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Joe Fearn: Third Way Green

It’s My Baby

Posted 19 April 2018 · 441 views

There is an episode of Seinfeld where Jerry takes his car to his mechanic for a knocking noise. After the mechanic determines the problem with the car, he tells Jerry the adjustments the car needs in order to operate at its maximum level. Jerry thinks these repairs are overkill and tells the mechanic that he will take the car elsewhere. At this point the mechanic steals the car rather than let it continue to be operated by an owner who does not value it adequately. He rebukes Jerry, "You don't even know your car!" While this isn't exactly the way I see myself regarding the property I care for, it does speak to the deep bond that many groundskeepers form with our landscapes.


Professionally and Conscientiously Bound

Groundskeeping is not a profession many of us got into because of the monetary compensation or the accolades. This in no way prevents us from performing with a deep commitment to excellence. Additionally, some of our professional certifications carry an ethical requirement to do what is best for the environment and our responsibilities. This is no trivial oath. Our self-respect and the respect of our peers requires we do our utmost. 

Many of us have found that groundskeeping provides us an opportunity to play a role that makes a difference. By being dedicated to our landscapes or golf courses, we are fulfilling a drive that seeks to give back to our organizations and communities.  Whether we enhance the happiness of a golfer playing nine, an athlete on a pitch, or a student strolling a campus, we know the work we do is significant.


Sweat Equity

Another reason groundskeepers are so fervent about their grounds is we know the work that has gone into them. Landscaping a course or campus, and then maintaining it, is no small undertaking. Even at its most basic our work is physically demanding and takes place in frequently challenging environmental conditions.


Grounds men know the work it takes to beautify the landscape.


The tasks and projects we accomplish can be small or large. They may take minutes or weeks. Regardless of the intensity or the particulars of a job, our work builds over time through a continuum. Landscaping is never done, but is a journey that creates experiences either satisfying or stressful. The result is our grounds reflect the magnitude and quality of our investments of knowledge and effort. As groundskeepers we have shepherded our courses and fields over time and cannot help but see the massive determination we have invested.


Travelling a Long Road Together

I came to Drury University as a student in 2006. While working at another position, I happened to meet and talk with a DU professor (who has since moved on). While we were discussing sustainable landscaping and groundskeeping in general, I said working at Drury was exactly the type of job I hoped for. Well, in 2011 I started as the Head Groundskeeper at DU.


This is the first tree i planted at Drury. We have travelled a long way together.


In the years since, we have made many changes to our campus. We have planted hundreds of trees and shrubs, and thousands of flowers and bulbs. We have installed dozens of new flowerbeds through which we have articulated a native, low resource paradigm, even while continuing to maintain a high threshold for aesthetic design. I have now seen many students, faculty, and even groundskeepers come and go. When I think back to the campus that was, I am keenly aware of the long road the campus and I have travelled together.


We Deal With Life

One of the fundamental facets of groundskeeping is that we are managing living organisms and ecosystems. While this factor adds some stress to our work, it also is the source of much of our greatest satisfaction. Regardless of the life form that we tend to, seeing these entities thrive is rewarding. When you consider that grounds managers watch over soil (yes, it is alive), turf, flowers, shrubs, trees, etc. we have a lot to keep healthy.


The life of the campus never ceases to amaze us...


Since our landscapes are also parts of larger systems, we also have impact over animals, insects, streams and lakes. Our cultural management approaches can provide significant health benefits to the parts of the systems. But the greatest potential for satisfaction is the wellness and enjoyment the landscape can impart to our human patrons. Humans are hard-wired to connect with nature, and for many the landscape is a primary opportunity to engage with it.


...the greatest potential for satisfaction is the wellness and enjoyment the landscape can impart to our human patrons. 


Thinking Beyond Myself

Here at Drury, our landscape is shared by thousands of people. All of these people have a story, needs, and aspirations. Most often they do not center on the campus grounds (unlike the groundskeeper). But this does not mean that they don't care, or invest in some small way. When a visitor asks a gardening question, or a student relaxes in a shady spot, when anyone appreciates the landscape, they are getting a small taste of what us grounds managers experience nearly all the time. Because for most of the time we love our campuses and are thoroughly attached to them. They are our babies.

Amoeba tree rings create interest of their own...

Posted 15 March 2018 · 577 views

Drury University is known to our community and visitors for our many large shade trees. We have been a Tree Campus since 2014 and take appropriate steps to maintain our campus canopy. This hasn't always been the case however. By assessing the appearance of the trees (cultural signs & symptoms) and evaluating tree age/diversity it is clear that for a period of time our precious trees were somewhat ignored -- and possibly impaired -- by less than optimal management.


One of the most important means to help maintain tree health is by decreasing mechanical damage...


But since 2011 Drury University and Drury Grounds have undertaken a significant effort to help our DU trees rebound. One of the most important means to help maintain tree health is by decreasing mechanical damage. If one looks closely at the root flare zone and surface roots of some of our trees, you can see the sign of repeated mechanical damage. Roots were scalped again and again by mowers set too low. Wounded bark calloused over only to be scalped again. This damage is still apparent on both roots and trunks.



These pictures show repeated mower damage to surface roots and flare zone damage from mowers and/or string-trimmers.


Now we are trying a novel approach. Our crew is using the surface roots to describe interpretative, flowing tree rings to cushion and shield the tree roots. Curves are gentle enough that we can mow with larger equipment. The convolutions help demonstrate how each tree is unique, and helps to highlight the roots, making them aesthetically appealing. The large size of the mulch area provides all the routine benefits of mulch rings (water conservation, soil improvement, weed suppression, and of course mechanical protection) without the boredom that can come from endless circles on campus (after all we have over 1500 trees, if not more). These rings have gotten a good reception, and I must say, we like them too.


Letting each trees unique character dictate the shape of tree rings creates artwork rather than just geometry around some of our champion trees.

How Grounds Makes a Difference

Posted 21 February 2018 · 579 views

In our green industry, the jobs we perform are very diverse. Some of us are Golf Course Superintendents; some are irrigationists, others Sports-Turf Managers, Landscape Designers, and even a Head Groundskeeper or two. Likewise, the organizations we participate in are diverse also. There are commercial and residential, public and private, profit or not-for-profit. Drilling down even deeper, our diverse organizations are comprised of sections or units that all have different specialties, united to create some service or product. Given this segmentation, creating camaraderie and a shared sense of purpose can be challenging. Fortunately, our organizational grounds are well suited to making a difference for all our stakeholders.



I say it is obvious the way in which most of us make a difference for our organizations is aesthetically. Regardless of why we landscape, be it curb appeal, landscape contracting, or to maintain a playable golf course, the appearance of our work is on full display. The appearance of our landscapes says something about our organizations. A well-landscaped campus or course shows we take pride in our roles, and respect the people that will be visiting or playing in the landscape. However, the landscape reaches out also. Even if members of our communities just commute past our sites, our landscapes provide a gift to our neighbors and fellow citizens. A nice landscape can increase property values, decrease crime, and improve the visit-ability of an area. These are positive impacts that go beyond just the 'look' of a campus.


Everyone knows Grounds beautifies, but we can do so much more.


Pollution Mitigation

Drury University is in the urban center of Springfield, Missouri. What a visitor notices when coming to our campus is the way in which the larger landscape changes on our campus. What I mean is the amount of green space significantly increases compared to our neighboring areas. In addition, even for those of you whose landscapes are not in urban areas, I imagine many of your campuses/courses are now surrounded by increasing development of different kinds. Development in any area means that the environmental and ecological role our landscapes play is becoming more significant, and more important to our communities environmental health. Our landscapes decrease stormwater runoff, increase water infiltration and cleaning, remove pollution from the air and sequester CO2. The green space and plants (even expanses of turf) decrease heat island effects and generate oxygen. These are extremely valuable contributions and should be acknowledged and appreciated by our communities.


Community Health

The manner in which our sites improve community health is largely based around pollution mitigation attributes, but goes beyond this aspect also. Our sites and the green space they represent go a long way to improving the mental health and wellness of our communities. Green space (especially complex plantings and ecosystems) have a very positive effect on people's attitudes. Green space is soothing and calming and has been shown to decrease feelings of stress.


Our sites and the green space they represent go a long way to improving the mental health and wellness of our communities...


Another important way that our greenspaces can improve community health is by supporting physical activity. Many of our sites our publicly accessible to some degree and provide very nice environments for walking, jogging and other modes of exercise. Even private locations will frequently allow members to use the locations for recreation. Drury University has several walking courses and welcomes activity from our Drury community and our neighbors. This aspect is a welcome contribution given that other greenspaces may not be accessible.


Strategic Alignment

I suggest that Grounds is unique to any organization in the ability to support organizational strategy. Here at Drury University obviously our primary objective is to provide excellent education at an excellent value. Grounds helps this effort by providing a beautiful, safe, functional landscape within economic constraints. For any campus or course, grounds can align easily with any of the strategic imperatives an organization may have. Marketing, outreach, playability, value, environmentalism are easily supported by the landscapes at our sites. The only limitation that a campus or course has for aligning with strategic objectives is imagination. Grounds Supervisors and Managers will be well served to get to know other department staffs and seek to share their objectives. By supporting broad efforts from elsewhere in our organizations, we can become even more beneficial to our teams.


The only limitation that a campus or course has for aligning with strategic objectives is imagination...

Many Grounds functions align with the overall strategy of our organizations



The truth is that an organization's Grounds Crew touches all aspects of the group. While most stakeholders know about our efforts to beautify our campuses, or improve playability of our courses, they do not always appreciate how diverse a crew can be in supporting our groups. By taking some time to improve communications between parts of our organizations we might all be surprised at where Grounds may pop up and what they might be able to do to support our mutual success.


Our Grounds Crews are eager for ways to support our teams and have the imaginations to do so!

Orbiting the Giant Hairball...

Posted 25 January 2018 · 1,241 views

Several years ago at a previous job, I became mired in a funk. This funk had to do with the politics of my organization, and with how those politics frequently seemed to force me to work in ways that I did not support. This was not a new situation for me. Many people who strive for continual improvement are frustrated by business as usual, and the lack of a team being open to new ways of doing things.


I talked this issue over with a mentor (my brother-in-law, Kevin), and he said he had just the thing I needed to help me see this situation with a fresh perspective. He suggested a book that had helped him over the years when dealing with just this issue. He recommended Orbiting the Giant Hairball; A Corporate Fool's Guide to Surviving with Grace by Gordon MacKenzie.


Gordon Mackenzie's Hairball

Gordon MacKenzie, author of Orbiting the Giant Hairball, worked in the creative department of Hallmark Cards for 30 years. He compares the organization and processes at Hallmark Cards to a giant hairball. When employees participate in this work environment, they become entangled in the hairball.


The problem with a hairball is despite good ideas and excellent effort, any forward momentum is exhausted by the confusion and inertia of this indecipherable tangle ("Corporate Gravity", MacKenzie's term).


The paradox of the hairball is despite your best efforts at untangling it; one far too often is stuck. This is especially true for people who do not fear change, as the hairball is like quicksand as well. The more you fight, the deeper you sink. Even if you do not fight, you are still stuck. One must escape the hairball.


Orbit, Not Entanglement

However, not all aspects of our organizations (hairballs) are detrimental. Our organizations can provide important benefits such as stability, resources, direction and camaraderie.  The key, according to MacKenzie, is to stay close enough to the hairball so you can take advantage of these benefits, but not so close you succumb to its pull and become entangled. Hence the title, and main thrust of the book, Orbiting the Hairball.


Creativity is a vital part of our work processes, but is frequently not valued in the finished product.


Being in orbit is about balancing the pursuit for innovation and being open to change, yet honoring the practices and theories that got our team where we are in the first place. Orbit also has the unique benefit of being a form of sustainability. One can stay in orbit without using a lot of energy. Maintaining the proper orbit requires we resist going too far in either direction where we risk being pulled out of orbit.


Why I Want to Orbit

One of the main satisfactions of my work is the ability to put some of my identity into my job. In fact, one of the greatest motivators for employees in any role is the opportunity to contribute their talents to an effort. But these contributions are too frequently suppressed or hindered by workplaces that don't value ideas from all levels of the organization.


...one of the greatest motivators for employees in any role is the opportunity to contribute their talents to an effort.


In one of the first chapters, MacKenzie visits a school and asks the kids who of them is an artist? The kindergarteners and first graders are all artists, but as the grade level increases, the number of self-professed artists decreases. It seems that our schools, organizations, and places of employment value conformity, rather than "Creative Genius" (Mackenzies term). Orbiting is about exercising enough creativity to stay in orbit, and to resist the pull of Corporate Gravity.


My Favorite Chapter

Chapter 21 in Orbiting is titled A Conference of Angels. In this story, MacKenzie recounts a sales team conference that he attended to help create a new approach. What he observed was a team going through the motions and arriving at the same tired results. After confronting the meeting coordinator, he got permission to intervene in a novel way. Using gongs and candles he had participants relax in a darkened room, centering themselves internally. Using meditative mantra, attendees cleared their minds and entered an open state with infinite possibility. When Mackenzie "awoke" them back into participation, the result was an outpouring of new and provocative ideas on how to improve sales efforts. His approach unlocked the creativity of the team because it displaced the preconceptions and "Corporate Normalcy" that consistently limits inventive consideration. The lesson learned? Looking at problems in new ways and with new parameters can create amazing possibilities.


Who wouldn't like to attend A Conference of Angels?



Orbiting is not about flying beneath the radar, or about being in some netherworld of mediocrity, floating between anarchy and apathy. Orbiting is about finding a location in the organization that allows for maximum creativity and personal investment by team members while still honoring the organizational imperatives required of us as employees. When employees are allowed to contribute authentically, to the greatest extent possible, within particular circumstances, they are more satisfied and productive. We should all be Orbiting the Giant Hairball.


Many of us see ourselves as a Rembrandt and simply need a canvas to paint on.

Putting 2017 in the Rear View...

Posted 30 December 2017 · 1,228 views

Another year has come and almost gone, and like many of you I am taking stock of the past 12 months. Groundskeeping closely follows the clock and calendar, and our jobs are greatly influenced by both of these factors. December (or more broadly, winter) is a viewed by many who care for grounds or the landscape as the end of one period and the start of another. I realize that this is the end of the year for our whole society, but not in the same way as for us in the green industry. The solstice is behind us in North America (apologies to any international friends!), and days will begin lengthening. Our coldest average temps are still to come, but Spring is on its way. I want to look forward, but I also want to close out 2017. What was it all about for Drury Grounds?


2017 was a very good year for Drury Grounds.


The Big Story

The biggest change for Drury Grounds was the adoption of the Drury University Master Plan. When DU President Dr. Cloyd took over in 2016, he stated that a master plan was a top priority. After an appropriate search, DU hired Cooper-Robertson, a consulting group out of New York to oversee the effort. Many charrettes and interviews in summer, including stakeholders and concerned members of the DU community, helped chart the process. In November, the finished product was revealed on campus. While the main plan was rightly built around academic delivery, and the construction this would entail, the campus landscape did get a lot of attention. A framework for the grounds was established. Grounds likely will play a significant role in implementation and we are looking forward to completing our part.



What We Accomplished

Drury Grounds stayed busy in 2017, continuing to positively impact the campus in many ways. Our biggest visible impact on campus was the President's Plaza. This commemorative garden was conceived, designed and installed by the Drury Community and features plaques with all of Drurys presidents.



Another significant event was the awarding of our 3rd annual Tree Campus USA certification from the National Arbor Day Foundation. This acknowledges that DU values its urban forest and is taking appropriate steps to maintain it. We are one of eight Tree Campuses in Missouri and DU is proud of this designation.



Our biggest all-around impact of 2017 was our steady work. This is usually the case for any good grounds operation. Skilled grounds crews are expert at the steady, methodical work that builds over time to make a beautiful campus (or golf course). Drury Grounds installed a number of flower beds in specific areas, and performed two rounds of seasonal color change-outs (spring, fall). We planted at least 32 trees, innumerable shrubs and perennials, and as usual, 1000 spring flowering daffodil bulbs. A side note about daffodils: we have planted 6000 since 2012, and still have a lot of room to grow. Daffs are easy, and always a winner with our customers.



Impacting Our Crew

Two events took place for Drury Grounds in 2017 that will (hopefully) have lasting impact on our success. First, we became fully staffed for the first time in a long time. Our crew is back up to six groundsmen. One new hire in particular is very important. Leroy S. is a retired groundsman from a nearby university, and is a well-rounded student of the turf game. Being able to hire someone with his experience and trade education was a real win. The other two new groundskeepers are inexperienced but eager (as of now). Grounds maintenance is a very demanding profession. Add in the high expectations of Drury University and our position is not a fit for just anyone.


A bigger impact resulted from a course I took on campus in pursuit of my Masters Degree (Leadership & Organizational Change). This class was Comm 605 Organizational Change. It focused on understanding your organizations culture and the role it plays in team success. I learned how to uncover the artifacts, stated beliefs, and unspoken assumptions that guide my team. But the most important thing I learned was that my own beliefs and biases can cloud my ability to see the true culture of my team.


...the most important thing I learned was that my own beliefs and biases can cloud my ability to see the true culture of my team.


I am learning to try to remove my desired beliefs/hopes from my management, letting my team guide us more than previously. We are unifying behind a shared vision, creating more accountability and participation. I urge anyone to dig deeper into learning about organizational culture. I truly believe this will benefit us greatly going forward.


ONE Great Year

2017 was a great year for Drury Grounds, and I hope it was for your organization as well. We accomplished much, had many successes, and overcame some challenges. But it was only one year. 2018 is our focus now and will bring who knows what. All of us hopefully can look back, build on 2017 and have great hope for the 2018


Thanks for your readership in 2017, and my most sincere wishes for Happy and Prosperous New Year to all the TurfNet family.


Drury Grounds Crew at 2017 DU Holiday Meal

A Long and Proud Family Tree

Posted 15 November 2017 · 1,599 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 · 1,414 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 · 8,253 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 · 1,564 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 · 1,811 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.

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