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Ghent university library is holiday home for student plants

© Vadim Kaipov for Unsplash

If you go down in the woods today, it may not be the woods at all; it may be the library of the Ghent university Faculty of Philosophy and Letters.

The reason: Covid-19.

Backtrack: During the epidemic of Covid-19, many students were confined to quarters because of health regulations. Even within student accommodation, young people were restricted to their rooms, especially after it became clear that students at the College of Europe in Bruges were facing fines for having a few drinks with other members of the same hall of residence.

So presumably some students turned to plants, and took refuge in a minimal occupation with horticulture.

But the end of perhaps the worst year ever in recent academic history has now come to an end, and while any student with any sense will be fleeing their university surroundings, many have grown attached – so to speak – to their plants, and didn’t want to leave them to wither and die.

And here is where the library stepped in: the staff there will continue to work over the vacation, in the main for the sake of those students of letters and philosophy who failed to pass their exams and now must resit in September.

So the library offered to take in students’ plants over the summer. “We’ll take care of the plants as well as possible,” the invitation said. “We’re now planning to put plants in the library ourselves.”

However they may have underestimated demand, librarian Paul Buschmann said.

“We were a bit afraid that the students would not really take up our offer, but it has turned out to be a great success!”

The library is now home to more than 100 plants, of many varieties.

“They are mainly robust plants, which can withstand a knock or two,” Buschmann said.

Most of them arrived in particularly good condition. Although we do see a plant here and there with a kind of ‘post-traumatic kot disorder’, which we now have to coax back to health. Fortunately, there is a garden centre in Merelbeke that has volunteered to help.”

However foster care can only go so far. The collection includes two carnivorous plants, of the Venus fly-trap variety.

“But it is not yet clear to us whether we should catch flies to give to those plants. According to the owner, it would be enough to give them some water now and then,” Buschmann told VRT radio.

It is sometimes said that you have to talk to plants in order to keep them healthy, but that is of course not desirable in a library,” he said. “A library is of course an oasis of silence and tranquillity, so when we talk to the plants it will be in a whisper.”