Yano’s apartment currently smells of cinnamon. The culprit is a plant disease, which caused the leaves of some of her plants to turn browner and more yellow every day. “I was worried and – this may sound a little dramatic, but still – actually kind of sad. Was I doing something wrong? There were tiny little flies and fungi in the soil, which eat roots.”

Motherly instinct

A Facebook group provided some answers. “Sprinkling cinnamon on the soil will kill the fungi. I sprinkled quite a bit of it, to make sure the plants survive the winter.”

The policy officer did so because plants are not merely decorative to her, even though that’s how they started when she first moved into in her new apartment in Amsterdam late last year. “The house was empty and bare, and then on top of that, we had to start working from home. Plants offered the perfect atmosphere I needed to be able to do my work from home.” Once she had the plants, something happened. “My mother instinct switched into gear. I really wanted to look after something.”


She ordered a surprise box from a garden centre. The company came up with a ‘sob story’ about all garden centres having to close, so they were calling on people to rescue plants by ordering them for their own homes. “I thought: why not? Before I knew it, I had fifteen to twenty plants in my home. They were small, but over the course of nine months they turned the place green.”

By now she has nearly fifty plants, spread across an apartment measuring just over fifty square metres. They are all over the place, as we see when she shows us her apartment on Zoom. Four potted plants hang from the high ceiling in the living room. Her windowsill is full of cuttings, and two step ladders serve as decorative planters, with plants sitting on every step.

She tells us what she likes about living with so many plants. “You get to look after something, but it’s not as big a deal as having a dog or a cat. They’re quite resilient. You can forget to water them, and they’ll live, anyway.” As for the succulents, they’re a souvenir for Yano. “They remind me of the tropical environment of Florida, where I grew up.”


Last month, Yano became a project manager at UNIC, a project established under the university’s strategy document as drawn up in 2019. UNIC is a collaborative partnership between eight universities situated in post-industrial cities (such as Rotterdam), designed to promote the exchange of students, academics and support staff. “Cities can learn a lot from each other. Just take digitisation in the port. A lot of people will lose their jobs because of it. How best to retrain those employees? Other countries have already learned a lot about that, and we could definitely do with that knowledge.”

Since she is a new employee, she misses coffee chats and is finding it hard to get to know Rotterdam and its inhabitants. “I hope to be able to do that next year.” Other than that, she finds herself quite able to work from home. “And it obviously helps that I have my plants.”

She checks in with her plants every morning (“very mindful”). She does not have a regular watering schedule or fixed day of the week on which she waters her plants. “They don’t know which day of the week it is. I check every day how they’re doing and touch the soil to see if they need water. It’s nice to have a morning ritual like that. A new leaf can make your day.”


She has a pro tip in closing: “Make one person in your household responsible for feeding the plants, or they will get too much. Although I have to admit that I got that wrong even on my own when I first started. The most important lesson is: if you love them, leave them.”