McKinley Lettre ’24 (she/her)
Something as mundane as the walk to class on Davidson’s campus can turn to a scenic experience if one simply takes a look around. Flower beds in all different colors adorn the paths. Trees of all varieties stretch their branches towards the sky, providing shade over the lush lawns. The landscaped beauty of campus is something we often take for granted, yet a great deal of work goes into ensuring campus is visually appealing.
Each plant is carefully selected and placed in a location where it will get the proper amount of sunlight and water. Jamie Moore, head of Grounds, helps design plant beds that are both visually appealing and able to withstand changes in climate. He also takes into account the effects that specific plants will have on the terrain.
“Planning and caring for a complex landscape is a long-term strategy,” says Yancey Fouche, Director of Sustainability. The plants that are planted now will affect soil quality and the balance of organisms for decades to come.
Part of planning for the future involves preparing for the next season. Moore describes the landscaping team as “extremely busy year round.” Grounds is currently planting cool season grass that will survive the winter months and reach its peak in the spring. As fall begins, much of their effort goes towards leaf removal. Leaf removal is a lengthy process that involves a combination of bag mowers, leaf blowers, and trucks in order to clear out the large volume of leaf litter. All leaf litter then goes to the farm for composting. Work during the winter months focuses mainly on maintaining existing vegetation and watering grass to keep it healthy during the harsher weather. By spring, Grounds mows Davidson’s many lawns two to three times a week.
One of the top priorities for Davidson’s landscaping is ensuring the campus is ready for graduation. Preparing the landscape for graduation is a complex process that has already begun. Moore recently ordered a shipment of 5,000 red and white tulips from a specialty gardener in Connecticut, which will be planted strategically around campus for the spring. Grounds also pays special attention towards the grass on Chambers Lawn to prepare for heavy traffic during commencement.
Another top priority for the Grounds team is sustainability. “Environmental changes mean that the staff always have to be learning and adapting,” according to Fouche. Changing temperatures, evolving care techniques, and the arrival of new pests and invasive plant species require great flexibility from landscapers in order to be as eco-friendly as possible.
One thing Grounds takes into consideration is water requirements for individual plants. They aim to use the minimum amount of water necessary, and use technology such as tree gators. Tree gators, Moore explains, surround the bed of the tree to capture water, reducing runoff and causing a “slow, intentional soaking” of the roots.
In addition, Grounds focuses on minimizing the use of herbicides. By spot treating problem areas with a concentration of herbicides and water, they reduce water and chemical use. No pesticides are used on campus, which helps protect the health of landscaping staff, students, and the environment.
Landscaping is a laborious and time consuming operation. “We have a very, very big job,” says Moore, “and a small staff to perform it.” Typically, it takes four mowing staff to effectively maintain the lawns of campus, and Grounds only has two. There is a constant juggling of responsibilities, and tricky decisions must be made when prioritizing work.
Yet this labor is worth it, according to Moore. “Our primary mission is to provide the best aesthetics we can for the campus and for the community,” he says. “We look at Davidson as an asset for everyone to enjoy.”