The Purpose Behind the Plants

Screeching bus brakes, frantic students walking and a strong West Texas wind fill the outer perimeter of 3340 Main Street. Step inside the Texas Tech University Horticulture Gardens and Greenhouse Complex, to a quiet hideaway for students and professors to connect to the soil.

In this space, the university’s Department of Plant and Soil Science cultivates plants and a place for peace inside a three-acre horticultural garden and 20,000 square feet of greenhouse. Welcoming around 500 students a week, the gardens are primarily used as a teaching tool for on-campus students. The site also serves as a resource for public education and the local community for photography sessions, small events and wedding ceremonies. 

Vikram Baliga, Ph.D., is the greenhouse manager and serves as a liaison for research and teaching that support greenhouse activities. In addition, he is responsible for the cultural management of the gardens and teaches horticulture courses while maintaining the greenhouse facilities. 

“We have started to try to curate this space as a place where people can come, get ideas for the landscape and spend some time outdoors around plants,” Baliga said. “It’s a common study space and lunch space.” 

Along with teaching, sowing good deeds is one of the department’s primary goals. To that end, the gardens and greenhouse now focus on being a resource to the student body and the community. 

“We encourage folks who are out here, if it’s not specifically being used for a class or for research, to harvest and take tomatoes, peppers, okra or whatever else we’re growing with them,” Baliga said.

Besides providing nutrition for students and garden visitors, the gardens and greenhouse serve as an asset for several classes within the department. When tomatoes ripen, student workers harvest and distribute them for educational and nutritional purposes. When grapes are ready to harvest, students pick the fruit from the vine to be used for demonstrations in classes such as the science of wine and introductory winemaking. As student workers serve the greenhouse and garden, the area provides for students, professors and community members tenfold. 

“We feel pretty strongly to be a resource as much as we can, even if it’s a small source of nutrition and food for our campus community.”

Hunter Rankin, an agricultural communications student at Texas Tech, spent substantial time in the gardens and greenhouse in a plant and soil science lab. Watching her seedlings grow into plants as she grew comfortable in Lubbock, Texas, Rankin found the gardens to be a place of serenity deep within a chaotic college campus. 

“For a freshman, it was a nice escape from the number of people everywhere else,” Rankin said. “I grew up in a small town, so coming to Texas Tech was a big change for me, and the lab was so small it was refreshing to be able to sit down with 14 others and just be able to work.”

The Department of Plant and Soil Science continues to provide knowledge, nutrients and a harmonious atmosphere to Texas Tech students through the Horticulture Gardens and Greenhouse Complex.