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The school where plants fill the halls 

A janitor at École du Carrefour in Dartmouth has taken Covid as an opportunity to go green—literally.

click to enlarge Sarah Patry stands among the plants she's collected at École du Carrefour in Dartmouth. - NATHALIE ROY
  • Sarah Patry stands among the plants she's collected at École du Carrefour in Dartmouth.
  • Nathalie Roy
Due to Covid, schools and workplaces alike have had to increase sanitization and decrease high-touch surfaces.

“Over the last few months, and even before kids returned back to school, we had to clean out a lot of classrooms, and a lot of teachers had to bring home or move a lot of their personal things, like couches, tables, libraries, toys. Basically, anything that could be shared,” says Sarah Patry.

Patry, who works as a janitor or concierge at the French-speaking
École du Carrefour in Dartmouth, says she was sad to see how bare the school looked. 

“For me, it was a constant reminder of what we’re all living through,” she says. In response, she created a project dubbed “Fill in the Blanks” to replace the removed furniture with plants.

Patry’s own home in Dartmouth is full of plants of all sizes, from cactuses to tropical plants and even freshly propagated sprouts she plans to give away to others. “I got into that because of Covid and I find it very relaxing, very warm, welcoming,” she tells The Coast.

At Carrefour, she’s known as 'the plant lady' and has now been taking donations from family, friends and strangers of plants to put in the school.

“I haven’t entirely counted but I think I have about 50 some odd plants that have been generously donated by incredible strangers around HRM," Patry says. “And I have personally gone to each and every one of them and picked them up from them, so they don’t have to go out of place, or feel uncomfortable taking public transit or just moving from their house.”

Although she takes a lot of plants on the bus—"I imagine I got quite a few looks thinking like, ‘what the hell is this lady doing with so many plants?’”— Patry also gets help from her official plant chauffeuse. “She’s my boyfriend’s mother actually, and she loves to help me come pick up these plants,” she adds.

click to enlarge Patry with her plants at home in Dartmouth. - VICTORIA WALTON
  • Patry with her plants at home in Dartmouth.
  • Victoria Walton
Since school began in September, many students and teachers have gotten inquisitive about the plants.

“I have noticed a little bit of like, behavioural changes in a positive way, where students will just kind of slowly walk up the stairs and take that extra second or minute to admire and take a look at the plants, which I think is really nice,” Patry says.

In fact, Carrefour's plant lady is pleasantly surprised by how much the students respect the plants. “Because they are live plants too, students I feel like they are less inclined to touch them, to kick them, vandalize them,” she adds.

Patry says she waters and tends to all the plants by herself, a big job considering there’s more added to the collection almost every week. “I am tending to them on my personal time, very much aside from work. So I do my work first and when I can I go to my plants,” she says.

And like a true plant parent, she loves them all.

“I can’t really tell you if I have a favourite or not, because plants are like kids, man,” Patry says, laughing. “I love them all equally, they are all unique. Even two of the same plant have different personalities and they’re unique on their own.”

At the end of the school year, Patry plans to sell off the plants to raise money for the school.

“I plan to do this as long as possible, and the better part about all of these plants too, because they are generously donated by people around the area, they do need a new home as well. So students and staff have the opportunity to take these plants if they wish,” says Patry.

As a graduate of the grades 5-8 school herself, Patry says she’s happy to be able to give back and brighten students’ days during the pandemic.

“A lot of kids and staff especially have, they’ve made so many comments how warm and welcoming the school has been since I’ve brought in so many plants,” she says. “And it’s an incredible feeling and that was basically my goal, was to make the place a little bit more warm and welcoming for students and have that healthy distraction, I like to call it.”

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