Meet the Downtown Reno Library’s indoor jungle caretaker
The entrance to the library is lined with lush green plants with a web of leaves and branches on either side, reaching the bright skylights above. Leon Lewis has watered the greenery weekly for 20 years.
“I take care of all the plants. Keep them alive,” Lewis said.
Lewis spends the first part of his evening plucking dead, yellow leaves. He also gets plant arranging assignments from library staff, like when plants are blocking their ability to see patrons.
Some plants are growing straight out of the ground, and others are in large suspended salad bowl planters. Vines fall from the walkway above, and an avocado tree stretches 35 feet high. Lewis says he can name about half of the plants.
“Philodendrons. Spider plants hanging up there. Ivy. You’ve got some aloe vera plants. You’ve got some oddballs,” he said.
A September 1965 excerpt from the Reno Evening Gazette, one of the Reno Gazette-Journal’s predecessors, reads, “Patrons of the new Washoe County Library, now under construction in Reno, won’t have to look outside for a botanical view.” The architect, Hewitt C. Wells, said he “put the park inside.” The library was originally supposed to be along the Truckee River, where Wingfield Park is, and it opened in May 1966.
Many of the newer plants have been donated after they’ve become too big for someone’s home. Lewis said some people treat their plants like pets and sometimes come to visit them.
“They want to be able to come in and see [the plant] while it’s here,” Lewis said.
After the library is officially closed in the evening, Lewis waters and mists the plants with the library’s 230-foot hose, and he says it gets pretty humid.
Lewis considers himself an entrepreneur, and he’s run his company, Green Interiors, since the early ‘90s. He’s also an Air Force veteran, and during his life, he’s had many jobs, including working as a bartender and a disk jockey with local schools as some of his DJ clients.
“I could do plants because I had a bunch in my house. So I just thought, ‘Well, let’s just take that out in the world,’ ” Lewis said.
In 2014 the library was named the “coolest internal space” in a nationwide contest. Lewis said job security comes down to keeping the plants looking good.