Campus News

Herbs, sunflowers and three sisters rise in South Campus garden

Nicole Klem checks on the corn growing in the South Campus garden. .

Nicole Klem checks on the corn — which has grown well — in the South Campus garden. Photos: Meredith Forrest Kulwicki

By GRACE LAZZARA

Published August 31, 2021

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“The collaboration between students, faculty and staff to bring a small idea to life will hopefully make a big, long-term impact. ”
Caryn Sobieski-VanDelinder, web/graphic designer
School of Public Health and Health Professions

If you have indigestion, stress, headache or inflammation, you might want to head over to the southwest corner of Cary Hall on the South Campus. There, at a new garden, you can take in the aroma of herbs believed to help with those ailments (respectively, lemon verbena, lavender, mint and tarragon).

The garden is the brain- and elbow-grease-child of amateur gardener Caryn Sobieski-VanDelinder, School of Public Health and Health Professions web/graphic designer, and Nicole Klem, program director of SPHHP’s Clinical Nutrition MS program.

After deciding that the school needed something to brighten the side of campus where most of SPHHP’s research and classes take place, the two came up with the idea of planting a garden.

“There’s a beautiful area in the center of South Campus where the community can walk, relax in nature on a bench and eat lunch outside, but there’s not much to enjoy near the area by Kimball Tower and Farber Hall,” Sobieski-VanDelinder says.

Once they consulted with UB Sustainability, Klem and Sobieski-VanDelinder put in a special project request with UB Facilities to get the ball rolling.

“Sean Brodfuehrer, architectural planner with Campus Planning, found us the perfect location,” Sobieski-VanDelinder says. “The grounds crew pulled out some old dying shrubs that were there, and our school facilities lead, April Whitehead, made the process easy. It was very much a team effort.”

Each plant has a reason for being in the garden. Klem and Sobieski-VanDelinder chose five herbs for their medicinal and aromatic qualities. (Rosemary is the fifth herb in addition to the four mentioned above.) If you know anything about fresh herbs, you’ll understand the “aromatic” part of the equation. Each of the herbs also is known or reputed to have other benefits, such as triggering memory (mint), stimulating energy (rosemary) and cooling a sunburn (lavender).

The garden also contains sunflowers and a modified version of the “three sisters” of Native American agriculture: corn, squash and beans. Lima beans are the traditional variety, but this garden includes string beans.

“The corn has really thrived in the plot,” Klem notes. Although the garden isn’t specifically a learning tool, Klem sees educational opportunities in it: “We will use it as an outdoor space for gathering, to learn more about planting, gardening, herbs and agriculture.”

The garden’s contribution to the quality of the physical environment is also meaningful, Sobieski-VanDelinder explains. “It’s important for our mental health. Not only does this garden provide time for relaxing the mind, but it also creates a space for asking questions and positive conversation. It’s a safe space for faculty, staff and students to work together.”

What happens to the garden after harvest — and a typical Buffalo winter? Klem wants to plant another round of the three sisters and is considering adding leafy greens like kale or swiss chard in addition to the perennial herbs. More gardens — including one managed by students — on South Campus are another distinct possibility.

Sobieski-VanDelinder hopes that something she characterizes as a small effort can have a bigger effect beyond the initial intention. “The collaboration between students, faculty and staff to bring a small idea to life will hopefully make a big, long-term impact,” she says.