House plants offer fresh air, community connections
Scott Sindelar, Master Gardener intern, brings international insights to indoor plants.
“Plants are good for your mental state, even house plants,” says Scott Sindelar, who becomes a University of Minnesota Extension Master Gardener volunteer this winter after a year of interning in Scott and Carver Counties.
Par for the season, his favorite house plants are holiday cacti, especially Christmas cactus (Schlumbergera bridgesii).
Sindelar didn’t come to his appreciation of house plants by living in Minnesota, where they are common. (While indoors so much during our long winters we benefit from how house plants provide oxygen—and color—and absorb carbon dioxide.) He lived abroad, working in agricultural trade with the U.S. Department of Agriculture, for a total of 23 years with his wife, Jo, before recently retiring.
Horticulture is, and is not, like magic
It was in China and India that he really came to see the value of gardening indoors. “Beijing and Delhi had a lot of pollution, but an industrialist I met had 4,000 plants in his office building—seven floors of plants,” says Sindelar. “There were days when you could barely breathe outside, but then you would come inside and your mind would just clear like magic.”
While some people do seem to have a green thumb, horticulture is not really magic. It’s about understanding watering, feeding and what to do when there’s a disease or insect pest. Sindelar is absorbing all of that knowledge during his Master Gardener training by University faculty, such as Extension plant pathologists and entomologists.
The magic is in bringing people together
Sindelar’s skills in bringing people together on agriculture and trade—as well as three years as a Peace Corps volunteer—also create a natural volunteer focus for him on bringing diverse people together.
“Community gardens are one way, but indoor plants can bring people together, too,” he says. “Making miniature fairy gardens or geranium-terrariums together in a nursing home, for example.”
As an intern, Sindelar visited a senior living center in Belle Plaine alongside his mentor, Jane Horn, a Master Gardener of 12 years. Having a mentor is an important part of the learning and interning process. Sindelar says Horn was encouraging and supportive and shared her strong technical skills with him on shade and container gardening.
Horn says she has learned from Sindelar, as well, and that he is a natural in connecting with groups whether outdoors or indoors.
“The seniors really liked it when we presented on ‘Gardens around the world,’” says Horn. Sindelar showed his photos of gardens in India and South Africa; Horn showed her photos of the tulips in Holland and ornamentals in Myanmar. Then they asked the residents about any similar plants they grew in their own homes and gardens. “They would try hard to think back and then share their memories with the group,” says Horn.
Sindelar looks forward to the coming years of volunteering in retirement. “There isn’t anything I can think of that I wouldn’t be interested in,” he says. “I’m open to anything that connects us to plants and to each other.”