Every Sunday from August to the end of November, I attend the 8 a.m. Mass at Christ the King Parish in Kingston, RI, then head over to the East Farms greenhouse, five minutes down the road, to tend pointsettias.
Run by the University of Rhode Island Master Gardener Association, the pointsettia project raises approximately 1,500 plants each season, all donated by four major pointsettia growers. In addition to watering and caring for the plants, our job as members of the greenhouse crew is to monitor the plants’ growth from week to week, noting changes in height and width, watching for pests, and then reporting back to the growers at the end of the season on how well their plants did or didn’t do. This helps them know, from year to year, which varieties will be the easiest and most durable to raise.
There are about 10 of us on the greenhouse crew on any given Sunday (a different team comes in each day of the week), and it takes about an hour and a half to do all the watering, measuring, recording of data, and sweeping the floors clean. We’ve been together as a crew for at least 5 years — some members even longer — and conversations come and go throughout our time there. But mostly it’s quiet work.
For me, coming from Mass, it’s an extension of the communal prayer we’ve shared in liturgy. Caring for the pointsettias is a ritual in itself: you have to lift each plant to feel, by its weight, whether or not it needs to be watered. If the dirt around the base of the plant has shifted, you want to gently move it around the pot — fluffing, it’s called — to give the plant base sufficient soil cover. And you want to notice if there are any bugs on the leaves or fungus in the soil, or if a stem and its leaves are drooping, because those plants will need special treatment. All in all, the work is peaceful and relaxing — sometimes as much as Mass.
Come the first weekend in December, the pointsettias are sold to raise money for the Master Gardener Association. The growers get the results of our research, and the greenhouse shuts down until February, when we begin raising vegetable and ornamental plants for the East Farm Festival in May.
In the communion antiphon for the first Monday in Advent prays, “Come, O Lord, visit us in peace, that we may rejoice before you with a blameless heart. (See Richard Fragomeni, Let Us Adore Him: Daily Reflections for Advent and Christmas.) I’ve found a peaceful place amid the pointsettias in the URI greenhouse; may you find that special place as well in the coming Advent season.
Photo credit: M.C. Kendzia