‘Plant meets Yale,’ a tragicomedy

As winter approaches, we cannot forget about our plants — that is, unless we forgot about them already.

Somehow the backyard bushes at SAE have managed to thrive over the years, supported only by the luck of rainfall or urine of an intoxicated partygoer.

Next door, at the SigEp house, Chris Magoon ’11 takes his plants much more seriously. Having moved into what he called “the least desirable room” in the basement of the fraternity house, he depends on his plants to keep him at least somewhat connected with nature. And fresh air.

Too bad fraternity brother Zach Sokoloff ’11 killed most of them.

Not only had Magoon followed a strict watering schedule (yes, it was written down), but he also removed his hanging plants from their hooks every morning and walked them outside for their daily dose of sunlight. When he went away for the weekend, however, Sokoloff failed to continue the regimen for him.

“He’s never going to babysit my children,” Magoon said.

Two plants survived the fiasco. What’s left of his hanging herb garden still sits, shriveled, on the fraternity’s backyard patio even after the mint plant (arguably Magoon’s tastiest) was eaten by a fellow fraternity brother. Moving forward, Magoon plans to buy plants that need less sunlight, though he said these “tend to be the less cool ones.”

So much for his winter-blossoming cactus.

SAVE THE PLANTS!

The plants that seem to thrive best at Yale are those requiring the least maintenance. The greenery gracing the tables in the Silliman College dining hall (as opposed to the plastic, decorative leaves adorning the swipe desk) is always in pristine condition. Employee Alice Depino said the plants only need be watered periodically, when it appears to the manager that they “need a drink.”

Jeannette Penniman ’12, too, has tried to treat her plants with respect. At the beginning of this year she planted spinach, mesclun mix, mint, basil, parsley and arugula each in a separate pot to be placed on her desk in front of the window. She checked the status of the soil with her fingers each night.

“And they’re dying,” she said. “It’s really sad.”

First to go, after only two weeks of good health, was the spinach. Soon after the mesclun and the arugula began to wilt. Growing apathetic (and busier) as the year progressed, Penniman reduced her soil checks to about once every three nights.

With the onset of winter, Penniman speculated the plants would probably suffer due to the cold seeping through her poorly insulated window. The plants needed sunlight and there was nowhere else to move them.

“They were doomed from the start,” Penniman said. “Why try and change fate?” Still, she said, she may try again next year.

But wait!

Annette Walton, better known by her alias as “the flower lady,” is here with advice: Yale students need to make a better effort to take care of themselves. She said she constantly needs to tell students to put on hats and gloves in the wintertime.

Along the same vein (Ha! See what I did there?), flowers need to be taken care of as well. People continue to buy flowers, according to Walton, because they want to retain some color in their lives during the dreary, leafless winter. But the water needs to be changed daily for a fresh cut flower.

Alex Manzanares, who works for Gourmet Heaven (provider of Walton’s flowers), added that they should probably be kept in the center of the room, at a safe distance from the heaters and the windows.

Still, when it comes to horticulture, not all Yalies are struggling.

READ: POOP

Neither Jillian Liu ’12 and Jimmy Murphy ’13, proud owners of bamboo sticks since their freshmen years, needed Manzanares’ or Walton’s advice.

Having endured the New Haven cold once already with his plants, Murphy plans to do nothing different in terms of his caretaking routine.

“They will survive,” he said. His only remaining doubts concern leaving the windows open and potentially allowing for the entrance of the infamous Davenport squirrels into his suite. Bamboo sticks potentially make prime chomping material.

While Murphy has only needed to look after three sticks, Liu is the proud owner of nine: four in one jar (to bring her good luck in her classes) and five in another (to bring her good luck in her career).

Both jars sit on the ground in the north corner of her room, but whether this arrangement is according to feng shui or advice from her mother remains unclear.

Regardless, the location is in sync with Manzanares’ prescription: not too much sun and nowhere near the heater.

“I think if they get too much sunlight they start to turn yellow,” Liu said. “It’s not bad; it’s just different.”

Anna Rose ’13, too, saw success with her plants. Or at least until she left New Haven for the summer last May, and her aloe plant, Boston fern, peace lily and ginger plant remained in the care of a friend who was living off campus. Purchases from the School of Forestry and Environmental Science’s sale of experimental plants, they had been well-tended by Rose throughout the spring semester.

But her careful instructions for caretaking weren’t enough. When Rose returned in the fall, she found the aloe missing and the rest dead. She and a few friends said they proceeded to “liberate” (read: steal) the summer plants from the planters on Cross Campus before they were replaced for fall. But they proved to be too big for her small suite. So, in addition to a basil plant leftover from her Harvest trip, she settled for tending to lavender and oregano in pots placed on her windowsill.

Rose checked the soil daily — occasionally adding worm “castings” (read: poops) collected from the family of worms living in a box filled with shredded newspaper in her closet (she feeds them her food scraps). Not only are they full of nutrients, but the castings also absorb water and slowly release it back to the soil, an attribute that will prove especially helpful in the coming winter months. She has a spray bottle on standby as well in case they get parched. Handy.

“It’s very important to keep in mind what they expect from their environment,” Rose said. “They want to be warm, but they don’t want to be crispy … It’s very important to commune with your plants every day and see how they’re doing.”

Unless they fall out the window, as Rose’s did. Returning from the farmer’s market with parsley plant in hand (it has since died of blight), she noticed they no longer sat on the sill. Peering outside, she saw the shattered pots below. “I’m just really glad they didn’t hit someone on the head,” she said. As for the future, and contrary to her namesake, she has no plants to tend to.

But, as advertised by Charles Zhu ’11 in an e-mail to the Yale Student Environmental Coalition, of which Rose is a member, maybe the way to go is hydroponic window gardens living in plastic water bottles through which water and nutrients are pumped. They don’t need a Yalie to take care of them.

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