By Julia Key, 2022 UM Journalism and Media Summer Camp

At the heart of the University Center is its atrium, a tropical oasis with calming waters and towering trees. 

The atrium houses a plethora of plants, including at least one from every continent except Antarctica, according to UC groundskeeper and gardens manager Anna Hatcher. There is a Lloral Fig, some Lady Palms and a Buddhist Pine. 

It has Araucaria pines, a Mahogany tree, a Fiddle leaf fig and lots of ferns. The UC is also a home to a few cycads — ancient plants older than the dinosaurs — Hatcher said. 

On Thursday morning, Hatcher was releasing insects into the atrium, a process of controlling the environment of the plants.  

“Wherever you have plants, you’re going to have pest issues, so rather than spraying them with chemicals, we order predator insects that attack the pests,” Hatcher said.

In addition to the expansive collection of plants, the UC features a Koi fish pond that has 2 adult koi fish named Big Boy Pete (formerly Costello) and Hi-Ho Silver as well as three babies named Phil the Phish, Cowboy and Clementine ll. 

While she was working on its bi-monthly upkeep, university student and UC gardener Anja Severtson said the pond serves as a great water source for the atrium’s plants .

“There is a bunch of water in the pond, we don’t want to put it to waste, and fish poop is actually a really good nutrient and fertilizer for the plants,” Severtson said. “So we take all the water from the pond and pour it into the planters to give them fertilizer and water.” 

Hatcher said the atrium provides a calm environment for students to find a quiet and peaceful place to study, eat or just relax. 

“We’re bringing nature closer to people, there are so many people who come here to find peace, and love the sounds of the water and being around all the plants,” Hatcher said.

The atrium and gardens also create an environment for students to learn about horticulture, the study of plants, and work with plants on campus. The atrium currently has two student gardeners who work alongside Hatcher helping with garden upkeep. 

“[A] major benefit here is that you get to take plants home. I make bouquets and clippings and I have a bunch of plants back at home,” says Severtson. 

The atrium benefits more than just UM students though. Behind the UC, lies an outdoor garden where staff grow vegetables and herbs. 

“With  [the outdoor garden] we developed a program where we harvest a bunch of produce from that garden and then process it and give it away to people for free. We try to bring the gardens to people too,” Hatcher said.

Many of the extra vegetables are also donated to the Poverello Center and the Missoula Food Bank.

The UC atrium brings people together and provides a relaxed and calm environment on campus for students to gather. Whether watching the Koi fish, or studying, or listening to the sound of the water, the atrium and gardens have every item on the list.

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