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Teacher revives greenhouse tradition at PBHS

Staff writer

Maintaining the greenhouse at Peabody-Burns High School has been a schoolwide passion for three decades.

Dusty Larsen and Peabody students constructed the first greenhouse during the 1970s. Gary Jones taught the horticulture class during his 32-year career as a Peabody High School teacher. Duing his tenure, most of the flowers that were multiplied through cuttings were given away to teachers throughout the school.

“My thought used to be everyone is going to be a horticulturalist,” Jones said Jan. 3. “You’re always going to be working with plants.”

The greenhouse was blown down by a windstorm in April 2000 and replaced by a revamped greenhouse in 2002. The first incarnation of the greenhouse was heated with several heaters the size of 5-gallon barrels. Now, the greenhouse runs on a thermostat that automatically cools and warms the plant sanctuary throughout the winter season.

“I’m still amazed we got this thing,” said Jones, who is now a member of the USD 398 school board.

Horticulture continued to be a part of the PBHS curriculum when Ann Leppke was a faculty member for the first time in the early 2000s. Although horticulture was not one of her classes, she helped maintain many of the plants that were spread out in windows throughout the school.

However, in the 2008-09 and 2009-10 school years, Leppke was teaching in the USD 408 school district at Marion Middle and High Schools, and the greenhouse was neglected as administrators were forced to tighten the budget and cut funds for the horticulture program.

When Leppke returned to teach at PBHS this past summer, she found the greenhouse empty and registering a sweltering 150 degrees Fahrenheit.

“I’m a plant fanatic,” Leppke said. “A lot of this stuff comes from my house.”

Remembering the greenhouse’s former glory, she asked teachers who had adopted plants from the greenhouse to bring back those plants. She then talked to residents like Chris Dameron and Verna Mossiman who gave Leppke plants and flowers they were going to let die over winter. Soon, word got around and Leppke was taking rescue projects from all over Peabody.

“I have a hard time telling people no,” Leppke said.

With the work of last semester’s horticulture class — who took cuttings to multiply a mother plants several times — the greenhouse is full of colorful life … almost too full. The workspace available to students has been narrowed to two tables at the front of the greenhouse. Hanging plants dangle from the ceiling like a rainforest canopy; all but one of 10 tables are filled to their edges with potted plants.

“It looks the best I’ve seen in years,” Jones said admiring Leppke’s work Jan. 3.

The majority of the flora in the house are common plants selected for their hardiness, adaptability, and general popularity: geraniums, coleus, ferns, airplane plants, and passion flowers.

“Passion flowers are considered a noxious weed in Hawaii,” Leppke said. “I put together a ‘can’t kill it list,’ of plants you have to totally neglect (to kill).”

However, as the greenhouse collection continues to enlarge, Leppke continues to supply unique plant choices. An example is the crown of thorns, a cactus featuring bright pink flowers bursting from gray stems filled with long, sharp thorns.

About the only plants that have not been successful, have been the aquatic plants in a steal tub in the middle of the greenhouse. Water lilies and reeds continue to grow but are struggling with a lack of direct sunlight.

Although many teachers may end up with plants along their windows, the greenhouse is not as philanthropic as it was in its earlier incarnation. Through FFA, the greenhouse sold poinsettias for Christmas and is planning to sell tulips for Valentine’s Day. With the annual spring sale, — starting April 16 and continuing every Saturday until the end of the school year — Leppke is hoping to unload some of the greenhouse’s stock to Peabody residents.

Through sales and grants, Leppke hopes to raise funds for a hoop house, an unheated greenhouse that can shelter plants in the spring and fall to expand growing seasons. Leppke is also hoping to create a community garden this spring with tomatoes, peppers, and other vegetables. She is working in concert with the Peabody Senior Center and the Peabody Farmer’s Market.

The continued expansion of PBHS’s horticulture program is a testament to Leppke’s love of plants and the greenhouse.

“It’s a great place to be on a cold day,” she said of the greenhouse. “It’s just a nice little oasis to see something bloom in January.”

Leppke is passing that love on to her students. She said many of her students take pride in the greenhouse and will come out during their free time to trim and water plants. Students have picked out plants and are invested in those plants’ survival and growth.

“They’ll get to take a lot of this home,” Leppke said.

For many students in the class of 10 girls, it was their second semester of horticulture. Leppke is trying to develop a horticulture II class, which would give experienced students time on their own in the greenhouse.

The pride of ownership exists outside of school grounds, as well. Leppke said that one student’s mother complained that her heating bill will go up because her daughter pleaded for a warmer temperature to keep a plant alive.

“Over Christmas break, I was freaking out because I was missing the greenhouse,” sophomore Ashley Weems said.

“It makes you feel good when people come in and tell you how good it looks,” junior Amanda Pickens added.

Last modified Jan. 12, 2011

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