I’ve decided that plants love laundromats. I used to think I was just projecting my own feelings onto them, as I happen to adore both plants and laundromats. But whenever I’ve seen a plant within one of these bustling, fragrant and white-tiled spaces, it seems to be thriving in its warm, humid habitat. Now that I’ve met another photographer who’s documented the same thing – Nicolas Cook, who took the above picture in Birmingham, England – I’m sure we can’t both be wrong.
Nicolas shot this rather poignant plant portrait the day before Valentine’s Day at Sam’s Launderette (as he points out, “laundromat” is American English; in the UK, washing is done at “launderettes”). When he shared it online, one commenter wrote, “I feel like they’re going to fall in love.” Perhaps this is what I find so touching: it’s a bouquet of roses, with only one week to live, in love with a sturdy palm with a life span. Doomed love! Nicolas agreed, “They’re definitely flirting!”
Again, maybe we all just had love on the brain on February 14, but who knows? Perhaps it’s not only humans who meet their soulmate over a load of laundry.
I’ve also photographed a few laundry-room plants in my time. Here is the first one I documented:
This magnificent ficus resides in a Waschhaus, which is not exactly a laundromat (that would be a Waschsalon) but rather a laundry room. More specifically, it’s one of the spacious communal laundry rooms of Gropiusstadt, an idealistic modernist settlement on the edge of Berlin conceived by Bauhaus architect Walter Gropius. Often shared between several buildings, the laundry rooms were intended as a meeting place, encouraging human contact among the neighbors in the otherwise anonymous high-rises. However, when I visited this one during my artist residency in Gropiusstadt in 2009, I only met this tree.
I also recently met some urban plants while doing laundry myself, in my new favorite beach town, Santa Cruz, California. The business was even called Beach Market & Laundry, right across from the boardwalk.
Some were tall:
And some were small:
They, too, seemed right at home, which makes sense to me. A laundromat is a lot like a tropical greenhouse – the white walls and appliances usually help bring plenty of light into the space, while the dryers fill the air with warm steam.
In addition, the vibrations from the washers and dryers could be a plus. Scientific research shows that vibration causes measurable changes on plant growth in different stages of development. For example, it can cause plants to grow stronger roots before investing energy in growing stems and flowers (see article in Annals of Botany).
Science aside, I’m glad, on a purely emotional and aesthetic level, that houseplants thrive in laundromats, launderettes and Waschhäuser around the world. They make good company while waiting for the wash cycle to finish and brighten up an otherwise very mechanical space.
Now if you’ll excuse me, I have to go hang up my laundry…
First image courtesy of Nicolas Cook. He posts on Instagram as @nicolascook.