hall feel like a jungle.

As part of the Sanford School of Public Policy’s Admissions team for the Master of Public Policy Program, Moste has thoughtfully created an environment that helps make interactions with prospective and accepted students more personable and approachable.

Combined with a bird feeder that draws wildlife outside his window, Moste said plants help reflect who he is. The plants are in part a reminder of his roots as a descendent of farmers in Durham. His grandparents had a garden in their backyard, where he spent many childhood days working the land and enjoying time in nature.  

“Any time your office can reflect who you are, it serves as a little bit of an ice breaker because it humanizes you,” said Moste, assistant director of MPP Admissions.

Before the pandemic, he had never had more than a couple plants on campus at a time, all which went home with him when he started working remotely during the pandemic. When he returned to the office more regularly, he brought a plant with him nearly every day.

“The detangling of home and work doesn’t mean that we have to completely strip out elements from one another,” Moste said. “There can still be elements of home at work, and there can still be elements of work at home.” 

From left to right, Maame Amoako, second-year Duke medical student, Lisa Barkley and OB/GYN resident Jennifer Talbott. Photo courtesy of Jane Black

Brightening A Hospital Environment

A thriving wellness project in the Department of Obstetrics and Gynecology at Duke Regional Hospital started with the addition of one small plant.

Aiming to introduce fresh air into the health care environment, certified nurse midwife Lisa Barkley’s decision to bring in clippings from a thriving house plant transformed a windowless workroom used for charting into a community space.

By bringing in one of her own plants, Barkley spurred a project that invited colleagues to bring plants from their house to make the space more inviting.

The response was immediately positive, as team members joined in to brighten the workroom.

Eventually, the initiative expanded with plants added to the Obstetrics workroom next door. Now, each room has at least three to four plants for people to enjoy or nurture.

“I feel like everyone has stepped in to take care of them,” Barkley said. “It’s been a positive initiative, and it’s grown in popularity to where the nurses are wanting clippings as well.”

A Peaceful Reminder

Nestled among M&M’S machines, hundreds of books, a Duke softball poster and a custom cherry wood desk, plants are an integral part of Deb LoBiondo’s office in House D of Craven Quad.

“As Julie Andrews would say, ‘these are a few of my favorite things,’” said LoBiondo, Dean for Residence Life at Duke.

A dozen or so plants — from a fika to succulents and a flourishing monstera — brought from home through propagation projects remain in her orbit throughout the day, placed nearby windows or on windowsills for sunlight.

Deb LoBiondo's office in House D of Craven Quad. Photo courtesy of Deb LoBiondo.

After LoBiondo’s 26 years at Duke, the plants are a small but important part of her remembering her purpose and journey on campus.

Many of the plants have been thriving inside the office for 15 years, as long as she’s worked in the space. One plant, Kathy, a Christmas Cactus clipping named after the friend who gave her the original plant in college at Montclair State University, stretches back to the 1980s.

“It goes way back,” LoBiondo said. “She gave it to me when it was tiny, and it is quite large now.”

Amid busy days, whether meeting with staff and advising students, plants nearby offer a grounding feeling.

“The benefit for me is a sense of reality and peace,” LoBiondo said. “It’s knowing there’s more to me, there’s more to life than just getting up in the morning and coming to work every day. The plants remind me that we’re part of a bigger thing. We’re part of this earth and we need to take better care of it. Plants help with that.”

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