Potting soil piled high as workers shipped the greenery away. The once lush greenhouse remained stripped of the plants that once filled the humid space.
When the school shut down in March, students went home, housing complexes emptied and professors in the Horticulture Department were left wide-eyed with thousands of plants looking back at them.
According to Daniel Dewey, a professor of applied plant science, the Physical Plant Shop was thriving in March. They were gearing up for another plant sale, a bonsai activity and had just ordered new decorative pots when the coronavirus hit.
Among the students working in the plant shop was Kiana Clegg, a senior studying horticulture, said they were all excited for the new success of the greenhouse.
“We were just about to meet our sales goal for the semester,” said Clegg.
They were ordering more citrus plants and stocking new edible plants for the spring semester, but everything turned around when the school closed its doors.
“It was so sad when they threw away thousands of plants,” Clegg said. “I looked outside and said ‘Oh my goodness’. Students were out there trying to save plants because that’s just how plant-people are.”
The greenhouses are mostly cared for by students. Few faculty and students were left to water them, control pests and transplant the greenery. The heated rooms remained dormant as everything from the tropical plants to the hydroponic tomatoes disappeared. Dewey explained they had to adjust and be resourceful without campus as an asset over Spring Semester 2020 as everything went remote.
One success of the transition surfaced over last semester when more than 90 students from all over the country joined Dewey’s home gardening course. He had more students than he has ever had in that class. They found gardens everywhere from the patio on their apartment complex to empty fields miles away.
“It was their responsibility to find a garden and plant their own seeds,” Dewey said.
He also noted that the students took more ownership of their garden and had a better product.
According to ScienceDaily, many people moved towards gardening during the pandemic since it has a similar effect upon people emotionally as biking or walking. It has been a great resource of therapy as people cope with isolation and lack of social interaction.
As students resurfaced in the fall, the Plant Shop and flower center reopened in an attempt to get the ball rolling again. The shelves still remain fairly empty with the looming threat of campus shutting down again.
“We have to move forward,” Dewey said.
They still perform labs for class but at home. Students bring their plants back to the greenhouse for a mutual growing environment. Dewey is confident that the learning experience, though different, is just as beneficial and effective remotely. He worries more about the social aspect of college and how that affects the students when they are isolated.
Succulents currently inhabit the greenhouse, and many shelves wait for plants to be shipped in. The Shop is open from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday through Friday, while the flower shop remains open from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. The greenhouses and Horticulture Department are adapting and moving on to accommodate the challenges presented by COVID-19.