A green thumbs up to indoor gardening


Abby Lucas used to not like her dorm room. The double-single in Dickey Wood Hall felt strange and plain; there wasn’t much personality or a sense of comfort. A first-year media studies major, Lucas decided to spruce up her room by adding two basil plants.

“Now people compliment me on my room a lot. I don’t think they realize it’s because of the plants, but [my room is] more calming,” said Lucas.

Scientific research from the international organization Plants for People has shown that plants improve the quality of indoor air and create a healthy work environment. From offices and hospitals to weddings and funerals, plants are a part of our everyday life.

Being surrounded by greenery can help relieve stress and anxiety, similar to a walk in the woods or a trip to a state park. The active experience of gardening is a way to involve all the senses. For students, gardening helps promote a green lifestyle while alleviating the pressures of exams and homework.

But as city or dorm residents, students may have more difficulty procuring space for outdoor gardening. Access to a patio, deck or backyard is not always available to those who rent apartments. Indoor gardening can be a more convenient alternative, from growing plants on window sills to tabletops.

A simple herb like basil can easily be grown in an apartment or dorm along with tomatoes, leafy vegetables like lettuce and spinach, flowers and other perennials. Former USM biology major John Miley, a manager of Evergreen Gardening Center on 301 Forest Ave., has even taken to growing potatoes indoors. The process is known as deep water culture, or DWC.

A hydroponic method of plant production, DWC involves immersing a plant’s roots in nutrient-rich water. The process is ideal for indoor gardening, as plants can grow in easy-to-find containers like buckets.

“This is the first time I’ve tried growing potatoes this way, so I’m looking forward to seeing what happens,” said Miley.

Open since June of 2010, Evergreen Gardening Center carries a variety of seeding materials, plant nutrients and indoor growing kits. For $180, students interested in growing indoors can purchase a “dorm package,” hand-selected by Miley. Comprised of several different supplies, the kit is perfect for growing and maintaining plants within the confines of residential life.

“This system will work very well in a dorm setting. It’s small but capable of producing ample greens, herbs, veggies or flowers. It comes with everything the gardener will need,” said Miley.

While living in university housing, students are not allowed to own appliances that use over 800 watts. Included in Miley’s package is a Maxlume fluorescent lighting unit that uses only 96 watts of energy, making it an extremely efficient lighting device.

“Many buildings have older wiring and too much electricity can blow fuses,” said Debbie Nelson, USM director of Residential Life. “The limitations [of indoor gardening at USM] are less around what you can grow and are more about energy-related issues.”

Because space can be limited in dorm rooms, Nelson also recommends researching outdoor gardening options within the community. The city of Portland maintains four community gardens with over 100 garden plots in Portland’s West End, East End and in between.

Students interested in learning more about gardening can contact Kayla Bubar, sustainability coordinator for USM Dining Services. Bubar helps manage a greenhouse on the Gorham campus. The food grown there is served in dining halls and at events catered by the university. Herbs, garlic, chives, cherry tomatoes and carrots are just a few of the vegetables harvested at the greenhouse.

“We try and introduce local food and vendors on campus whenever possible,” said Bubar.

Living a more green, sustainable lifestyle does come with a price. Whether you prefer gardening indoors or out, acquiring adequate supplies can set a student back financially. The cost of containers, seeding materials and lighting units can range anywhere from a few bucks to a few hundred.

Keeping a student budget in mind, Evergreen Gardening Center offers a ten percent discount to students who show their student ID.

“If they can answer the trivia question of the day, I’ll make it 15 percent,” said Miley.

Aside from economic reasons, many people choose to garden in order to live a more green, sustainable lifestyle. Food grown at home can be pesticide free and taste better than what’s sold in stores. The satisfaction of eating homegrown produce, the literal fruit of your efforts, also contributes to personal growth and happiness.

Lucas hopes to grow some sage, wheatgrass and kale, in addition to her basil plants. A lover of organic produce and homeopathic medicine, Lucas looks forward to moving off-campus this summer.

“I’m excited to have room for more plants,” said Lucas. “It’s great when you open a window and the wind blows through the leaves. Gardening is a really therapeutic experience.”