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What's Growin' On Stony Brook

“ One looks back with appreciation to the brilliant teachers, but with gratitude to those who touched our human feelings. The curriculum is so much necessary raw material, but warmth is the vital element for the growing plant and for the soul of the child. ”

Carl Jung

I always smile as I walk through the campus buildings and observe the offices and cubicles. There are family pictures and bobble heads, decorations that offer a hint of the person who occupies the space. Every now and again, I walk past a space that is packed with plants; vases with water and vines growing out, pots with a sprig of this and a piece of that. I feel a certain sense of warmth, quietly observing a kindred spirit. I will usually stop and chat, maybe even take your sad plants for a little R&R in my office under a grow light. I love seeing the experiments and successes of a home gardener. In my second year, I came across another one of those spaces in an unexpected place.

It was a typical day, running around from garden to garden and going about my day quietly, and I believed, unobserved. I never gave much thought to who may be watching, there are students and professors and visitors everywhere. I always entertain a question about a flower or tree, or a particular plant I am working with, but I never really entertained the idea that the people who keep this University running, who answer questions about capital projects and Albany and budgets, care about an Oak tree or a geranium. I certainly never believed they thought about me. That is, until the Vice President of the University called, requesting a visit in her office.

I was petrified! Was I getting fired? What did I do? Did I plant the wrong flower? Did I prune a tree I shouldn’t have?

After a sleepless night and a morning full of heart palpitations, I walked to the Administration building and towards the Vice President’s suite. I was nervous and alert, sheepishly moving towards her door. I took a deep breath, held it, and walked in.

In just one brief moment, without even realizing it, the nervousness disappeared, I forgot where I was, and my fear turned into excitement…there were pots of plants everywhere! Tall windows with planters of jasmine, cauldrons filled with geraniums, pots of dracaena, and bowls of asparagus fern, and there was Barbara Chernow. A women who I had feared met me with a smile, a friendly voice, and lots and lots of plants!

She brought me over to a pot and looked at me. I had seen that look. It is a despondent look, a little confused, definitely concerned. She was just another gardener with concern over one of her plants. That I could handle!

“ What is wrong with my plant? ” She asked

That conversation was over two years ago. Since then I have been lucky enough to experience Barbara’s relationship with plants, the joy they bring into her life. When spring arrives, we get to share a conversation about the seeds she is starting at her homemade seeding table, the vegetables I am growing in the garden. A hectic day will go by and I will get lost in the phone calls and emails, only to come to my office to find an official looking envelope accompanied by a grocery bag filled with dirt and a few pepper seedlings, a chunk of oregano, a branch of lemon verbena. Fall arrives and her geraniums and begonia’s come in, the dracaena and palms fill the corners and windows of her office.

This year we have decided to combine two of our loves; gardening and the University. The pots of geraniums she has kept alive will find their way to the R&D greenhouse. I will add cuttings from her beautiful Brocade variety to our propagation program. When spring arrives and we start unloading the greenhouse into the various beds and borders of the university, there will be a set of home grown flowers straight from a home garden, from a gardener who just happens to be the Vice President of the University.

In our busy lives with our busy schedules, it is nice to know everyone really does have some spare thyme.

Happy Gardening.

Tags: Grow Red


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