Feature Article - July 2011
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Maintenance Series: Grounds

Caring for Growing Places
Grounds—and Their Crews—Require Careful Attention

By Dawn Klingensmith

Aesthetic appeal is critical on college campuses, where first impressions and environmental psychology are deemed important factors for student recruitment and retention. When prospective students and their parents visit a campus for the first time, "If they get the impression you take care of the grounds, they'll see what else you have to offer," said Bob Trevino, supervisor of landscape services at Texas Woman's University in Denton.

"If we can get them to campus, they'll be sold just by walking around the grounds," said Sean Dallas, assistant director of university relations at Kutztown University.

Both colleges received a 2010 Green Star honor award from the Professional Grounds Management Society.

For every park and green space, there will be target dates when grounds managers "want everything to be all lush," including peak growing seasons when crews do their utmost to showcase and enhance nature's pageantry, and peak event seasons when walkathons, sports tournaments and other festivities draw big crowds, Cochran said.

At Kutztown University, the May commencement ceremonies and Opening Day in August are when grounds crews "make sure the campus is at its peak," with or without nature's cooperation, Meeker said. "Those two target dates drive how we structure our entire program."

Meanwhile, though, crews need to make certain paths are kept clean, lawns are mowed and fields are groomed. The key to staying on top of things is making sure no one area gets out of hand.

Again, it all comes down to details.

Cosmetic Appeal

Cochran said for beauty on the cheap, it's not hard to take better advantage of seasonal color: Plant showy annuals and perennials in "strategic places," and a modest space can blossom into a vibrant focal point. Seasonal color can also enhance a place that already has its own merits, making it all the more attractive.

Kutztown University, for example, decorates the Main Street corridor of campus with its "basket program," consisting of 42 hanging baskets that are changed five times a year to introduce seasonal colors and themes. Pansies typically kick off the procession, followed by a variety of bright annuals and trailing vines through the summer. Chrysanthemums bring additional color as the leaves change, and evergreen cuttings and trailing ribbons add a festive touch during winter.

Even when budgets are tight, every outdoor gathering place should have at least one pride point or showcase area. It need not be large or showy, necessarily, but it should be meticulously tended, photogenic and always ready for its close-up.

Texas Woman's University boasts an azalea garden and more than 400 flowering redbud trees. When in bloom, these features "are just a beautiful sight," Trevino said, adding that people from surrounding communities come to capture the fleeting seasonal burst of fuchsia and pink on film.

Even when budgets are tight, every outdoor gathering place should have at least one pride point or showcase area.

The University of Southern California, Los Angeles, is rightfully proud of its Exposition Park Rose Garden, just across the street from the main campus. The park features sports arenas, a natural history museum, a science center and an African-American museum, but its most impressive natural element is the 7-acre rose garden.

Previously, the land had been used for camel, dog and horse races and was the site of a bustling brothel at the turn of the century. Today, it is one of the largest rose gardens in the world, showcasing more than 20,000 rosebushes in 200 different varieties. Besides the plantings, the garden features sculptures and fountains, providing a soothing escape for students seeking a break from their studies.