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U-High Midway

The Student News Site of University of Chicago Laboratory High School

U-High Midway

The Student News Site of University of Chicago Laboratory High School

U-High Midway

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Green thumbs: Students, faculty create comfort and connection with houseplants

Estelle Levinson
After many isolated months indoors, some people have developed a green thumb, providing an outlet for relaxation and stress reduction.

It’s March 2020. As the school was about to close down for what was then expected to be just two weeks, college counselor Patty Kovacs made plans to bring a van to school for one sole purpose: saving her plants. 

The rest of the school’s plants didn’t want to get left behind, so they hitched a ride.

“All of these other offices started giving me plants to take care of and bring back to school when we were open again,” Ms. Kovacs said. “That wound up to be a year and a half later.”

Since the onset of the coronavirus pandemic, houseplant sales have increased across the United States. After many isolated months indoors, some people have developed a green thumb, providing an outlet for relaxation and stress reduction.  

Ms. Kovacs grows all kinds of plants, from ficus to orchids, and she even has an outdoor garden where she grows tomatoes. But her true passion is bonsai. Using some of the succulents in her office, particularly jade, Ms. Kovacs has been experimenting with shaping the plants into bonsai.

“I really like experimenting with turning succulents into bonsais,” Ms. Kovacs said. “Jade is very common to start off as a stick and then be shaped into a bonsai. I have several at home that I’m shaping.”

Junior Chani Patterson has kept house plants for a number of years. Some of her favorites include false shamrocks, Song of India, painter’s palette, basil and tomatoes. 

“Basil is probably my most favorite because I can actually do something with it,” Chani said. “Basil grows super fast. You can plant it indoors at any time of the year, and it’s also nice to give as a gift. It’s a nice symbol of hard work and teamwork with nature.”

“Sometimes when I’m cooking I want to spice up my meals, so I just go over to my plants and pick some basil off,” Chani said. 

Chani has always kept house plants around. She’s inspired by botanical gardens. Every time she visits, she checks out the gift shop to see what new seeds she can purchase. Her grandmother and mother are also gardeners and help foster her love of plants.

“I’ve always kept plants, and I’ve had, like, a house plant table that’s filled with all my own plants since lower school,” Chani said. “For all of my birthdays and Christmases my grandma would give me plants to add onto my collection.”

Ms. Kovacs gets the inspiration to keep plants at home from her mother, who was a gardener. The reason she keeps so many plants at school is because of the private space it creates in her office, especially when there was construction outside of her old office when Gordon Parks Arts Hall was under construction.

“When they were building GPAH, the workers were literally right outside my window,” Ms. Kovacs said. “I wanted to put something in here that would give the students a bit more privacy — college can be pretty emotional for some people.”

Ms. Kovacs has also enjoyed how much healthier her office space feels with the addition of plants. Not only are they a natural air cleaner, they help students feel more comfortable.

“The kids started saying it felt so nice in here, it’s just so calm” Ms. Kovacs said. “So I just kept the plants going even when I moved to my new office.”

Ms. Kovacs’ secret to maintaining a good garden is keeping the soil fresh. She also uses a tabletop compost maker to add additional fertilizer. 

“I use a really good quality soil and make sure things are root bound,” Ms. Kovacs said. “It’s probably one of the biggest mistakes new gardeners make: they don’t rotate dirt.”

Chani has some advice for prospective gardeners: the “difficulty” of the plant’s ability to grow shouldn’t scare you. The important thing is how much care you want to put into the plants’ success. 

“The most important thing about growing plants is that they’re low maintenance, but it’s easy to forget about them,” Chani said. “People like to say that you should start out by finding an easy plant to grow, but that’s not necessarily true. There aren’t super easy things to grow or super hard things to grow — it just depends on the level of care the grower wants to give.”

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About the Contributors
Victoria Washington
Victoria Washington, Opinion Editor
Victoria Washington is a member of the Class of 2025 and serves as the Opinion Editor. She joined the journalism team in fall 2021 during her ninth grade year. Her favorite story she's written for the U-High Midway is “Artist raises $2,000 to restore Bronzeville mural.” She enjoys journalism because it provides an opportunity to communicate with others from different departments and see new perspectives. Aside from journalism, she enjoys historical fashion and watching documentaries. Awards: 2023 Journalism Education Association National Student Media Contests, Boston convention: Honorable mention, commentary writing 2023 Journalism Education Association National Student Media Contests, San Francisco convention: Honorable mention, news writing
Estelle Levinson
Estelle Levinson, Photographer
Estelle Levinson is a beginning photojournalist and a member of the Class of 2026. Her favorite part of photojournalism is taking photos of school events. Outside of photojournalism, Estelle enjoys seeing friends and family and playing tennis. 

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