It was not, Iolanthe McCloud decided after her initial tour of the greenhouses, that Anders Blackburn was incompetent or neglectful. She imagined he had done his best. Simply put, Rocky Mountain International had hired a magizoologist to do a herbologist’s job, and the sorry state of the greenhouses reflected that.
Io couldn’t fathom which headmaster had decided “plants and animals are both living things, they’re similar enough that one professor could teach about both!” As if knowing your dittany from your wormwood qualified a person to delouse a diricawl. Fortunately for that poor decision-maker (no doubt an administrator), Io actually could teach about both. Also fortunately for RMI, Iolanthe hadn’t quite been able to bring herself to apply to the position at Wallowa Mountain Academy. Io had guest-lectured at her alma mater a few times since graduation, but not recently. Despite the fact that she was nearly forty now, there were just enough weird memories of Wallowa and just enough people still there who might deadname her that she decided she’d better look elsewhere.
As each student arrived, Iolanthe greeted each one, introduced herself, asked their name, and directed them to remove their robes. “They’ll only get in the way,” she explained. Io herself was wearing a pair of green overalls atop a floral blouse. Her long hair was pulled back, and a pink bandana held back the little blonde wisps along her hairline that weren’t long enough to go in the ponytail. Io doubted most of her students owned clothes specifically for gardening, but anyone who had made it to at least their fourth year of magizoobotany would either know not to wear something they minded getting dirty to this class or be really good at Cleaning and Repelling Charms. “Go ahead and hang your robes on the welcome willow. It’ll give them back after class.” She indicated the large tree at the head of the row of greenhouses. Its branches reached eagerly out to the students like the arms of a very friendly coatrack.
Growing the welcome willow from sapling to adulthood had been one of Iolanthe’s projects for the month of August. The other was fixing up the greenhouses, which would be more of a yearlong project. Io had started the clearing-out work. One of the greenhouses had been almost entirely grown over with flutterby bushes by the time she got to it. Whatever order her predecessor had intended, the logic was lost on Io. Imagine keeping snargaluffs in the same space as puffapods! Sheer madness!
When the welcome willow was laden with a harvest of silver robes, Iolanthe called the students to attention. “All right, if you’re not here for magizoobotany, it’s time to leave. We’re going to start off with an icebreaker, then get down to it. Circle up! We’re going to go around clockwise, I want you to say your name, pronouns, and favorite plant.” The students already knew each other, but this would give Io a chance to test her memory from the introductions and give her another thing to help her associate names and faces. “I’ll start. I’m Iolanthe McCloud—for you, that’s Professor McCloud under normal circumstances, Io if you’re ever careless enough to get captured by Devil’s Snare or mauled by a hippogriff and need my attention in a hurry—my pronouns are she/her, and my favorite plant is the venomous tentacula.” She turned to the student on her left. “Your turn. Go ahead.”
Once they had been around the circle, Io led the class to Greenhouse 4, trying to cement in her brain that Natalia Carboni liked sage. “This year, we’ll all be working together to develop the greenhouses. Today, we’ll be turning Greenhouse 4 into a poison garden.”
Iolanthe gestured to the array of plants and pots near the greenhouse. In addition to the collection of mundane poisonous plants—hemlock, belladonna, aconite, baneberry, oleander, and a cerbera odollam sapling, to name a few—there were also magical plants, including several venomous tentaculas in various growth stages, snapping snapdragons, and an unruly devil’s snare. Io had also prepared some nice green and purple pots.
“These plants need repotting and placement in the greenhouse,” she instructed. “Each one is tagged according to its light and temperature needs, so pay attention. Work together to group them sensibly. You may need to cast charms to make different areas of the greenhouse reflect different biomes. Don’t put animate plants within reach of each other. And if the introduction did not tip you off to be careful,” Io added, casting a stern look at the group of students, “some of these plants can kill with a single leaf. I have antidotes on hand, in case you’re stupid. Don’t be stupid. Educate yourselves on which parts of these plants are poisonous and how they poison you. And then don’t let that happen.”
When she felt her glare had sunk in, she continued. “We can wrap up early today once all the plants are nicely situated, pending my approval. For homework, I want you to write your proposal for a greenhouse theme, with a sample list of some plants you would like to include in it. The theme can be anything you like, but be sure those plants will grow well together. We’ll vote on the winners as a class and start working on them over the next few months.”
This was going to be one of the best homework assignments of the year, she was sure. Iolanthe had her own ideas for the remaining greenhouses, but she couldn’t wait to see what the students came up with. There had to be better ideas out there than desert. “Well, go ahead and get started. I’ll walk around to answer questions and see if you need any help. Give a shout if you need me. Do not get poisoned.”
[OOC: You all should know the drill. Bonus points for being clever and interesting. Tag Io if you need her, otherwise have fun, aspiring empoisonneurs!]