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How Plants are Helping me Process a Pandemic

By Iza Redlinski

Rattlesnake master (Eryngium yuccifolium) coming out of dormancy in Iza's greenhouse

I'm not sure when my love of plants started, exactly. Maybe it began when I was child, observing my grandma gingerly misting her house plants and talking to them. Or maybe it was during my Wetland Ecology Lab, when I discovered that learning proper plant identification gives me hints about t other landscape characteristics, like whether the soil was saturated, and if the substrate was sand.

Either way, starting about 15 years ago I was hooked. Walking in nature, photographing plants, sourcing rare plants for restorations, finding small patches of remnant habitats with their special plants, plants became a passion. Or, an obsession, if you ask my family...

When my family moved, our new location presented a good opportunity to build some shelves to grow plants of course in a small area between the fence and the garage. One day when I came back from work my step-dad and husband were in the middle of converting that space into a greenhouse. Although it was only 6 months ago or so, the rest is as they say – history.

Little did I know that this space would cultivate a lot more than plants. Currently, during the COVID-19 lockdown this she-shed is my “clear your mind” space. The greenhouse is an area where I can go for an hour after the kids are asleep and germinate, repot, water and watch plants grow.

I see how milkweed plants sprout with the tear shaped seed still on their first leaves. I impatiently await the sedges and grasses to be big enough for repotting. I am learning how the plants I love look as seedlings, and how they grow and transform regardless of what is happening around the world.

Swamp milkweeds (Asclepias incarnata) germinating with the seed coat still attached

There is something reassuring in the predictable circle of life. Time in the greenhouse allows my mind to wonder and process things in the background, like a secretively running software. As my hands work away, following the same, seemingly mindless movements, I connect with friends and family, sharing some of my hopefulness with them, currently through words over the phone, and sometime in the future, I’ll share the plants.

Sometimes I work in silence, allowing my brain to work out what happened during the day. Occasionally I listen to a podcast and enjoy a glass of wine in the warmth of all that captured sun energy. These actions are like a balm on my soul. It is as if each little seedling, as it lifts its leaves towards the sun, lifts some of the burden off my shoulders.

There is hope in seeing plants germinate, put out the first leaves, then the true leaves, then growing big enough to repot. Working in the greenhouse, I feel like I have some power over making the future a better place. I am planning where the native plants will go in my garden (and gardens of those close to me), how I will arrange the tomatoes, cucumbers and herbs. I am trying to grow species of plants to help specific insects. These plants are helping me feel like I still have control over a few things. I work to make the world a better place (at least hyper-locally), to feed my family, and to teach my kids about the cycle of life, and how nature can heal both body and mind.

Bicknell's sedge (Carex bickenelii) growing in the greenhouse

Iza is a "millennial grandma" living, working and playing in Chicago with her family. She loves native plants - growing them, collecting their seed, and planting them where appropriate. Follow Iza on Twitter @MarshMaiden.


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