Barbara Sonderman's love for plants was instilled at a young age. As a girl, she followed her grandpa around his garden as he talked about his corn and tomatoes. "I really loved plants from that time on," Sonderman said. "If he loved them, then I loved them."
Sonderman's friend Stacy James left a birthday poem on her refrigerator in Tucker Greenhouse. To-do lists and old photographs accompany the poem.
However, Sonderman momentarily pushed her gardening hobby aside to attend the University of Missouri. She received a degree in anthropology, only to realize that her true passion remained with plants. After this realization, Sonderman went back to school to receive another degree in horticulture.
Upon graduating in the '80s, Sonderman was offered a job at the University of Missouri. She has been employed by her alma mater ever since.
Although she grew up in St. Louis, Sonderman feels that her roots are in Columbia. After falling in love with the small-town atmosphere and university community, Sonderman purchased land and built her house 20 miles off campus. She has also started a garden on her property. She grows all of her own vegetables in the spring and summer, and has numerous fruit trees, including plum, apple, cherry and peach.
Below, Sonderman describes what it has taken to care for plants after all these years.
In addition to caring for plants, Barbara Sonderman teaches for the Division of Biological Sciences. Sonderman is lucky enough to teach two of her favorite classes from her time at Mizzou, botany and plant systematics. This fall, Sonderman assists with three laboratory sections of general botany. She describes the laboratory as practical, hands-on learning. Students not only draw and dissect plants, but also grow plants for their final projects. Sonderman prides the class on taking students that know nothing about plants, such as Brendan Coolidge, and introducing them to plants systems.
Interacting with her students makes teaching worthwhile for Sonderman. "There are some students that not only get it, but are so excited about it. Your heart soars when somebody likes the same thing you do," says Sonderman.
Barbara Sonderman and Brendan Coolidge discuss his project on Wednesday, November 19, 2014 in Tucker Greenhouse. Coolidge took general botany with Sonderman to fulfill a biological science requirement for his major.
She believes her students are successful because she keeps her classrooms fun and interesting. "If you're not having fun, and you're bored, you're not going to learn as much," says Sonderman.
She claims that if one out the twenty-five students in her class decides, "Wow, I love plants. I think I want to change my major," then she has done her job. Even if they don't change their major, they still have a new appreciation for plants - an appreciation which they can share with Sonderman.
An average day at Tucker Greenhouse begins with Sonderman checking her mail and emails. She usually find that she is being requested to do several things, including setting up tours of the greenhouse. Sonderman hosts all kinds of visitors, from elementary school students to adults.
Barbra Sonderman catches up on emails in her office located in Tucker Greenhouse on Tuesday, November 18, 2014. Sonderman has several plants of her own growing in her office.
After checking her mail, Sonderman begins to water the plants of Tucker Greenhouse. The greenhouse has numerous rooms, and each room has different plants that require differrent amounts of water. For example, the tropical room requires much more moisture than the desert room.
After watering, she trims the plants and pulls off dead leaves. Many of the plants have to be trimmed in order to clear the greenhouse walkways for visitors. Sonderman also sweeps the floors so that all the water and plant remains are out of the way.
Finally, Sonderman searches for insect pests that may be harming the plants. The greenhouse has seen an abundance of mosquitoes this season.
In addition to Tucker Greenhouse, Sonderman also works at the Botany Greenhouse at Research Park. Tucker Greenhouse is used for teaching purposes, whereas Botany Greenhouse is strictly used for research purposes. Sonderman visits Botany Greenhouse a couple times a day to check on her growth chambers.
"I really am very busy, and very rarely do I sit down - and that's good," says Sonderman.