Landscaping and grounds staff impact UA’s natural environment

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Year-round, University of Alabama facilities and grounds employees work to create and maintain Capstone’s lush landscape.

From the blooming flowerbeds that surround the various building entrances to the vibrant green grass and picturesque trees that cover the Quad, the landscape around campus attracts tourists and students alike. Southern Living highlighted it as one of “The most beautiful colleges in the South.”

The University of Alabama was named United States Campus Tree for the seventh consecutive year.

The facilities and grounds department was ranked the 1st Department of Lands among 100 universities across the country and even received an award for effective and innovative practices of Association of Physical Plant Administrators.

“We have over 12,000 trees, so it’s important to take care of our trees and be recognized year after year,” said Bryant Anderson, grounds department manager.

With more than 50 species trees, the University is home to some that have been here for over 100 years. Oaks and magnolias are the most common, while Chinese pistachios are the rarest, gifted by the Queen of England in the mid-1800s.

According to Arbor Day Foundation, having a campus dedicated to cultivating an environment with many trees, flowers and plants can help absorb carbon dioxide from the atmosphere, reduce the amounts of energy used on campus, provide benefits for the mental health to students and staff and to encourage physical activity.

Josie Gillette is a freshman majoring in Spanish and Economics who previously worked at a state park and currently volunteers at local parks near Tuscaloosa. She said green spaces and outdoor spaces attracted her when she considered dating Alabama. As a runner, she likes that the University has a large campus.

“I’ve heard so much from other students about how consistently green grass makes them happy on a tough day, it certainly rings true for me too,” Gillette said.

In a 2019 study, researchers from the American Psychological Association have found that contact with nature is linked to increased happiness and well-being and decreased mental distress. Additionally, it has been shown to promote positive social interactions and meaning and purpose in life.

Anderson has worked for the University for 11 years. As Director of Grounds, he oversees more than 100 grounds staff, ranging from managers, gardeners, irrigation technicians, and garbage truck and street sweeper operators, to tree trimmers and landscapers. .

The department has grown as the campus expands, but Anderson said the biggest challenge his team faces is taking care of such a large area of ​​land. There are only 70 gardeners responsible for tending about 1,500 acres.

In spring and summer, the campus grows and changes rapidly; whether it’s removing weeds or maintaining flowers, there’s always work to be done.

Although it may seem less lively in the winter when the trees shed their leaves and the flowers fade, the campus comes alive as the season shifts to spring.

Alabama has a hot, humid climate that creates problems when it comes to keeping grass green, keeping flowers alive, and keeping tall trees adequately watered. It can be difficult for gardeners to pay attention to all areas in the summer with so much land to cover.

“The biggest challenge is keeping it looking the same week to week and month to month,” Anderson said.

Employees work from 6 a.m. to 2:30 p.m. During football season, they can work up to a month at a time because match days require intensive cleaning on Saturdays and Sundays.

“We’ve put so much work on campus, and it only takes one game of football to see where it’s been beaten,” Anderson said. “It all comes back to that bigger picture. It’s for the good of the University, for the good of Tuscaloosa, just so people can come and have fun.

There is a strategic landscape plan in place for the department to ensure a standard for the style of landscaping and groundworks.

“We’ve created a standard that’s a bit like Nick Saban football,” Anderson said. “All of our leaders expect the campus to look like this all the time. There’s a little extra pressure on us to make sure we maintain that standard.

Anderson said his job requires trust between him and his employees.

“One hundred and four people are dedicated to taking care of the campus and making it safe and beautiful for all of you,” Anderson said. “[Students] are the reason we are here. It’s about making the campus beautiful for students, families, faculty, and staff.

Hannah Shedd, a freshman majoring in environmental science, said the large outdoor space and overall campus vibe caught her eye and was important in her decision to go to college.

“UA stood out for me because it didn’t feel urban, and I believe that’s due to the many outdoor spaces on campus,” Shedd said.

Kim Byram, Associate Director of the Grounds Department, has seen the campus grow and change during her 11 years at the university. He is responsible for six people who are responsible for laying the sod, planting the trees, and assisting with flowering, fertilizing, and using herbicides.

Byram encourages students to appreciate the hard work of his department seen by that department when they come to class.

“Enjoy it while you are here. You get caught up doing the things you want to do and you miss the forest for the trees themselves,” Byram said. “And it’s a pun.”

At a landscaping conference he attended, Byram learned how other schools are better managing their organic waste, something he hopes to see soon at the University of Alabama.

When it comes to being eco-friendly, Byram said they could always do more.

“I hope to use less water. We can reduce water use, but that could mean the landscape at certain times may not be as beautiful, so there is a catch,” Byram said.

This story was published in the environmental edition. See the full issue here.

Questions? Email the Culture Office at [email protected].

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