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About this blog

Joe Fearn is Head Groundskeeper at Drury University in Springfield, MO. We writes about reconciling economic, aesthetic, functional, and environmental needs in the landscape.

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Sustainability Tectonics

For any geologists reading this blog, I am not speaking about tectonics from the geology standpoint. I am not going to discuss whether the continents derived from the supercontinent Pangaea, or how plates thrust together to form mountains. For my purposes here, tectonics refers to the widespread impact of something and speaks to the pervasive influence of some factor or affect. Sustainability tectonics (my term) are those inescapable factors that influence an operation or landscape and its ability to achieve sustainability. Note: I am not attempting to define sustainability here. Suffice that we all have a generally similar idea of what it is. If you want more clarification, please peruse some previous TWG blogs. Speaking About Geology I suggest that the main geologic factor influencing sustainability is bedrock. Any grounds professional will attest to the importance of soil towards supporting a healthy and functional landscape. But what makes soil? The bedrock of an area creates the soil we work in. Here in Springfield, MO, our bedrock is Burlington limestone. As a result, our default pH is alkaline. If I want to create a landscape that prefers an acidic environment, I must undertake significant interventions. And those interventions will necessarily be temporary, requiring repeated amendments to be sustainable. It is much easier to take cues from the indigenous flora and plant a landscape that can tolerate higher pH, or plant adapted plants if a nonnative palette is suitable. The limestone for this church on Drury Campus was cut from local bedrock. Climate Springfield, MO. can be a volatile climate. In this respect, we are no different from most places. Our historic extremes are -29F and 113F. However, our average temperatures range from 22F to 90F. Based on these numbers our normal weather is stable, but we can get fluctuations. I tell people that the droughty periods we experience (2012, 2018) and the heat (May 2018 hottest on record) is unusual, but not unheard of. Fortunately, our plants, animals and insects are wonderfully adapted to the Missouri climate. Growing the plants that are adapted to a region doesn’t mean plant it and forget it. Planting with an eye to sustainability means that the plants we grow will require less intervention (resources) based on the prevailing climate of our site. It doesn’t mean that everything will always grow. Nor should we seek to overcome too many impediments to accommodate a landscape. Hydrology The water cycle is yet another monolithic influence on sustainability. Water is one of the essential requirements for plant growth. It is also essential for human life. The aspects of water that are the most challenging to cope with is regularity and scarcity. Regularity means can we obtain water when we need it. Scarcity is asking is there enough water supply to meet all our demands for it. We could start discussing water priority (drinking versus irrigation) but I digress. The main obstacle facing a sustainable water situation is living, or should I say growing, within the natural water budget. Every time an operation uses water that does not fall from the sky or generated on site (springs, catchments, etc.) the goal of sustainability recedes. The sustainable landscape should not receive non-natural water. Succession and Change In nature, every niche is exploited, and change is constant. No matter what condition a landscape is in at a given moment, that landscape is transitioning (growing) something else. Turf must be mowed to maintain it within a narrow tolerance because if eft unmaintained tall fescue will grow to 12 or so inches and then go to seed. Planting beds must be pruned, mulched, weeded and replanted otherwise they become unruly, escape boundaries or change their planting mix. Maintenance all takes place to prevent the landscape from growing into something that is deemed unacceptable. In Springfield, over the course of history, our landscapes were an Oak/Hickory forest dappled by savannah. This matrix of plants and animals is what our ecosystem strives for. If left alone, succession will drive towards this destination despite the disturbed aspect of the urban setting. If left undisturbed, Springfield might revert to savannah like the Union Ridge Conservation Area. Pic credit: nature.mdc.mo.gov Implications Sustainability in the landscape is about aligning what the landscape is, with our maintenance regimes. To the extent that these two objectives differ, is the extent to which we have to invest resources to overcome macro-influences. On a golf course or sports field, the distinct purpose of the field is largely unnatural. Thus, it will be harder to align sustainable operations with the objective of the landscape (many golf courses/sports fields, etc. are successfully pursuing sustainable operations despite the inherent challenge of doing so). On a college campus however, the landscape has more variability in what is expected of it. In this setting the sustainable management of the landscape can be furthered by designing, installing, and maintaining a more natural landscape. The key will be a landscape that pays homage to sustainability tectonics, not persists in opposition to it. Naturalizing plantings unify function and sustainability, but are not suitable to all locations.

Joseph Fearn

Joseph Fearn

Bees provide educational opportunities as well as honey

For all the years I have been the head Groundskeeper at Drury University there has been a honeybee hive in one hollow Mulberry tree in a section of our campus called College Park. The tree happens to be right along a main sidewalk, one that is used by essentially all the 200 or so students that live in those dorms. Several times over the years, the Facilities Department has fielded calls about the bees being a nuisance, or even a safety concern. However, once we have educated the caller, they usually are accepting of staying a little farther from the tree, and once again the beehive becomes inconspicuous.   Bee Coexistence Any Groundskeeper knows that honeybees are about as harmless as any insect can be. Drury University has added hundreds/thousands of native trees, shrubs and flowers over the last 6 years. Despite this density of bee-friendly plants, I can’t think of the last time any of the grounds crew was stung by a bee, and we are constantly IN the plants. The one adjustment we configured on the “Bee Tree” was to cover the original entry point with heavy mesh and drill a hole higher up in the hollow. This arrangement has suited the bees fine. Their entry/exit is about 10’ off the ground. Most of their traffic is now high above the walkway. Drury Grounds also uses its social media to share info about Bees (pollinators in general) and educate people about their benefits plus how to be safe around them.   Honeybees are harmless and generally do not sting unless provoked.   Entering a New Phase I have always thought about having a functional bee hive on campus, but it never seemed to gain traction. There are so many projects and tasks that are higher priority which meant that beekeeping was low on the list of priorities. That changed about a year ago when Drury’s newest Groundskeeper came to the job as a real-world beekeeper in his own time. Groundsman Leroy has about 10 hives at his house and is able to harvest and sell some delicious honey. Finally, his knowledge, the will of our Grounds Crew, and a donation of bee boxes from a faculty member (DU economist Steve Mullins) came together this spring.    Capturing a Swarm Obtaining bees is not easy. Apparently native bees, caught naturally, are more durable and are more likely to be successful as a hive. This is because they have proven tough and adaptable in the environments they live in. Bees are also available for purchase, but our fledgling effort did not have funding. Therefore, we set out to capture a swarm. This April, the Bee Tree split a swarm. We were able to catch the basketball size ball o’ bees and tried several times to settle them into our bee box. Initially, the queen left the hive and settled nearby. It was only later that evening that we found the box empty and the bee-basketball under a nearby bench. Before sunrise the next morning we recaptured the swarm (AND the queen). This time we sealed the hive for 24 hours and used old frames with wax residue on them. Apparently, this helped make the bees feel more inclined to make this box their new home.  Finding a natural swarm of honeybees is very exciting for any beekeeper. Despite our best efforts, this swarm resisted going into our new box. Eventually they were relocated. Quite a Success Story The Drury beehive is a little over 2 months old now. In early July we opened the hive to assess its status and see how things were progressing. We found a healthy, vibrant colony that was doing just what we (and they) wanted. The Queen was laying eggs and filling frames with brood. Some of the brood frames had an arch of honey over them which is exactly what we want to see. The honey super was almost full too. In fact, the honey storage was going so well, we could harvest our first 3 frames of honey. The full frames were replaced with empty ones which will spur the bees to get busy again. The afore-mentioned Dr. Mullins has recently donated another brood box and honey super which we plan to install soon. The health of #DUbees is obvious through the hive itself, and the HONEY! Plans for the Future Our goal for the bee program at Drury University is still being developed. For us on the Grounds Crew our plan is to build the size of this colony this year, and hopefully have enough of a population that we can split the colony next spring. Of course, if the colony naturally sends out a swarm, we will be prepared and hopefully catch it to add to our program. Grounds will also be watching the “bee tree” to see if it will swarm again also. We also plan on having several capture boxes placed around campus in the hope we will catch a random swarm from nearby. Drury Administration has signed off on the bee program and has given preliminary approval to Drury pursuing “Bee Campus” certification. This program is sponsored by BeeCityUSA organization. The BEE Campus program seeks partner universities to raise awareness of pollinators, enhance habitat, and share success stories.    Drury is “Bee”-eautiful Drury University has been pushing habitat improvement for several years to increase species diversity (birds, plants, insects, etc.) and improve the ecologic services our campus can provide (stormwater management, carbon sequestration, air quality improvement, soil protection, etc.). We have pursed these goals through diversification of the planting regime, repopulating the urban forest, managing water use, and decreasing chemical interventions. Our efforts have resulted in improved habitat for a range of organisms both small and large. The humble honeybee is just one of many organisms that are thriving on our campus. Creating a campus that is appealing to bees will ensure that Drury will be appealing to our human visitors as well. Hopefully Drury will be a “sweet” destination also. 

Diversity Abounds...

Several years ago, when I started as the Head Groundskeeper at Drury University, I came into a campus that was one dimensional and lacked meaningful diversity in any terms. The campus was comprised mostly of shade trees and turfgrass. Having recently worked at a municipal Springfield park that was abundantly planted and had been growing in for seven years (post installation), I was taken aback by the stark appearance of the campus. This is not to say it didn't look well-tended or thoughtfully laid out. It just looked plain. While I did note that there was a dearth of flowers and smaller trees, I didn't think of it in terms of diversity. Now, after several years of hard work, I see how beneficial the pursuit of increasing diversity is to a landscape.   Diversity Stabilizes the landscape Diversity (biodiversity, design diversity, management diversity) is an important objective for the landscape. Increasing biodiversity improves the ability of the landscape to respond to environmental changes. If our landscape consists of only one plant, and we get an unusual weather event, an entire population could be wiped out. Biodiversity also prevents one organism from dominating the landscape to the detriment of others. If a pest outbreak occurs, the susceptible target could be decimated, but unsusceptible organisms will not be.   Design and maintenance diversity also prevents our landscapes from becoming monotonous. Design diversity could be as simple as adding native plants to a landscape. Maintenance variation could be changing mow patterns or employing FRAC codes to prevent resistance.   Planting variety helps improve more than just plant biodiversity.   Even in the relatively homogenous landscape (strategically homogenous, (think golf course or sports field) diversity is sought after. Turfgrass blends/mixes are SOP, and aesthetically designed roughs and landscaping amenities are common management principles.   Stratified planting Here at Drury University a means to increasing both biodiversity and design diversity is through stratified planting. Stratified planting means blending large trees, small trees, shrubs, perennial plants/flowers and turf. Within these plant types a mix of deciduous/evergreen is also beneficial. This increase in plant diversity adds habitat for organisms. There are birds that nest closer to the ground and there are others that prefer elevated tree cavities. Stratified plantings also help to provide a variety of food sources for animals and birds. Providing a range of foods promotes biodiversity. Stratified plant arrangements also capture rainfall which benefits the environment by decreasing runoff and cleaning pollutants.   Stratified planting provides layered habitats for different animals and insects.   Plants, plants, and more plants A wide variety of plant diversity is important for maximizing the health and benefits of the landscape. An obvious benefit of plant diversity is a rotation of bloom. The aesthetics of a rotation of bloom is a highly desirable aesthetic feature in the landscape. Perennial plants have lower maintenance impact because they are planted once, and can potentially be divided in the future to be planted elsewhere. Early blooming plants are vital forage when insects and animals are coming out of the winter period to replace spent reserves. Some native plants also have a mutualistic relationship with other organisms (Milkweed/Monarchs is one such widely known relationship). Some plants can also be used to help restore the ecosystem (legumes fix Nitrogen) and a matrix of plants can help decrease water runoff and soil erosion.   Dandelions are an important early-season food source for bees.   Birds and Beasts An indicator of ecosystem health is the prevalence of birds and animals in the landscapes we manage. This is not to say that every landscape must strive to have a menagerie of animals roaming the grounds, but some diversity of animal residents shows you have a healthy ecosystem. On our campus we have groundhogs, skunks, squirrels and rabbits (nothing extraordinary here). We also have a healthy range of birds including a nesting pair of Red-Tail Hawks, nesting Eastern Bluebirds, Kingbirds, Killdeers and Scissortail Flycatchers (again the usual suspects). What is remarkable, though, is that none of these animals and birds were present six years ago. If they were seen on campus, they were only passing through, not calling it home. This is strong diversity for an urban setting. Just this year I saw my first Black Snake on campus and I couldn't be happier.     The Next Steps Improving the ecological health of the Drury University campus is a worthy goal. A landscape that demonstrates diversity in different forms is pleasing to patrons, plus can help support the organizational goal of demonstrating sustainability and environmental commitment. As green-space dwindles, and development changes the appearance of the landscape, managing our grounds as refuge for plants, animals, birds and insects is increasingly vital. Biodiversity is a key component of nature, and should be a key component for Grounds Managers also.   Diversity is essential in the landscape. Who can really say what is the most important species?  

It’s My Baby

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.     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.

Joseph Fearn

Joseph Fearn

 

Amoeba tree rings create interest of their own...

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.

Joseph Fearn

Joseph Fearn

 

How Grounds Makes a Difference

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.   Aesthetics 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.     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...   #GroundsDoesItAll 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.  

Joseph Fearn

Joseph Fearn

 

Orbiting the Giant Hairball...

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?   Takeaway 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.

Joseph Fearn

Joseph Fearn

 

Putting 2017 in the Rear View...

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

Joseph Fearn

Joseph Fearn

 

A Long and Proud Family Tree

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.

Joseph Fearn

Joseph Fearn

 

Moving Beyond Sustainability

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.

Joseph Fearn

Joseph Fearn

 

Build Your Brand to Build Your Value

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!  

Joseph Fearn

Joseph Fearn

 

I Wonder Why? ... Now I know.

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.

Joseph Fearn

Joseph Fearn

 

Keep America Beautiful

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.   2017 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.

Joseph Fearn

Joseph Fearn

 

Sustainable Landscaping Withstands Scrutiny...

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.

Joseph Fearn

Joseph Fearn

 

Keeping Our Water on Campus...

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.

Joseph Fearn

Joseph Fearn

 

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

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)

Joseph Fearn

Joseph Fearn

 

Rest in Peace, Beaver

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 ¼ mile as the crow flies. I don't know how beavers forage, but ¼ 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.     Eulogy 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.  

Joseph Fearn

Joseph Fearn

 

Joe Fearn’s Management Maxims

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.

Joseph Fearn

Joseph Fearn

 

Put a Bow on It...

Another year has come and (nearly) gone. Although we in the green industry are frequently regulated by seasons, the ending of the calendar year provides a significant point to take stock. It strikes me as unusual how I tend to be reflective and look back as December comes to a close. But then PING, it is January 1 and I begin totally looking forward again. On one level this is good because failures of the past year do not persist in bogging me down. On the other hand I may not be evaluating the past year sufficiently in assisting my preparation for the coming year. This year I want to look back on my year and ponder it. What did I experience last year?   Time Flies I once read a short story by Stephen King called My Pretty Pony. In this story, an old man on his deathbed attempts to warn his grandson about how time seems to accelerate as you get older, and how easy it is to let it slip away. Aside from considering I now have teenage kids, and dont jump off the pickup like I used to, I feel time fly. Simply put, there is more I want to do than time in the day allows. February's dormant pruning slides into preemergents, slides into color rotation, slides into irrigation repairs, slides into aerating/overseeding, slides into tree planting, slides into leaf mulching and then comes full circle. Not to mention the myriad chores that just pop up endlessly. We really accomplished a lot on campus, but I wanted to do so much more.   Simply put, there is more I want to do than time in the day allows...   Continuing the Expansion of Landscaping on Campus I came to Drury as a student in 2006 and only started working here in 2011. This dual connection with the University over the past decade has given me a unique perspective to cast judgment on the campus landscaping and to formulate a plan for getting it there. In 2011 Drury basically was trees and grass. Over the past year, Drury Grounds continued installation of new planting beds in several high visibility areas. These 2016 beds built upon a design concept and overall landscape plan that enhances the landscape appeal on campus. It is now more likely that patrons will encounter ornamental landscaping at Drury. Improving the ornamental function of campus helps convey our unique identity to our community. This steady expansion will continue next year too, but will likely slow so we can solidify maintenance improvements on campus also.   Adding new beds on campus add to landscaping appeal.   Tree Campus and ArborDay 2016 marked the second year Drury University was awarded Tree Campus status by the ArborDay Foundation. This was a big deal for us. While trees and golf courses may have a strained relationship, here at DU trees reign supreme. Achieving Tree Campus (1 of only 8 in Missouri) puts us in a special category of universities and demonstrates our commitment to the urban forest.   This certification also plays an important role in integrating Drury Grounds into the larger campus and gives us an opportunity to contribute. Tree Campus tangibly exhibits the ability of our landscape operation to determine a worthy goal and methodically achieve that goal. With all of the responsibilities any grounds crew has in a year, staying focused on the largest goals is rewarding.   MDC Urban Forester awards Tree Campus to Drury University on behalf of ArborDay Foundation   The Human Aspect One area that needed a lot of my attention in 2016 was the human resource aspect of my job. First, Drury Grounds continued to have some turnover in the crew. We were only fully staffed (six crew members) for about two months total. There were new external jobs, an internal transfer, and a graduation that all played a part. Our hiring process can take some time and that also had an impact. Currently we are seeking one new Groundsman, and my length of stay for the others is 2 weeks, 6 months, 9 months, 2 & 8 years respectively. This proved a challenging year in that there was/is ALOT of training that is taking place. These guys all mean well, but, as we all know, there is much knowledge/experience that goes into our jobs. A competent crew takes time.   The other human resource consideration was the arrival of a new DU president, Dr. Tim Cloyd, and his new administration. The arrival of a new president doesnt affect the day to day, but it does affect the big picture. Understandably, and appropriately, the new president has a vision for the University. Dr. Cloyd certainly does. This vision is then passed down channels and it is up to us (Grounds) to carry out our part. The last six months has proven to be exciting and challenging. But this is definitely a good thing because it helped us stay sharp.   I Still Get To Do the Job I Love My biggest reflection is my overall job satisfaction. I still love landscaping. The out of doors, physical work, changing conditions, and the overall pursuit of worthwhile work all come together to give my work purpose. This is no small benefit and certainly worth remembering, again. And last but not least   Happiest Holidays to the extended TurfNet family and thanks for the opportunity to participate! And of course, Happy New Year!   Joe Fearn   Groundskeeping is still a job that allows the crew to have fun while still working hard.

Joseph Fearn

Joseph Fearn

 

Going To See the Doctor...

Let me start right off saying I am not talking about that kind of doctor (a physician). The doctor I am talking about is Dr. Brad Fresenburg, Assistant Extension Professor with University of Missouri Turfgrass Science. While Dr. Fresenburg works in Columbia, MO., he travels extensively as a turf/sports turf expert, Master Gardener lecturer, and pesticide applicator certification instructor.   Brad is a true turf devotee and approaches his job with a real-world perspective. He knows the minutiae of turf management but allows us regular folk to feel more at home with the science of turf management. I always feel more capable after hearing from him and that is the benchmark of a great teacher. He loves to share his knowledge, and that is how I managed to make a trip to see him on his home turf (lol). Visiting MU, I got to see many facets of grounds management at a big time university.   Dr. Brad Fresenburg   The Farm The first thing I saw when I got to the research farm was an incredible array of different grass stands. There was tall plots, short plots, dark green plots, browning plots, weedy plots, and all sorts of in-between plots. The Turfgrass Science program is experimenting with everything here. Once we started driving the area, order was explained. They have 32 K sq. ft. of putting greens built to PGA specs. On these they are testing 20 varieties of creeping bentgrass in 5 x 5 plots on the greens.   They also test wetting agents, chemicals, and fertilizers. In another stand they are testing Zoysia and Bermuda to determine what varieties have the best cold tolerance, and resistance to large patch and Spring Dead Spot, respectively. There is even a disease green that is especially built to exacerbate poor conditions including poor drainage and airflow. Beyond just putting greens many other plots are in National Turfgrass Evaluation Program (NTEP) tests. Plots are regularly inspected and graded to assess how well these grasses perform in the Transition Zone.   Putting green test plots.   Dr. Miller with the Zoysia test plots.   Sports Fields on Campus As a groundskeeper for a university, I have the opportunity to participate in sports turf/field management. At Drury we manage an artificial grass multi use field, a NCAA compliant natural grass baseball field and several turf fields that are used for intramural sports/activities. Because of this aspect of my job I was very excited at the prospect of visiting the MU Tigers sports facilities. As a member of the SEC, MU has the highest standards for its athletic playing fields.   We started at Faurot Field (Memorial Stadium) which is an artificial turf field. I was struck by the visible crowning of the field (not easily discernible from stands or TV), and the quality of the field (3 years old, life expectancy of 5-6). From there we visited the soccer, softball and baseball fields, plus the FOUR practice fields (two used by football). All very impressive with very well maintained turf (Bermuda, newly overseeded with perennial rye). I must say I most enjoyed seeing the new construction of the softball field and the newly installed Barenbrug HGT sod.   Faurot Field   MU softball field construction with Barenbrug HGT sod.   Fresenburg Wisdom Perhaps the best part of the tour was hearing the stream of consciousness commentary from Dr. Fresenburg. Seeing turf through an experts eyes is enlightening. As we drove, I had a chance to ask Brad some questions.   My first was what he felt has had the biggest impact on turf maintenance? His response was all the improvements to turf selections. The improved cultivars we now have in the turf industry allow for improvements in turf quality beyond just what our current cultural practices could achieve.   Information is at our fingertips and sometimes that information comes without clarity or a sense of how to use it...   My next question was how had he changed over the years? His response was the steady increase in confidence due to an increase in knowledge and experiences. He is more confident in his ability to share information and provide guidance.   My last question was what he felt was to be the next big thing? Brad said the ability to share and obtain information rapidly (the internet). Information is at our fingertips and sometimes that information comes without clarity or a sense of how to use it. As experienced grounds managers, many of us can agree with this concern.   A Thoroughly Enjoyable Field Trip Sometimes even necessary field trips are mundane or uninspiring. This was a trip that left me enthused. Seeing the turf research facility, sports fields, main campus, but especially hearing from a renowned turf expert, motivated me. Our work as grounds managers, and the field we all participate in, is remarkable.   My personal favorite, though, was from a sustainability standpoint. I was encouraged when I saw the low input turf test plots. Many of these plots had clover seeded with them (old school approach) and several even had Yarrow. Another area was testing wildflowers and native grasses. Low input vegetation is something that will become more popular in the near future. Turf and Grounds management is a multifaceted craft that blends manual and mental labor in demanding, challenging ways. My visit to Mizzou reminded me of the professional skill and science our field requires.   Low-input turf test plots.

Joseph Fearn

Joseph Fearn

 

Establishing Objectives

One of the most common concepts that contributes to a team's success is to have clear objectives. Clear objectives provide direction and framework for how to proceed in your work. These objectives can be precise, such as increasing the tree canopy or completing your mowing route in "x" number of days. Or they can be broad so as to create context for where your grounds operation will move toward. Here at Drury we have come up with five objectives to guide our work as we strive to fulfill our organizational duties.   Functional Functional in this context means we come alongside the strategic imperatives for Drury University. This primarily means our campus landscaping, and the Grounds team, supports the academics on campus. We have designed several outdoor class areas that students can use instead of staying inside. Students are included in our DU Landscape Advisory Committee, as are faculty. In order to obtain recertification each year as an ArborDay Foundation Tree Campus, we must include students in a program to educate our campus about trees. Our functional objective also includes grounds integrating into the strategic efforts of the university such as enrollment, community involvement, and staff morale.   Aesthetic The aesthetic of the campus has to do with the way the landscape looks to our community. Perhaps more importantly, aesthetics also strongly influences how our community feels when they are here. The aesthetic of a place leaves a lasting impression. On one hand, landscape design is a hugely diverse arena, with as many preferences as there are people. But fortunately there is also a center design perspective which the majority of people resonate with in a positive way. Most of our campus reflects this center. A visitor will not be shocked by most of what they see, but will understand and appreciate our look. A smaller facet that we also want to appeal to is the outlying perspectives. Drury Grounds seeks to create many spaces, however small, that anyone who visits campus might call their own.       Financial Of course no discussion of organizational objectives would be complete with discussing finances. Taking care of a college campus, even a small to midsize one (Drury is 100 acres m/l) can cost a lot of money. There is also usually a clear relationship between budget and quality. While it can make sense to try to get more money for our landscaping, it is not simply a question of funding. Drury Grounds seeks to manage its budget through value, flexibility and cost containment. Value means that we are constantly looking to make wise purchases, protecting long term assets, and expanding in-house capabilities. Flexibility means that we seek to bring our money alongside other departments and efforts in order to achieve a multiplier effect. Cost containment means we shop competitively, only purchase what is necessary, and monitor our budget closely. We also understand that some other areas of campus warrant bigger budget and support these areas efforts too.   Sustainability and Environmentalism The landscaping paradigm is changing. I have seen it firsthand in the nearly 30 years I have been involved in it. Here at Drury this means taking a sustainable approach. We look to improve the ecologic/environmental services our campus contributes for our on campus population, and the Springfield community. As green space diminishes, green areas left become ever more important. Pervious surfaces contribute to water quality. Plants and trees support pollution control and habitat. Increasing species diversity of all organisms delivers ecosystem stability. These sustainability efforts provide a matrix which weaves around our other objectives. The amazing thing about sustainability is that it can underpin and support any landscape objective and can multiply their effects in positive ways.   Native plant rain garden on campus captures all much roof water from low volume rain events.   Outreach and Marketing Our organizations are highly competitive both externally (customers, competitors) and internally (other departments, alternative strategic priorities). Not everyone in our organizations thinks the Grounds is vitally important. Through implementing our first 4 strategic objectives we seek to justify our existence. But we must also share news of our contributions eagerly. Sometimes people may not be aware of all we do, or they simply never get to certain parts of campus to see for themselves. Drury Grounds enthusiastically participates in many campus efforts from Freshmen First Day, Commencement, to Staff Advisory Council. We seek to support efforts throughout campus based on what our community needs rather than on only what is best for us. We utilize communication, including social media, to get our word out. This is not bragging, but simply sharing the good word. It is crucially important that we be good ambassadors for ourselves.   https://www.facebook.com/DruryGrounds/   https://twitter.com/DruryGrounds   https://www.instagram.com/drury_grounds/   Taking Action Creating objectives isn't the only step to successfully managing your grounds. Objectives give you the destination, but not the road map to get there. But you can have a map and no destination. Neither alone will get you where you are going. These objectives are also not etched in stone either. Our grounds organizations must be flexible enough to be influenced by legitimate outside considerations. We don't work on an island. The next step is likely to create benchmarks and criteria that will allow us to determine our achievements. And achievement is what the objectives are all about.

Joseph Fearn

Joseph Fearn

 

Don't Call It Sustainability (the "S" word)

I don't know if it is me, or if there really is a hesitancy by people to adopt sustainable landscaping practices. It could be me, because I preach sustainability, and honestly my message can be fire and brimstone at times. But I also wonder if there isn't a weird kind of sustainability reluctance (sustainability overload perhaps) that turns people away from any landscape called sustainable'. In my 25 years of landscaping, sustainable has meant saving time, money and staff, resources I never had enough of. But even 10 years ago I wouldn't have used the word sustainable. I was just trying to supply value. You see sustainable landscaping is really more about value, rather than anything tree-huggy or save-the-world effort. Let me explain.   Defining Value If you define value as a noun, it means "the importance, worth or usefulness of something". If you define it as a verb, it means "to consider something to be important or beneficial". For the landscape or golf course, both of these definitions fit. Our organizations value the landscape. This is because we play on them, work in them, study in them, and even use the landscape to market our organizations. Landscapes also provide ecological services such as rain water diversion, pollution scrubbing, temperature moderation, and carbon sequestration. Clearly there is a lot to "value" in the landscape. The beauty of these attributes are that they are not mutually exclusive, but are mutually supportive. Kind of an upwards benefit cycle. A landscape that provides value can be sustained. A landscape that does not create value is not sustainable.   Clearly there is a lot to "value" in the landscape. The beauty of these attributes are that they are not mutually exclusive, but are mutually supportive...   Aesthetic Value Landscapes are frequently valued on how they look. A college campus should appear well-kept. This means the landscape contains no overgrown plants, few weeds and no dead bushes. The landscape should also have some plant variety (color) and the design should adhere to accepted landscaping principles (open to broad perspective, a blog in itself!). Likewise, a sports field or course should have uniform turf, be relatively weed free and demonstrate aesthetic maintenance practices. These practices may be limiting pest sign/symptoms and artistic stripe mowing. The aesthetics of the landscape goes a long way in creating value in a patron's minds, and in the perspective of an organizations management. Aesthetic value is the most obvious means by which a landscapes value can be measured, but is also highly subjective to the eye, and requirements, of the beholder.   The aesthetics of the landscape goes a long way in creating value in a patron's minds, and in the perspective of an organizations management...   Functional Value Value can also be found in how the landscapes supports/enhances the organizations goals. On a golf course this is quality golf experience for club members and patrons. It is also a pleasing experience for visitors who possibly come to a course for peripheral offerings such as dining or swimming. Here at Drury our main objective is providing a high quality education for our students. The landscape must create an atmosphere that is pleasing and safe for our community, plus is complementary to the learning environment. Another important function is enhancing the environment/ecology of our campus. The functional landscape markets the organization. It helps create the perception (reality) that solidifies the image the organization seeks to portray.   Financial Value Frequently, financial value trumps all others. Financial value is largely about matching available resources with the desired landscape output. While this value can be measured in dollars, one must also see beyond direct grounds costs. Money spent on grounds cannot be spent elsewhere, and vice versa. I have found that money will flow to areas that create value (not always, but without value, I guarantee the money will dry up eventually). In some instances, revenue can be used to evaluate value, but there is not always a clear relationship between the landscape and its costs/benefits. Financial value may be seen from different perspectives by the Grounds Professional and the organization, but adopting a shared understanding of financial value can be established.   Properly designed beds require less maintenance, but still return value in the right location. This bed could not be placed at the entrance to the Visitors Center.   Sustainable Value In my experience, "sustainable" conjures up an image of wildness, letting the landscape go, or if I am fortunate, a tallgrass prairie. But none of these areas is appropriate for the majority of organizations. Sustainable to me is asking "will the landscape do what I need organizationally if I walk away?" This proposition is significantly more complicated than simply good horticulture, or liquid propane mowers. Sustainability can be hard to sell, but everyone wants value. My task as a Grounds Manager is to acceptably unite the sustainable landscape with organizational value. Because if the organization doesn't value me, I won't have an opportunity to be sustainable.   Landscaping can unite many metrics of value: Aesthetic, Functional and Financial. Even the bike rack and signage convey understanding of sustainable value.

Joseph Fearn

Joseph Fearn

 

What’s Griping Me?

That's it. For this blog I am not going to take the high road. I am not going to say to myself "put yourself in their shoes". I am not going to look to understand the other perspective. I am not going to be a good soldier. This is going to be a vitriolic, hate-spewing, anger-filled, lament of many of the idiotic things I have to put up with as the head groundskeeper at a university. I am looking to vent, and vent big. So, to my fellow groundskeepers, sit back and see if you don't say "been there, done that" while you are reading. In actuality, this blog isn't really going to scorch your ears, but I think you will understand.   Who Is Most Qualified On Campus to Make Grounds Decisions? I know you golf course guys may not love trees, but here at Drury the campus forest is THE THING. It is what our community knows us for. As a diehard treehugger (smile when you say that) I am fine with that. What drives me crazy, though, is when people freak out that a tree needs to be removed. I'm not even sure sometimes how people find out about tree removal plans. Invariably someone will say "I love that tree and it doesn't need to be removed". Like I'm some chainsaw-happy psycho that wants to clear cut campus. If I can safely save a tree I will. And as an ISA Certified Arborist I am obligated to do what is culturally best for the tree. But what do I know?   Maybe this tree DIDN'T need to come down.   Contradictory Mandates All landscaping entails some level of financial investment. The more culture, the higher the price. So less culture should mean less price... but not always. Try eliminating all overseeding of turf and see what happens. You will save money in the short term, but turf quality will drop, and the recovery expense will be significant. The flip side of less resource investment is lower quality, but that isn't tolerable either. So what am I to do? My suggestion is to adapt the landscape quality expectations to financial expenditure expectations. But they rarely match up. Even though you may be a marketing expert, MBA, or perhaps golf pro, your guidance of "just do it" isn't particularly helpful... but what do I know?   Even though you may be a marketing expert, MBA, or perhaps golf pro, your guidance of "just do it" isn't particularly helpful... but what do I know?   Homeowner Supplies for a Commercial Campus When I first got to Drury, the equipment (and tools) left a lot to be desired. Almost everything we had was bent, repaired, missing parts, or just missing. My boss has been very supportive and now when I look around I see some quality names. Stihl power equipment, Bully shovels/rakes (100% Made in The USA, how often do you see that?), Ryan, Felco/Corona, etc. Having equipment that can put up with hard use is essential. Good equipment and systems cost a bit more money.Right now I am trying to supply irrigation to a soccer field with 1" poly and I can only run the system for 8 hours overnight. It is a question of supply and demand that just doesn't add up. Buy a 24" Mac or a custom office chair? Sure! But a booster pump and a commercial grade system (can you say Falcon Rotors?)? Thats too much. But what do I know?   It's Just Grass Many people on campus feel qualified to tell me how to do my job. I get advice from (I hope) well-meaning community members about fertilizer regimes, watering, mowing practices, etc. When the grass is growing rapidly in spring, there are emails about how tall the grass is getting. I try to explain the 1/3 rule, root-to-shoot ratio, the concern with mowing too wet soil, etc. all to no avail. Everyone is an expert. Hey, their grass looks great! I'll tell them that there are DOCTORS who ONLY study turfgrass, and that Ill listen to them (I do). I also suggest when they have mowed a 60 Scag Hydro walk behind, w/ 5 gallon gas tank, DRY in one apartment complex, well talk. Or, when they have green grass five weeks into a drought without irrigation, they can give me advice. But what do I know?   I guess we do need your advice, because we obviously can't grow turf.   My Crew Doesn't Get Off Free  My crew loves to point the finger at me when we don't achieve our objectives. You didn't tell me what to do, you didn't tell me when to finish, etc. Weve heard it all before. Yes, they have been mowing for five years, but they didn't know to check the mow height every time. At this point I ask them a question. When you want to screw off, do you ask my permission? "Hey Joe, after lunch I'm going to screw off for a couple of hours, okay?" No, you just do it. So why do you need me to tell you how to work? When their time sheets are wrong they are nuclear physicists, solving complex problems. But when they need to solve a problem in the field they are morons. (Remember, I'm venting).   I'm sure it's my fault they are not working...   A Trained Monkey Cannot Manage Grounds While based in fact, this post is a little tongue-in-cheek. I love my job. My organization values Grounds and supports us. But our task is not easy. We are, at the end of the day, well trained, high functioning experts. I think I'll walk into a surgery suite, push the doc aside and say "Hey, I think I can do this, I used to watch E.R." How would that go over? Let us pros worry about the grounds. We'll take good care of you.

Joseph Fearn

Joseph Fearn

 

i-Tree Canopy and Drury University Cover Assessment

Drury University covers right at 100 acres in midtown Springfield, Missouri. If I had to summarize what Drury looks like, I would say it is a traditional landscape with primarily traditional architecture. When our community is asked to describe the campus landscape, most people remark on our many trees, and the park-like setting we reside in. Without a doubt, Drury University presents an image of a vibrant landscape that is in harmony with the built environment it resides in. In an effort to truly understand what the cover matrix of our footprint is, we decided to dig deeper than outward appearances.   What is i-Tree Canopy? i-Tree is a suite of software that was developed by the USDA Forest Service. These tools provide state of the art means to analyze the urban/rural forest and assess the benefits these areas provide. There are several tools for planning and monitoring the forest, and they all provide accurate scientific data. For this application we chose i-Tree Canopy. According to i-Tree, Canopy allows users to estimate tree cover and tree benefits for a given area with a random sampling process that lets you easily classify ground cover types. I suggest golf courses could also use canopy to measure greens, fairways, roughs, trees, etc. to determine ratios of those covers.   Canopy allows users to estimate tree cover and tree benefits for a given area with a random sampling process that lets you easily classify ground cover types...   How Does i-Tree Work? To use Canopy, a user determines the area to be assessed and defines a sampling area. This software uses Google Maps and it is very easy to create boundaries in which the sampling will occur. For our plot, we outlined the entire footprint of our campus, even though our property lines can be irregular. One difficulty that may be experienced if your area is large is how close you are able to zoom the interface screen. But this was a minor concern. Once the boundaries are set the user determines cover classes (trees, buildings, etc.) and uploads these into the i-Tree file. Random points are generated and a simple drop down menu allows the user to assign each point a cover class. The more points you sample, the more accurate your assessment becomes.   The heart of Drury campus represents 60% of its footprint and clearly illustrates its different cover classes.   Cover Classes In our assessment I created nine different cover classes. These were: Tree Over Pervious, Tree Over Impervious, Turf, Planting Beds, Roads & Parking Lots, Sidewalks & Plazas, Buildings, Pervious Other, and Impervious Other. These are reasonably self-explanatory but were defined because of our particular campus matrix. Any user can create a self-defined list, or use the standard one provided in Canopy.   Data As of this writing I have plotted 500 points. This quantity gives me a range of statistical error from +/- 0.76 to +/- 1.98. I intend to plot 1000 points total and all of my statistical error should be under one. This may not satisfy MIT researchers, but will definitely suffice for my purposes.      Interpretation As you can see, our largest cover class is roads and lots, representing 26.7% of our campus. Our impervious area is 57.13% when the impervious areas (roads/lots, buildings, sidewalks, impervious other, tree over impervious) are added together. Our tree canopy totals 14.81% and our turf area is 20.6% (this doesn't include turf under trees which is classified as Tree Over Pervious). Planting Bed areas represent only a fraction of the overall campus and significantly less than turf.   Implications I don't have comparative institutions to measure Drury against, but when our biggest component is roads & lots, I don't think that is good. Granted, we are an urban campus, but Drury uses its landscape to sell itself as an aesthetic and sustainable campus. Drury cover matrix is significantly better than the typical mall or shopping center, but likely not as good as the matrix of a golf course, or recreational parks complex. Another benefit of this data is it gives us a point in time as a baseline that we can use to understand future changes. As we continue to develop our campus it will be vital that we determine what we want our mix of cover types to be. 

Joseph Fearn

Joseph Fearn

 

Create market differentiation with the landscape...

Driving through midtown Springfield recently I was struck by how devoid of unique landscaping much of my city is. I was also struck by landscaping that was uniformly boring and in many cases, virtually nonexistent. Yet there was remarkable variety to the architecture of the buildings, and the marquis street signs/billboards were also very unique. These observations made me wonder about how any organization uses the landscape to first support its business, and then how it might help differentiate it from competitors.   Nice building, nice signage, non-descript landscape. This site could look better at no additional cost (redirect maintenance $) and stand out from its competitors.   In sports turf (golf included) it is pretty obvious how the landscape supports the organization. The layout, playability, and maintenance quality all mesh together to make a ball field (course) that people will want to (pay to) play on. But when people can choose from two arenas that are essentially the same on these criteria, differentiation along other metrics can make a difference. But how does this occur?   Support the Brand Branding is a multi-faceted way of telling your customer who and what your business is. Here at Drury University we want to portray our school as having top flight academics, excellent value for the money, and a comprehensive campus life experience that enriches our students. This strategy influences how we manage the landscape on campus. Our landscape manifests a commitment to the brand through the landscape design, reasonable expenditure of funds, integration into education, and providing a safe and pleasing landscape for our community. The way the campus looks reinforces the message that admissions, faculty, and student life seek to portray. An organization that wants to prosper cannot have lack of continuity between stated brand and the actual appearance of the physical site it occupies.   Enhance the Experience No matter why people come to our university, they get the landscape. This is always a risk/reward proposition, because of exposure. Whether a patron comes to your club for dinner or swimming, they see the landscape on the course and at the clubhouse. They see your carts and your crew. How well these highly visible aspects of the landscape mesh with the desired customer experience will either help or harm your organization, and maybe more importantly, your landscaping/maintenance operation. As a service entity within a service entity, the Grounds Department can assist in creating a memorable experience, or at the very least, not help to create a bad experience. Grounds is frequently the first staff encountered by visitors to your site, is frequently asked for directions, and sometimes are even asked to assist carrying packages. If you can help create a meaningful experience for your patrons, they will remember it.   Build Cross Function with other Efforts & Events Closely related to the previous point is supporting the functions that other departments hold on your campus. Drury University has student visits, sports events, alumni homecoming, etc. We regularly will host larger events from local, regional and even national entities. If the Grounds Department can figure a way to make these events special for the patron or department, it will be beneficial to you and your organization. During the lead up to a recent debate tournament attended by people from all over the U.S., Drury Grounds began Tweeting our preparations and that we were glad this group was coming. Prior to a recent wedding on campus, we toured the area with the wedding party to determine what we could provide to be sure they were satisfied with their wedding on campus. These were small steps that likely would have occurred anyway, but including other participants make them feel special and valued.   The entry to Drury Lane projects a different feel than anything else in our area. It also builds upon what will be seen in parts of campus.   Create Something Uniquely Your Own Drury University is in competition with other universities for a customer that is steadily decreasing its population in the U.S., the High School senior. We strive to entice prospective students by showing all that our school has to offer. Invariably, a student compares what they see at Drury with what may be obtained elsewhere, and then chooses which school to attend. In order to compete, DU could invest more resource in its campus Grounds and improve their appearance to be more like Ole Miss, George Mason or Wash. U. But we would still be a pale comparison, because we do not have the cache or prestige of these schools. It is only logical that we create a paradigm that is unique to Drury that students will not find elsewhere. To get people thinking about a unique campus I jokingly say I want to reintroduce Timber Wolves on campus. Drury Grounds is striving to be an aggressively ecologic campus even while maintain traditional landscape areas.   The landscape at Bay Hall is beautiful but likely doesnt create significant differentiation from competitors. even with additional resource investment.   It All Adds Up to Competitive Advantage I know someone is not coming to Drury simply because of the Grounds. If someone wants to go to Vanderbilt, nothing Drury has will likely convince them to come here. But if someone is not strongly attached to a particular choice (golf course) there are factors that can tilt the field in your favor. When certain factors (price, location, availability) are equal, other factors (course quality, friendliness, uniqueness, and customer service) could be the deciding factor. Here at Drury, and more than likely at your site, these are the management factors we can improve on to create a desirable, differentiated product.  

Joseph Fearn

Joseph Fearn

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