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Wednesday, December 06, 2023 — Houston, TX

Will Rice will plant

Ivana Hsyung / Thresher

By Nishanka Kuthuru     10/17/23 11:37pm

When wandering through campus, it’s hard not to be captivated by the verdant stretches of lush green grass, the tapestry of trees and even the occasional mushroom sprouting in unexpected corners. But amidst this panorama, there is an absence of vibrant flowers. 

Beginning as a desire to turn overlooked and unused spaces into a green paradise, Alexander Cho, one of Will Rice College’s Eco Reps, has created a thriving native wildflower garden. Cho said his goal is to make Will Rice look more vibrant and lively.

“I was thinking that it would be nice to have a garden at Will Rice by utilizing the few areas where there is full sun throughout the day,” Cho, a Will Rice senior, said.

The flowers that have been sitting around Will Rice were not particularly visually interesting, Cho said.

“Around the Will Rice quad we had asiatic jasmine and liriope, which are good plants because they are resilient, they don’t look ugly and are low maintenance,” Cho said. “[But] for most of the beds, personally speaking, they were flat and a little monotonous.”

Ivana Hsyung, another Will Rice senior involved in the project, also noticed the lackluster bed.

“Initially, it was just all bushes and the little bush area was frequently walked on, so the bed flattened over time in a very obvious area,” Hsyung said.

Another part of Cho’s motivation was the ecological impact of this project, which stemmed from an internship with Mercer Botanical Center, the herbarium collection for the Mercer Botanic Gardens.

“Part of the internship was working with native plants and that was my first exposure to native ecology,” Cho said. “I have really grown into this interest with this project. I care a lot about native Texas biodiversity.”

Drawing inspiration from the Native Plant Society of Texas list of flowers, Cho deliberately chose plants such as purple cornflower, lantana and blue mistflower for Will Rice’s new look.

“I went down the list and looked at the requirements. In the garden we have perennials, which live more than a year, enjoy full sun and don’t require as much water,” Cho said.

While Cho was away for summer break, Hsyung was on the ground in Houston, keeping him up to date.

“I would periodically send him updates every two to three weeks with photos of the garden. We’d communicate back and forth about anything I could potentially do to help with the garden, but honestly, it remained untouched and any problems solved themselves by the time I had time to swing back around,” Hsyung said.

One struggle that the project faced was overestimating the plants’ resilience and figuring out the correct placement for each type of plant. 

“Sometimes the plants just die … but it was definitely a learning process for me,” Cho said.

Regardless of the minor setbacks, Hysung said the garden is now vibrant and full of life.

“Fast forward to today, and it's a thriving little ecosystem,” Hysung said. “We have beautiful flowers as well as many little critter visitors, and it is so cool to be able to take the time to stop for a couple of minutes and just observe wildlife on a microcosmic level.”

Looking ahead, Cho said his next goal is to make the bed Monarch Waystation Certified, allowing it to become a place that provides monarch butterflies with the resources they need to survive and reproduce.

“We have all the requirements, I just have to plant some more milkweed and get all the documentation in and then we'll be good to go,” Cho said.

More broadly, Cho said he wants to incorporate different parts of Texas and Houston climate ecosystems and biodiversity into a garden that is more visible to the students.

“The Harris Gully Natural Area and the Holistic Garden are great areas, but it's easy to kind of segment those areas because they feel far away or like a different area almost,” Cho said. “Next steps would be to incorporate that closer to students, to bring it more into the subconscious through indirect exposure.”

To those who may be inspired by his journey, Cho encourages them to embark on similar endeavors. 

“It is honestly a bit of work, but it is very rewarding,” Cho said. “If people are inclined to do it, you can find spaces in the residential colleges to do it.”

Disclaimer: Ivana Hsyung is the Thresher’s Arts and Entertainment designer.

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