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Joe Fearn: Third Way Green

A Long and Proud Family Tree

Posted 15 November 2017 · 732 views

I love being the Head Groundskeeper at Drury University. This job is invigorating, challenging, thought provoking, and even most usually, exhausting. Grounds maintenance (and of course golf superintending!) challenges us both mentally and physically.

One of the aspects of my job, and our larger profession, I find fulfilling is the idea that I am participating in a time-honored human endeavor. Much of our work in the green industry has to do with fulfilling some kind of commercial purpose. In addition, though, many of us feel deeply connected to something greater that has to do with ecology, environment, spirituality, and service to our fellow man. A deeper aspect of this redemptive meaning to my job is the idea I am part of a longer continuum. I am not the first DU Groundskeeper, nor am I the last. I am merely the current one.

...many of us feel deeply connected to something greater that has to do with ecology, environment, spirituality, and service to our fellow man.

Someone Prepared the Way for Me

Drury has been at this site since its founding in 1873. There are certainly older campuses around, but we can be proud of our 144 years. The town of Springfield only incorporated in 1838. While 144 years is not a long time in some reckoning, it is still several lifetimes.

I often wonder what the original caretakers for Drury thought when it was first founded. What were they trying to create and maintain? Were they thinking about stewarding the land? Were they wondering what a groundskeeper in 2017 was going to be wondering about them?

I am not the first DU Groundskeeper, nor am I the last. I am merely the current one...

Groundskeeping is a profession that enables us to impact the lives of the people around us. When someone admires the trees on campus that were planted nearly 100 years ago, they become part of this continuum. Someone was caring for these trees when they were young; I owe it to them to do the same for our entire landscape.

I have it easy

The photo of the groundsman with a saw in his hand tells me a lot. First, think of the tools our predecessors had to work with. This man isnt holding a chainsaw. Even if there were chainsaws at the time, they would not have looked like a Stihl trim saw, nor started on the first pull of the recoil starter.

I have watched videos of the loggers working in the Pacific Northwest at the turn of the century. They were definitely the real deal. Could I have measured up? The fellow in the photo also has a Jacob's ladder to climb the tree. No bucket truck or climbing harnesses for this gentleman. I imagine him literally climbing the tree like a kid would do. It is also remarkable that the campus looks more like a woodland/forest glen than our modern campus. The density of planting is unheard of today. I do not necessarily think we are always doing better than these trailblazers did.

Some Things Never Change; Some Do

The photo below shows a groundsman swinging a pick to dig a hole. We don't know the reason for the hole, but it must surely be something important based on the number of people watching him (several are in academic regalia... a sure sign of a big event on a college campus). What has not changed from then until now is how much people like to watch a grounds crew work. I am not going to speculate why they are watching. People love gardening and will watch and chat frequently. Others are curious and watch in order to try to find out what is going on, or learn some tricks of the trade. However, what I find very interesting is the work is being performed while the event is occurring. Nowadays a grounds crew would perform preparations behind the scenes, then the occasion would unfold, followed by the grounds crew breaking down the area. It might speak to how important the role of the grounds crew is that all these dignitaries were watching the work being done.

Brethren. Before and After.

These last photos show two different groundskeepers from Drury University. The first is Dan Fetter, circa 1911. The next is yours truly. Mr. Fetter was known as 'Campus Dan', which certainly sounds like the DU community, cherished him. I like to wonder what he was thinking of at this time in his career, not to mention the Springfield community and the nation. This man had a huge impact on my career as well. I imagine none of the specific plants he tended are still here, but some of our trees are descendants of those he tended. More importantly, his stewardship for the campus has continued to this day. Tending the campus landscape for the future is deeply ingrained in Drury Grounds.

Our job is not fleeting. Nor is the impact we can make on our landscape. We groundskeepers have a long history, playing a vital role for our communities and organizations. By understanding and honoring the past groundskeepers and fulfilling our obligation to those who will follow us, we can become a part of something enduring long after we have left our jobs. This is perhaps the best aspect of what it means to be a groundskeeper.

Moving Beyond Sustainability

Posted 09 October 2017 · 788 views

Sustainability as relates to the landscape is difficult to define. I mostly know what it is, but at the same time I'm not really sure. The word itself seems to ask, "Can my landscape sustain itself?". However, if sustaining is the question, then any landscape that can be perpetuated for whatever reason, and consuming whatever resources required, is necessarily sustainable.

Sustainability also seems to have an ecological component of harmony with the environment. This attribute seems very wise to me as nature everywhere continues to diminish in the face of development. No one can say all perpetual landscapes that are ecological harmonious are sustainable. I suggest sustainability is too vague a context, being fraught with widely held misconceptions that prevent its adoption as the best way to define, design, and manage our landscapes.

Don't Worry What We Call It

A landscape must support the organization in which it resides. If the landscape helps support the strategic imperatives of the organization, and stays within devoted resources, it will be sustainable. But again we are in a predicament. I suggest a landscape must do more than just support its parent entity. Landscapes can, and should, provide the widest reach of benefits possible. This maximizing of benefit does not readily conjure up a single moniker to name it. It is more a paradigm than a designation.

If a bed is functional AND sustainable, can't we just appreciate it?

I have found for a segment of the landscape users here at Drury University, sustainability is reflective of the direction they want to head in. However, I have also found that calling my landscape sustainable is a phrase that elicits a negative framework in some other people's minds. Both of these groups want the most from the landscape. What I name it is not as important as what function the landscape provides.

Function Is Paramount

I once asked someone from the Natural Resources Conservation Service the following question: What landscape can I cultivate that grows in optimal harmony with what my native ecosystem will support? The answer was a Tallgrass Prairie (pre-development Springfield, MO was savannah comprised of Missouri native trees, shrubs, grass and forbs). This answer intrigued me. I loved the thought of a beautifully diverse yet simple landscape requiring very little intervention or resources. There was only one small problem. The park I worked in at the time was a destination for families looking for recreation, and a major spot for civic functions. None of these occurrences could take place in a tallgrass prairie. What is obvious to all Grounds Managers is that the landscape has to function in a way that supports the organization and its mission. If the landscape is not functional, it cannot be sustainable.

...the landscape has to function in a way that supports the organization and its mission. If the landscape is not functional, it cannot be sustainable.

Function Is Not Singular

If someone were to attempt to describe a functional landscape, what words would they use? Here at Drury University there are five main functions that we insist the landscape fulfill:† academically supportive, aesthetically acceptable, environmentally compatible, financially feasible, and supportive of DU outreach. By uniting these goals in the landscape we achieve sustainability. To the extent each of these goals is accomplished is the extent to which our landscaping is successful.

We left this clover in a high visibility area just to feed bees. Function is not singular (aesthetic).

The sustainability of the landscape is compromised when any of these goals are not fairly considered during implementation or ongoing operations. I suggest that just like any natural ecosystem (woodland, wetland, college campus, etc.) a landscape becomes more stable as diversity increases. As diversity decreases (monoculture) the landscape becomes unstable (unsustainable) and necessitates inordinate resource consumption to be maintained.

Note: In some instances, monoculture is appropriate. Sports turf, crop production, etc. are acceptable instances of monoculture, but even here proper culture strives for as much diversity as acceptable (seed blends, crop rotation, cultivars, etc.). We also strive to manage these systems in as "green" a manner as possible. We must think of diversity in terms of function, not only in biologic terms.

Reconciling Sustainability and Function

Now we get to the crux of the issue. Sustainability is not always functional. I cannot put a tallgrass prairie at my admissions building. On the other hand, functional is not always sustainable. Traditional landscapes will require organizations to invest scarce resources that are more pressing elsewhere. This is where the penultimate characteristic of sustainability comes into play: balance.

By maintaining equilibrium between the aspirations of function in our landscape, we create stability...

By maintaining equilibrium between the aspirations of function in our landscape, we create stability. One characteristic enhances, or offsets, another. Where appropriate, native plants decrease resource consumption, which enhances financial feasibility. Aesthetically pleasing traditional landscape, where appropriate, supports the marketing potential (outreach). Just as in a natural system, a landscape becomes unstable when we focus too greatly on one facet (function) of that landscape.

Genius Loci

Genius loci is a Roman philosophy that has to do with the spirit of a place. Landscape architecture utilizes this thought to suggest that the landscape must reflect the context (spirit) of where it resides. We interpret context several ways; the environmental context of an area is bedrock, climate, and life forms of the place. Context is also established in the community that inhabits the place. Also the organization, the finances, etc. Context is created by function, and vice versa. Omitting or short-changing any attributes (context/function) makes it unsustainable. The truly sustainable landscape is one that pays equivalent homage to all the functions required of it.

Sustainable landscapes must blend as many functions as possible. This bed fits the spirit/function of the area it is in.

Build Your Brand to Build Your Value

Posted 30 August 2017 · 1,387 views

Branding is the effort to create a distinct and significant positive awareness of your organization in the mind of your customer or stakeholders. This recognition of your capabilities and contributions can be important to whether or not your operation is seen as benefiting the organization as a whole. Branding is a way that you can you can help to affect the way your image is perceived by the people you work with every day. While your work output/quality is the most important factor to organizational value, it never hurts to work some public relations. And who is better to tell your story than your team itself?

Architecture to Advertising

In 2010 two old buildings on the Drury Campus were razed to create a greenspace. Most of the old construction debris was removed, but some decorative architectural accents were saved. No one had an idea of why they were saved, only that the craftsmanship would be wasted in a landfill. While dreaming what they could be used for on campus, Grounds considered that they could be cut into slabs and used as plaques of some sort. The pieces were cut at a local quarry into 1-inch thick pieces. These pieces have the distinctive shape of the parent piece, and the cutting allows the character of the stone to come through. Several designs have been stenciled into these stones with a sand blaster. Some were too detailed and could not be acceptably produced. We finally settled on a simple design that does the job. These pieces are currently being evaluated by Alumni Development as bonuses for significant donations, amongst other possible uses.

Architectural stone from old building gets new life as branding.

Flags on the Lane

Drury University was founded in 1873. In an effort to pay homage to our longevity and celebrate our history, we every year have a class flag manufactured. These flags are used as backdrops for the stage at events, and are used to line our main thoroughfare (Drury Lane) for graduation processions. Several years ago Grounds decided to put the flags out for other special events on campus. Putting the flags out demonstrates that a particular event is a big deal and that we want to make an occasion of it. We will now put out the flags for Freshmen First Day, our largest sporting events, and special Alumni happenings. This extra effort is well appreciated and never fails to get noticed by attendees. Since someone influential to Grounds is usually in attendance at these events, it is also good press for our crew.


Placing flags around campus for significant events demonstrates commitment to the organization and enhances the brand

Share Your Knowledge

Any Grounds operation has a wealth of knowledge at its disposal regarding any and all facets of landscaping and grounds management. What better way to provide value to stakeholders than by holding a seminar and using in-house experts to teach on a subject. Providing a class not only helps you meet your stakeholders, it also allows them to understand in a meaningful way how professional you are, and the extensive knowledge you have on your subject. We know how specialized we are, but some of our patrons may not. I have never held a seminar where attendees did not leave with added appreciation of the capabilities our crew has, and the knowledge we use on a daily basis. Having professional peers and industry experts present is also a way to demonstrate influence plus professional respect for your team.

I have never held a seminar where attendees did not leave with added appreciation of the capabilities our crew has, and the knowledge we use on a daily basis...

Drury Crimson Crape Myrtle

A couple years back, a well-known and respected employee was leaving Drury to pursue a career elsewhere. I was interested in doing something to thank this employee and wanted it to be an action that would remind him of the Grounds crew. Of course I landed on some sort of plant, especially one that would evoke our campus. I have a professional acquaintance at a local nursery who develops plants for copyrighting and production. He informed me that he had a Crape Myrtle he was developing that would emulate Drury perfectly. My boss acted decisively supporting Drury Grounds by investing in bringing this plant to market. We have since partnered with Greenleaf Nursery and have the Drury Crimson Crape Myrtle in production. Distribution will take place in Spring 2018 and we are hoping it will bring the Drury name to the nation.

Distribution of the Drury Crimson Crapemyrtle is a significant step towards expanding awareness of our brand.

Strong Branding Helps Everyone

This may seem like self-promotion to some. It is to an extent, but what is wrong with that? In my experience, a grounds crew, whether at a golf course or a university, rarely gets acknowledged adequately for what they do. We have to tell our own story. But, be inclusive with your efforts and make sure you really try to benefit more than just the Grounds Crew. Help sell your entire organization. By demonstrating your pride and capabilities in reasonable yet sometimes innovative ways, you will help increase the value grounds has to your organization. More importantly maybe, you will help others value your organization.

Tell Your Story

So let's hear your best branding efforts. Please respond to this blog and share what interesting branding/promotion efforts your group has done. Your suggestions may help your peers on TurfNet. I know Im looking forward to reading them. Thanks!

I Wonder Why? ... Now I know.

Posted 17 July 2017 · 1,003 views

Creating the connection between these two phrases is the hallmark of a great employee. But how does a manager or organization get people that can link these on their own? Is having an inquisitive mind a strength that is in one's DNA, or does the desire to learn need to be instilled in an employee?

The mind is a muscle. Like a muscle, one must use it or lose it. In our industry, not a single day goes by that is not filled with many opportunities to exercise your mind and learn something new. Not everyone is equally disposed to being a learner. But the desire and ability to learn is essential to high performance.

Create a learning environment

As the boss, I set the tempo for my crew. Fortunately I am a lifelong learner. I don't rely on my boss or my organization to continue learning. It is part of my being. Unfortunately not everyone on a crew may want to expand their talents or skills. It is important that the organization create the atmosphere where it is clear that learning is supported.

It is important that the organization create the atmosphere where it is clear that learning is supported.†

Attending seminars and classes (here at Drury University we understandably have many on-campus opportunities to learn), obtaining and maintaining certifications, and even tailgate meetings are just some of the ways learning takes place. By modeling learning, and accommodating learning with policy plus day to day operations, employees begin to see that the organization values their improvement.

Learning Demonstrates Desire to Improve

Years ago as a young groundsman at George Mason University, I was part of a 5 man team using 21 Lawn Boys to mow the President's House. As I mowed my section an image began to assert itself in my mind, but I didn't know what to make of it. At lunch I described my thoughts to my boss. I told him about thinking there were light and dark stripes in the grass of some English manor I recall seeing (where? I don't remember). He explained this was pattern mowing (striping if you will) and why/how it happens. I resumed mowing, trying to stripe, but without much luck (Lawn Boys don't stripe well). I did however strive to improve my mowing from that point onward and now consider myself pretty good at pattern mowing (greens and fairways will certainly help you take your mowing to new heights!).

Striping is a talent that is frequently self-taught.

Learning by Necessity

I remember learning about turf diseases in school. My Turgeon textbook covered most of the common diseases and I also had to study some in order to obtain my pesticide applicator's certification. But seeing pictures, and even worse, reading descriptions, doesn't always prepare one for diagnosing problems in the field for the first time.

Theoretical learning, applied in the field, can result in quality learning.

At one of my jobs I had a turf stand that was starting to look off color, splotchy and had some areas browning out. I imagine many of you are already at the correct diagnosis. But as a new supervisor, the coworker that told me it was due to an unusually lengthy period of overcast weather sounded reasonable. After correctly diagnosing Brown Patch, then having it confirmed with sample testing, I learned a lesson never to be forgotten, nor repeated. Lessons learned through mistakes stick with you.

Lessons learned through mistakes stick with you.

Let Individuals Have Their Head

Learning is best when done in your own way. The points that allow me to understand something are not the same for others. We all learn in our own (extremely?) particular styles. As discussed earlier I learned striping on my own. But many of us have tried to teach striping and it does not always guarantee success. Some people cannot learn the extra skills that make some people top notch mowers (and others like me, just okay).

Pruning is another talent that comes to mind. Some people just see the pruning in their mind before they start. Others cannot seem to match the picture of a well renovated shrub with the final outcome. I try to gauge where a workers talents are, and let them learn in their own way.

Everyone Wants Gardening Advice

Another factor that helps learning is the need to dispense advice. Whenever someone hears we are a groundskeeper or superintendent, a first inquiry will be about growing better turf, or about a plant pest. Just this morning a coworker texted me about Emerald Ash Borer. Being a Certified Arborist I had some familiarity with this pest and was able to provide an appropriate response. I wanted to verify my information so I visited MU Extension website for EAB. My info proved correct, I learned more about the current situation my state is in, and I reinforced my learning as well. All because I was asked a gardening question. Next time someone asks for help, use it as an opportunity to learn.

Visiting frequently with experts pays learning dividends. University of Missouri experts Bob Balek (2nd from L) and Dr. Brad Fresenburg ®, share wisdom with DU Groundsmen Jeremy and Andre (L-R).

Never Stop Learning

Learning keeps my job exciting. I learn when I write this blog, I learn when a reader responds, I learn when I make a mistake, and on and on. If every task of my job was always the same, how unbearable would that be. As groundskeepers we are surrounded by constant change. Conditions change, soil changes, methods change. By embracing the learning that comes with our jobs, we truly are better off.

Keep America Beautiful

Posted 09 June 2017 · 1,108 views

Recently I was asked by a teacher here at Drury University to speak to a class studying the psychology of sustainability. While considering what I would say, I began to question where I came up with my environmental perspective. Turning back the clock in my head my first environmental memory was the early 1970's "Crying Indian"†campaign by the Keep America Beautiful Foundation. I can remember getting choked up by this public service announcement. The image of the American Indian broken-hearted by the litter and pollution our society generated touched me deeply. If you are in my age group, you may have been touched by this ad as well.

Earth Day 1990

In my teenage years and as a young adult, I didn't do anything especially environmentally focused. I didn't litter, but I also didn't recycle, or think about how I might be impacting the environment. It wasn't until getting into groundskeeping that my 'eco focus' was to reemerge. In 1990 I was living in Alexandria, VA and working at George Mason University. 1990 was the 20th†anniversary of the first major organized Earth Day. Living a short distance from Washington D.C. allowed me to go "downtown" to the Mall several times over the years for rallies of different sorts. While the first Earth Day was in 1970, my first was Earth Day +20. It was very powerful to be on the Mall with a massive crowd of 350,000 to draw attention to environmental issues. 27 years removed, I am still struck by this day.


So where am I today? The short answer is it is hard to say. By some measurements, one could say I am part of the problem. I work in an industry that is fueled, grown, and maintained overwhelmingly by petroleum based products (as every industry is). On the other hand, by some measurements I am part of the solution. Drury University has reduced chemical inputs significantly, utilizes almost all organic refuse on campus, and has planted hundreds of trees in urban Springfield, MO over the past five years. The real truth is my eco-impact is a mixed bag. Both personally and professionally I try to be (what I consider that to be) environmentally conscious but it is difficult. I recycle, keep my tires properly inflated, plant natives, and occasionally use public transportation. But is that all there is?

The real truth is my eco-impact is a mixed bag. Both personally and professionally I try to be (what I consider that to be) environmentally conscious but it is difficult...

It's Complicated

When you ask someone a difficult question, one that if answered honestly may indicate that someone might not have taken the smartest, or most ethical route, that person may attempt to muddy the water by saying "it's complicated". That's how I feel about my approach to sustainability. From a strictly environmental/sustainability standpoint, a typical modern landscape provides nowhere near the ecologic services that a natural ecosystem does (oak/hickory forest, savanna, wetland, etc.). But from a commercial or organizational standpoint, most people don't want to do business, or go to school, in a tallgrass prairie. So what the grounds manager ends up with is two opposing, and competing, imperatives. Introducing all the subtleties of stakeholders between these two ends adds to the complication.

Organizations will dictate conditions that result in drastically different landscapes. The landscape must meet those demands in "the greenest way possible" Above,†Sunderland Intramural Sports Field. Below, Parking Lot 7 detention basin.

Eyes on the Prize

Reconciling environmentalism and acceptable landscaping can take many different guises. The proper answer for some sites may very well look like a wholly natural site. For other places it may look like just an average yard. The particular landscape isn't as important as the underlying objective of being as "green" as possible, in as many parts of your landscape operation as your organization allows. The key here is that becoming more environmentally compatible -- the context work processes are evaluated by -- can be the ultimate objective. When an operation removes the rigid demand of pursuing environmentalism and replaces it with a gentler yet still prevalent environmental outlook, voluntary compliance in many possible forms flourishes. This 'eyes on the prize' approach works better because a green attitude becomes woven into all aspects of the job.

Pragmatic, Not Dogmatic

I understand, and share, the passion of environmental movement. I firmly believe that by pursuing the greenest approach to all of our grounds management tasks we are being good stewards of the earth, and good stewards of our organization's objectives. What I don't agree with is the knee-jerk beliefs from the extremes on both sides of these issues as to how to move forward. It is better to incorporate the best ideas from everywhere in order to achieve the best results for our landscapes as a whole.

Smith Residence Hall naturalizing project. The greenest approach would be to reintroduce meadow. However, we wouldn't try that in front of administrative buildings.

Sustainable Landscaping Withstands Scrutiny...

Posted 01 May 2017 · 1,201 views

Sustainable landscaping isnt about mowers that burn liquid propane, efficient irrigation systems, compost teas, or even native plants. While all of these efforts, and others like them, are steps along a continuum moving towards sustainability, they will all ultimately fall short of the goal of real sustainability. Sustainability is not a superficial strategy that can be implemented by taking a few small steps. Sustainability is a complex web of interactions that reflect the ability of man and nature to coexist in harmony.†

True sustainability is a zero sum game. This is the truth with all functional (sustainable) systems (ecosystems). Inputs must balance outputs. One could say the quantity of resources invested in a landscape (cost) can be balanced against what we get out of it (benefit). Too frequently the modern landscape defines cost and benefit too narrowly. Money is the predominant metric the landscape is measured by. Sustainable landscapes take an expansive view of cost/benefit terms. The desired attributes of a landscape force us to look more broadly at the landscape. When we ask for more from our landscape is when sustainability really begins to meet our needs.

Too frequently the modern landscape defines cost and benefit too narrowly. Money is the predominant metric the landscape is measured by...

Sustainable landscapes must be aesthetically pleasing, supportive of organizational objectives, environmentally compatible, financially feasible, horticulturally achievable, and self-perpetuating to the greatest extent possible. Blending these aspirations is challenging for the landscape. Pursuing one or two of these at a time is difficult enough, but to create a sustainable landscaping matrix these objectives must all be pursued equally. Diversity of landscaping goals provides resiliency. If any one area is struggling, the other benefits carry the load until all facets recover. This is a hallmark of sustainability.

Sustainable landscapes come in many forms but must fit the organization's image

Sustainable landscaping is about a systems change, not about implementing a particular policy or landscaping process. Sustainable landscapes are not "wild" but parts of them may appear that way. Why is there resistance to a landscape that moves in a new design direction? Our current landscape paradigm is not etched in stone. What is in vogue at one time may be out of favor soon enough. The sustainable landscape responds to determinant conditions appropriately. Natural factors like geology, indigenous plants/animals/insects, climate, must mesh with non-natural factors such as organizational purpose, financial investment, image, municipal codes, etc. The typical modern landscape does not respond to all of these factors.

DU President's House: Sustainable landscapes do not have to look "wild" or "weedy"

I want to stress that I do not equate sustainable with "out-of-control". I also do not only equate sustainable with "natural". These mistaken concepts of sustainable landscaping are some of the reasons true sustainability isnt more common. Landscaping is inherently based in living organisms where the consequences of life, pro and con, are sometimes chaotic. Sustainable landscaping uses a deliberate planning methodology to respond to that chaos. The sustainable landscape is in synchronicity with the complex factors listed earlier to the fullest extent. The landscape must be conceived, installed, and maintained in cooperation with organizational and ecosystem needs. Sustainable landscaping reconciles the diverse needs of man and nature, cost and benefit, in a broadly functional creation.

Keeping Our Water on Campus...

Posted 04 April 2017 · 927 views

Water, when it takes the form of rain and stormwater runoff, is both a blessing and a curse. It is a blessing when it irrigates our courses and landscapes, fills our ponds and replenishes groundwater levels. It is a curse when it washes away mulch beds or bunker sand, creates erosion damage, or overwhelms the ability of drain ways to move it out of our landscapes. Which of these consequences it ends up creating is to some extent up to us as Grounds Managers. Creating plans and methods for dealing with stormwater goes a long way to diminishing potential problems, and can help our landscapes get the most out of this most precious commodity.

Start Where the Water Is

Drury Grounds begins managing its stormwater right where it starts to amass on campus. The built environment, topography, and vegetation matrix all have a role in steering water to certain spaces. It is in these collection areas that we have the easiest time controlling where our water will stay, or go next. If we think it should stay at a particular location we have to ask in what manner, and how will it look/function. Small ponds or swales can hold water for short periods and the community understands them readily. Larger collections may need some accommodations (fencing, aeration) and may even need permitting. Determining when to move water is its own process and can be a little more complicated.

Small pools can be located near water source and are easy to install.

If You Need to Move Water Somewhere, Move It Close

This can be tricky. Here at Drury we have a relatively small campus (100+ acres). If the areas where we hold water overflow, we must accommodate and facilitate moving it nearby. Unfortunately for us this usually is into the public stormwater gutters and ditches. But not always. Our biggest rain garden project creates a series of bermed pools that accept overflow from the previous pool. By overlapping crescent shaped ponds we pack a lot of detention into a small space. In a rectangular area of approx. 5K sq. ft., almost all of that area is comprised of detention. The additional benefit of this approach is it didnt require heavy machinery or significant money investment. As a rule, water entering a drain is discharged as close by as possible in an area that allows infiltration.

Move water to nearby areas to allow infiltration.

Interrupt the Water as Many Times as Possible

Water sometimes dictates where it wants to go due to the same physical constraints listed earlier. While water movement in nature alternates between cutting (channelizing) and filling (deposition), these processes need open space to function. Water on our campus gets one path to travel. Limited space does not allow us to utilize large areas for slowing or storing water. In the past, water engineers wanted to get water away as fast as possible using pipes and concrete culverts speeding waters movement. Both of these factors (space/speed) eliminates water that rests in one location to infiltrate or drop contaminants.

Different media slow water before it enters the drain.

Our rationale takes the slow, spread, soak approach. We will use berms/swales, mock gabions, steppes, and of course vegetation (even turf can slow water down!) to create obstacles to water movement. The slower water moves, the less damage it can make, and more soaks in. Sometimes sedimentation can be a concern. This is actually a good thing as solids can be easily removed and can sometimes make a good soil to be used in other projects. Sediment soil can also make good repair material for berms right where it is generated.

Divert Your Gutters

Gutters on the sides of roads are used by most areas as a means to convey water to drains. Normally when storm water hits a gutter it is a one way trip. Here at Drury we have installed several diverters in parking lot gutters that push water into catchments for detention. These catchments are engineered to have maximum detention and percolation. The plants and substrate actually remediates stormwater by allowing large solids to drop out of water when water velocity drops, and through phytoremediation by plants. Physical constraints upstream prevent treatment close to where rainfall initially pools, but guttering moves water effectively to treatment locations. Another benefit is because gutters are installed all over campus already, the movement of water is much less expensive than new construction would be.

Water in the gutter is diverted into a catch basin.

Peripheral Benefits

Water conservation is good press for a grounds operation. These efforts indicate environmental stewardship and create strong partnerships throughout communities. Water conservation efforts can result in additional aesthetic features or interesting design that visitors and patrons appreciate. Water can add plant and organism diversity to a landscape which may help stabilize the landscapes ecologic function. And of course preventing water damage or reusing water saves a lot of money. But ultimately keeping water in our landscapes is about protecting a precious resource that we simply cannot live without.

Water Conservation on Campus: A Tale of Irrigation and Slow, Spread, Soak

Posted 08 March 2017 · 868 views

As of February 28, 64% of the State of Missouri is in the moderate drought category according to the U.S. Drought Monitor. This is up from 50% the week before, and as of this writing the remainder of the state was in the abnormally dry category.

By contrast, California, which had been in a several years-long drought, is now declining in all drought categories. 75% of the state is not rated at all and even the stubborn droughty areas of Southern California are getting moisture. In fact, many areas are now concerned they will not be able to manage any more rain heading into the rainy season. This unpredictable variability regarding water, in an industry heavily reliant on water, demonstrates the need to wisely manage and conserve water at all times.

Irrigation Challenges

When I arrived at Drury University the Grounds Department was faced with the following obstacles in our campus irrigation:

  • Poorly designed, installed, maintained systems
  • Poor communication of water needs for landscape health
  • Lack of monitoring of natural rainfall timing and amounts
  • Poor cycle planning and regular adjustments
  • No desire for water conservation

The main cause for this situation was a lack of adequate irrigation knowledge and responsibility by the in-house staff, and the contractors that installed systems. If either of these parties had fulfilled their professional duties, these challenges could have been avoided.

For most of the readers of TurfNet, the high level of understanding regarding irrigation theory and application decreases these difficulties, but they still do occur. Over the last five years Drury Grounds has taken many steps to increase the effectiveness and efficiency of our irrigation systems. Our approach has been:

  • Appropriate cultural practices (mowing height/frequency, soil health, IPM)
  • Understanding of appropriate irrigation to promote plant health (E/T)
  • Retrofitting of systems to deliver adequate water (coverage, pressure, volume)
  • Retrofitting of systems to maximize system efficiency (smart controllers, sensors, efficient heads & nozzles)
  • Culture of conservation
  • Willingness to eliminate irrigation if appropriate with organizational strategy

We aren't doing anything amazing. But what we are doing is working. Our usage has continued to decline while our overall satisfaction with the landscape continues to increase. My point is that irrigation effectiveness is vital and will promote peripheral landscape benefits as a result. But the pursuit of landscape benefits does not necessarily lead to irrigation conservation.

Stormwater on Campus

Rainfall and stormwater on our campus (courses) is another issue we all face. While we don't have to push up sand in bunkers after a heavy rain, we are still faced with many challenges due to stormwater. These are:

  • City of Springfield MS4 permit †(EPA term for stormwater runoff)
  • Speed with which water moves off campus
  • Erosion and damage
  • Increase infiltration on campus
  • Treatment of water on site (pollution prevention)
  • Budget allotments, competing financial pressures
  • Slow, Spread, Soak

Existing water issues need functional correction that meshes with the landscape.

Managing stormwater in (on) the landscape is rarely a priority to an organization if consequences are contained in the landscape. But when the water damages infrastructure, there is increased organizational demand to correct it. But dealing with water before it causes damage is the best, and most cost effective, method of management. To do just this Drury Grounds has endeavored to use the following efforts:

  • Go to where the problem is
  • Take advantage of what water wants to do
  • Keep water on campus
  • Slow, Spread Soak
  • Resource allocation Big Project/Small Project
  • Permission?
  • $$$$$$$$$

Water problems should be viewed as opportunities for increasing Slow, Spread, Soak. The answer here is a rain garden... not a drain.

Managing stormwater on campus is a win/win effort for our grounds operation. First, it demonstrates our commitment, in a very proactive way, to our University's infrastructure. Dealing with stormwater BEFORE it can create damage is financial stewardship at its best. Next, it is great public relations. Water conservation is always good press. Our efforts in this area show we are concerned with our organization and our community. For an industry that can sometimes be under environmental scrutiny, this goodwill pays dividends.

In conclusion

Water is a valuable resource to both the Grounds manager and the community at large. If we compete for this commodity, then no one wins. Good water management creates allies. When Drury University keeps rainfall on campus it benefits our landscape, but also decreases the amount of water that goes into the sanitary sewers or stormwater system. Nothing written here should be new to grounds Managers. What this blog should do is support water conservation by our industry. When, not if, we face water shortages, it is in our best interest to be seen as a conservation partner, not simply consumers. The best time for water conservation is always.

(This is a strategic blog in support of water conservation. My next blog will be tactical, discussing how Drury University manages stormwater on campus)

Rest in Peace, Beaver

Posted 13 February 2017 · 980 views

Here at Drury University we are very interested in supporting the ecology of our area. This effort is challenging in our urban setting. Regardless, it is an effort we see as critical. We install native plants and trees that appeal to pollinators, and act as food sources to the local insects, birds and animals. We evaluate the surrounding neighborhoods and see where we might build larger sections of habitat by creating green corridors. Over the five years I have been here I have seen the results of our efforts. We now see increasing diversity and populations of pollinators, birds and animals.

But I never expected to see a beaver (unfortunately, a dead one) on campus.

A Beaver? Really?

Tuesday, February 7, I was contacted on Drury Grounds Twitter about a dead beaver near campus. The Tweet asked if I had seen this animal and included a picture of the dead beaver. I replied I hadn't, but asked where it was. The response said in a road that runs directly adjacent to campus. What was a beaver carcass doing in downtown Springfield? While working at a nearby park for Springfield/Greene County Parkboard I had seen one beaver in a boxed-in creek. But that was seven years ago and nearly half a mile away. Our closest running water to where this beaver was found is ľ mile as the crow flies. I don't know how beavers forage, but ľ mile doesn't seem too far, if the setting is natural. Our setting is not heavy urban, but it doesn't scream beaver habitat either. Regardless, there was a dead beaver in the road.

Strange roadkill for downtown Springfield, Missouri.

We Did What We Always Do

In the Grounds Management field dead animals are a regular, if infrequent occurrence. I hadn't thought about the carcass again until Wednesday morning. Central facilities got a call concerning the dead animal. I dispatched our Trash Steward to pick it up and discard it in a dumpster. While this unusual incident made some buzz in the Facilities department, the story could have ended there... but it didn't.

Central facilities got a call concerning the dead animal. I dispatched our Trash Steward to pick it up and discard it in a dumpster...

Spirit of the Bear

I must honestly say that I hold spheres of knowledge I believe is factual but that I don't really know is accurate. My beliefs regarding Native American culture is one of those spheres. I believe Native American Indians lived in harmony with nature. They took what they needed, wasted little to no resources as they used them, and didn't disrupt their environment too heavily. In total, they stepped lightly on the land. They also held nature in high regard. So the teeth and claws of a Grizzly Bear would be an honored and cherished talisman for an Indian and would be passed through generations. When animals gave of themselves for the tribe, they would be appreciated and their spirits revered. The tribe honored the spirit of the bear. I believe this is true without exactly knowing where this knowledge came from.

Spirit of the Beaver, Honorable Burial

I also believe in the mysticism of nature. There is a power to it. I don't define it too rigidly for myself, so I will not argue how any of you readers choose to define it, or not define it. Nature indicates some higher power. I also believe all living things have inherent importance. I was therefore not surprised when I woke up Thursday morning at 4:40 am with the clear conviction that we should have buried the beaver on campus. My fear as I headed to work was that the dumpster holding the beaver had already been tipped. It hadn't. There was a layer of new trash over the bagged carcass, but it was still there. I wondered about a force at work? We began looking for a place to perform the burial.

Nature indicates some higher power. I also believe all living things have inherent importance.†

There is an area on campus where we have begun a tree planting effort we call saturation-planting. Our goal is to confront our community with a density of young trees that draws attention to lack of small trees elsewhere on our campus, and in our community. We are talking a lot of trees in a smallish space. This area, we figured, would be the most like what a natural beaver habitat would be. We dug deep, lined the hole with wood chips and buried the beaver body. We did not wrap it as we want the soil system to reclaim what it should. As in all of nature, death will support life.


Nature and Man don't always coexist in harmony. I am under no illusion that man's needs will sometimes (frequently) not supersede natures. Often I agree with this one sidedness. But I also believe deeply in the idea that opportunities for co-existence and co-habitation abound. Many opportunities for mutuality are discounted out of hand, diminished by competing priorities, or simply never dreamed of in the first place.

Posting about this story on Facebook got 2,884 views as of this writing. All the comments were positive. I think it is safe to say that there is a sentiment in our area (nation?) that values animals and nature. Many people see that by helping people, and other living creatures, we are also helping ourselves. Nearly all Groundskeepers I have met have a strong nature-supporting ethic. Burying this beaver was our way of demonstrating that.

Joe Fearnís Management Maxims

Posted 17 January 2017 · 1,296 views

Being a successful operation is about making pieces work effectively together. One of those pieces are the relationships in a team. The relationships are created by the principles that guide our work. These relationships might be task related, timing related, hierarchically related, and are usually contextual. Context is fluid, and requires a framework that can give it meaning and logical structure. Because while some work may be accomplished in chaos, achieving specific objectives is challenging in chaos. Pursuit of a goal denotes unity of purpose. It is for this reason that over the years I have come up with several maxims that help to articulate context and shared belief to my crew. I would like to share a few and let you try them on for fit.

When at work, be at work

This may seem obvious. Honestly speaking though, I occasionally will find myself performing tasks or passing the time in ways that are not really getting me farther down my grounds management road. Catching up on a coworker's news, getting a second (or third) cup of coffee, or looking for that long lost mulch kit baffle will eat up time but is not work. I think back to a comic strip that was posted in our grounds shop at George Mason University. The punch line was "It seems it has taken me a particularly long time to get nothing done today". Committing to stay productive doing something accomplishes much even if it is not the biggest priority.

...while some work may be accomplished in chaos, achieving specific objectives is challenging in chaos."

You achieve what it is you want to achieve

I believe that I have a good grasp of what my crew can reasonably accomplish. We (the crew and I) will also sit down to develop priorities and review the rationale of those priorities. Therefore it is frustrating to me when things do not get accomplished. What I'll tell my crew is something was accomplished, just not the something we were pursuing. Instead of doing what we agreed, or what they were told to do, a competing objective took place. This competing objective was also done with the active participation of the crew. So my belief is that if they wanted to do the work that needed done, they were perfectly empowered to do so. It also occasionally demonstrates a purposeful willingness of the crew to put their priorities first. What you (I) really want to accomplish will likely get done. Make sure it is what was planned.

There are many different ways to achieve a happy, productive crew.

You cannot define/dictate what I believe

Work in a grounds crew cannot be judged from only one vantage point or perspective. Occasionally when calling a crew member to task, we will disagree on what is happening. If my crew member says he is doing his job, he might very well be doing it based on his judgement, but not according to mine. I am sometimes told I am not considering all information available. This is sometimes true. But the crew must extend me the same respect and consider that their point of view may be the erroneous one. Making a decision unilaterally can lead to conflict, but it cuts both ways.

I'll be as eager to pursue your objectives as you are to pursue mine

As the head groundskeeper my job is to set objectives and determine the best way to achieve them. I try very hard to consider both the spoken, and unspoken, needs/preferences of my crew when doing so. What I don't get to do is unilaterally dictate all that is undertaken during each minute of the day. To attempt to do so would certainly create more resentment than it is worth. So I try to give my crew enough leeway so they do not feel they work in a prison nor can't exercise any freewill. Problems will arise when they err too far pursuing what they want, without adequate consideration of what I want. Maintaining some modicum of fairness goes a long way to maintaining morale and productivity.

Problems will arise when they err too far pursuing what they want, without adequate consideration of what I want...

Internal locus of control... external standard for success

This is one of my bottom lines. I decide whether I am successful or not. I can't put the responsibility for any failures on anyone else. My boss doesn't make me fail, or succeed. I can persevere no matter the situation and attempt to turn circumstances to my favor. I also can't unilaterally declare that I am successfully performing my job. My boss (organization) gets some say in what success looks like. If the people around me aren't getting their needs met, or have legitimate expectations that aren't met, it is up to me to strive to understand that. Another way to say this maxim is "I decide to meet your needs".

Good management helps us instill pride in our operation.

Success requires shared understanding

The grounds crew at Drury is not a dictatorship. Sometimes I think it might be easier for me if it were, but I know I couldn't work in one. I am extended significant leeway to do what I think is best, and I want to extend that same level of freedom to my team. That is not the same in any way as compromising principles or expectations. The compromises I make are on allowing the team (organization) to have input into creating successes, not simply in doing the work. This shared understanding (responsibility), resulting from my management maxims, makes us a more effective, and happier, crew.

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