All grown up

The scent of freshly cut grass is in the air. Flowers have bloomed, adorning the campus and city. And a few green thumbs have emerged in the GW residence halls.

With unpredictable D.C. weather and jam-packed schedules, students are often unable to get outside and enjoy the city. But many students are exploring a unique way to de-stress from the comfort of their rooms: gardening. Ranging from a simple flower to elaborate ivy, those who experiment with gardening bring a bit of added life into their otherwise drab residence hall rooms.

Even with the lack of space that city residence hall living leaves, gardeners taking care of a small plant can often have the same positive effects as caring for a full sized garden.

“When you’re surrounded by so much concrete it’s really nice to have a plant in the room,” said freshman Ekuike Falorca, who keeps an ivy plant above his computer.

Not only does the plant – which dominates most of Falorca’s desk- add variety to the room, it provides an often-needed distraction, he said.

“It’s always a nice break to water the plant and just forget about work for a moment,” Falorca said.

The fragrance created by having a plant in the room can be even more beneficial for growers, experts said. Although many students try to remedy unpleasant smells in their rooms with incense or scented candles, the University prohibits their use in residence halls.

But a growing movement called floratherapy can help students alleviate stress and generate sweet smells in their rooms without lighting a match. An off-shoot of aromatherapy, floratherapy is the use of plants in the healing process. It includes the use of aromas as well as the beneficial atmosphere created, to aid the body in fighting off infection. It is also recognized by the International Florist Academy and School, and many psychologists endorse its practice.

Freshman Michelle Tanney said she keeps fresh flowers in her room as part of her floratherapy solution.

“It really adds some atmosphere and brightens the room up,” she said. It’s not just about the aesthetics, though. Tanney also mentioned that smell of flowers is always great to come home to and always adds a pleasant touch despite stress.

In a study by Patti Nagai, a professor of horticulture at the University of Wisconsin, gardening was proven to promote relaxation and a healthy way to de-stress after a long day. She encouraged those who lack a garden or the space for one to at least care for one plant in a small container. She emphasized keeping a garden diverse because the more visually engaging a garden is, the greater the calming affect it tends to have.

In the study, she also noted the importance of keeping a garden simple, because it is intended to relieve stress, and not enlarge it. If people are not interested in keeping plants in their rooms, Nagai said doing volunteer work at a community garden in the nearby area can have beneficial effects similar to caring for one’s own garden.

Some GW students are involved in community yard and garden work. At the Mount Vernon Campus, a group of four students began doing yard work this spring in the Foxhall and Palisades neighborhoods around the campus.

“Yard work in the neighborhoods around Mount Vernon, namely the Palisades and Foxhall Village, is rewarding to say the least,” said sophomore Ari Mittleman, a member of the Mount Vernon group. “Older couples or widows welcome us into their homes and make sure that while we rake, weed, mulch and even put up fences we get lemonade, fresh baked goods or sandwiches.”

Sophomore Manooch Azizi-Shamieh also said she enjoys working with the Mount Vernon group.

“Yard work provides a great outlet for stress,” Azizi-Shamieh said. “It is just like any activity that takes a large amount of energy, like weight-lifting, and you feel more relaxed afterward.”

She also noted that gardening gives people a sense of self-worth.

“The feeling of cool soil on your hands is very calming,” she said. “A day of hard work leaves you with a sense of fulfillment that you only get from working outside with your hands all day.”

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