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Keeping Up the Grounds

WNMU's new grounds supervisor springs forward.

 

My favorite walk to the WNMU campus is not the pretty route up 10th Street. The steep hill tires me before I reach the Alumni Garden with its pavilion dotted by cottonwoods. Beyond those trees is another incline skirting two chunky medievalish benches that look bereft of king and queen. There, on a pathway shaded by courtly mature conifers, I catch my breath and consider a few buildings of architectural interest: quaint Fleming Hall (housing the WNMU Museum); the best view of the campanile, where it is embellished by an undergrowth of evergreens; and the facade of Miller Library — a site nestled among purple plums and the uplifting "Peace Warrior" sculpture.

garden 1
Purple plums outside WNMU’s Miller Library.
(Photos by Vivian Savitt)

Although the campus' hilly terrain and red-roofed, cream-colored buildings provide some visual continuity, I don't walk by them for architectural appreciation. The newest construction — a hilltop dormitory — is a dead ringer for a Best Western motel. (You'll get a sense of its behemoth scale looking west from Brewster Hill at College and Gold.)

The dormitory's visual assault results in a casualty for the university's icon. The orange tile-roofed campanile — used prominently in campus graphics — is reduced to a paltry celery stick topped by pimento cheese. Architect Frank Lloyd Wright's site-placement dictum — of the hill, not on the hill — has gone abysmally unheeded.

So the reason that I walk at WNMU is the grounds. I enjoy watching seasonal transformation — how the trees and shrubs spread, bloom and change. In this way, I can gauge how my own blue spruce may look in a few years, or the attributes of a Heavenly bamboo (Nandina domestica) hedge.

 

Being the sole keeper of my garden, it is interesting to see how a six-man staff maintains the university's 80 acres. I marvel at the fastidious pruning, weedless beds and dense lawns. I also observe a slew of new plantings using native species and the sensible turn toward xeriscape.

Leith Young, 37, was promoted to WNMU grounds supervisor last October, having been a groundskeeper since 2007. His background includes nurseries in Tucson and Alpine, Ariz.

Young's new position is one of three, including general maintenance and custodial supervisors, that now serve under Stan Peña, facilities director.

garden 2
In the Alumni Garden, cottonwood trees encircle the pavilion, while ash trees brighten the street edge.

Six groundkeepers compose Young's staff — each in charge of all aspects of a specified zone, among them the sports fields. Young's former zone included the stretch of 12th Street from the Early Education Building to the Besse-Forward Global Resources Center.

Young says that Dr. Joe Shepard, WNMU president, supports xeriscape. He also endorses using the school's colors — gold and purple — in the planting palette. Under Shepard's regime, banners and campus directories have appeared. With a growing enrollment, Shepard envisions an area called "Mustang Village" encompassing the new (currently unnamed) dormitory and Muir Heights, the married-student housing.

 

garden 3
WNMU school colors—purple and gold—make an exuberant spring appearance in the form of honey locust “sunburst” and a Mexican purple plum.

Recently, Young picked tree species for the new dormitory grounds, which will include vitex, ash and the aforementioned purple plum. He also reviews plant choices submitted by landscape contractors, and recently rejected Texas Mountain Laurel due to its lack of hardiness in our growing zone — choosing Mexican Redbud instead.

Pending the availability of funds, Young hopes to see more benches and planters added to "people areas" as campus hardscape. Certain hardscape features like fountains can be easily destroyed and are rarely used. The fountain at the Alumni Garden, for example, is turned on only for alumni events.

Other pending projects include the landscaping of Castorena Hall (the administration building) and Centennial Park on West Avenue.

Silver City residents stand to be affected by WNMU banners that proclaim "Transforming the Future Together." Let's hope it's a pretty route.

 

 

 

Southwest Gardener columnist Vivian Savitt gardens at Ditch Cottage in Silver City.

 

 



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