Every day at Kenyon, Kate Berges ’23 witnesses life, death and rebirth. For the past semester, Berges has worked as the student supervisor of the College’s greenhouse, which is located at the back end of Higley Hall.
Though the space is not open for public use, there are many ways for all to experience its beauty and support its growth. Berges runs the greenhouse’s Instagram page, @kenyon_greenhouse, where she keeps the community informed with photos of plant life, notices for upcoming plant sales and plant-care tips — or, as Berges puts it, “how not to kill your dorm plants.”
The Instagram page is a developing resource for those who want a peek inside the greenhouse to learn about plant care. There is a high demand for houseplants among Kenyon students and Berges is here to help. One area of concern for many plant parents is how much watering different plants need. On this topic, Berges says, “People water their dorm plants much more than they need. If you put your finger knuckle-deep into the soil, you should wait until your finger comes back totally dry before you water your plants again.”
The social media presence of the Higley greenhouse is an exciting new way to connect peers through a passion for not only plants, but other greenhouse inhabitants, too. A post from Nov. 11, 2020, for example, mourns the loss of Waldo, a small, green frog found sleeping in the pot of a pitcher plant. The carnivorous pitcher plant serves the necessary function of reducing harmful pests in the greenhouse. Waldo fell prey to its specialized leaves, and, though he was alive when Berges found him, the plant’s secretions had dissolved both of his eyes. “It was a rough existence and I stopped seeing him after break, so I don’t know where he went,” Berges said.
Berges uses Instagram to inform the community when overgrown plants are ready to be propagated and sold. The process involves dividing up plants that are too big for their pots so that they can be healthier and have more space to grow. The cuttings are then sold at plant sales sponsored by the greenhouse, making plant parenting accessible to everyone and generating proceeds for improvements to the space. “I sold things based on what you can pay, asking students if they can cover soil and pots and a little bit extra,” Berges said of this fall’s plant sale. “We made close to $200, which was really cool, and we’re using it to fix the moss wall.” Berges is currently working on another set of propagations for an upcoming sale, which she hopes to hold in March.
Kenyon built the Higley greenhouse in 1969, and its enduring success is the handiwork of past and present students and professors. The plants that Berges cares for today have a variety of origin stories. “A lot of the collection has been used for different biology experiments or for demonstrations. Some of them have been propagated from professors’ collections,” Berges said. “We have some agave plants from a professor that left about 20 years ago that are still growing.”
The work that goes on behind these glass walls creates the opportunity for students to learn hands-on and foster a small piece of Kenyon’s history for themselves. The Instagram account is a new chapter in the legacy of the greenhouse, connecting people and plants.
Follow @kenyon_greenhouse on Instagram to stay up to date with operations at the greenhouse.