Focus on: Campus Landscaping

| Scene Reporter

Spring at Washington University is indie W.I.L.D., moody rain showers, spontaneous tornadoes, painfully lovely sunshine when finals are around the corner and—most consistently—Wash. U.’s many flowerbeds in bloom. Just how much effort is put into making plants a part of Wash. U.’s aesthetic? Grounds Manager Kent Theiling sat down with Student Life to discuss this often-overlooked part of campus.

“It takes a lot of coordination and effort to make the campus beautiful,” said Theiling, the horticulturist in charge of most of the landscape work done at Wash. U.

According to Theiling, the South 40 Residence Halls, along with the Danforth, North, South and West campuses, are all maintained by a group of around 30 workers from Top Care Lawn Service, the University’s grounds maintenance contractor since 1992. The workers are on a tight schedule from April to November.

“Currently, Top Care is mulching shrub beds, trees, preparing the flower beds and containers for the annual flowers, as well as working on the landscape of Brauer Hall and starting up the irrigation systems,” Theiling said. “Weekly mowing of the grass has begun and trash is picked up on a daily basis.”

Landscape architects are hired by Wash. U. primarily to design landscapes and installations around new buildings, such as the aforementioned recent addition to the School of Engineering, Brauer Hall.

The selection of the rest of the grounds’ greenery is up to Theiling, who manages the landscape renovations, the replacement of those trees that did not survive the first couple of years of planting and the selection of annual flowers. He often opts for burgundies and whites that match the school colors.

At the moment, Top Care workers are busy preparing for the flurry of events that occur in spring, which attract many students and off-campus visitors. These include Thurtene, W.I.L.D. and, most notably, Commencement, before which the company plants new flowers to make the campus look as lovely as possible. This requires a large number of man-hours, especially for such a short period of time.

For years, students have debated the need for campus landscaping, or at least the need for such an abundance of it. The trademark spring tulips, whose planting has raised complaints from students as visible signs of some tuition money’s final resting place, are gone this year due to budget cuts.

Patricia Cheung, a graduate student at the Brown School of Social Work, thinks both the landscaping and tulips are necessary.

“A lot of high school students come during spring,” Cheung said. “It’s important, as superficial as that may sound.”

However, Cheung, who also did her undergraduate work at Wash. U., said she would instead like to see a bigger investment in a somewhat different aspect of landscaping: Wash. U.’s built environment. A greater number of benches, picnic tables and other interactive architecture across campus would encourage the use of Wash. U.’s green spaces. Cheung also desires more sustainable landscaping that would not have to be renovated as frequently.

“As far as the shrubs and trees that we choose, we try and go more for native trees and native shrubs, ones that sustain our weather conditions, that are well established in this region of the country, that can keep up with our hot, dry summers,” Theiling explained. “Pro-native is a very popular topic for many people, not just on campus.”

Given the spring deadlines, it seems that campus landscaping is often most appreciated by prospective students.

Will Childs-Klein, a high school junior interested in Wash. U., commented that landscaping might affect his college choice.

“The green is a big factor. I don’t want a campus that’s brown,” Childs-Klein said. He visited Rice University in October—acknowledging that it was autumn—and felt he liked the feel of Wash. U.’s campus “a lot better.”

“Keep it up,” Childs-Klein suggested in the end, regarding the maintenance work done around the school. Perhaps Wash. U. will remain a hung jury about the value of tulips. But it seems landscaping, in whatever form, is a valuable asset to the campus at large.