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.
Another reason groundskeepers are so fervent about their grounds is we know the work that has gone into them. Landscaping a course or campus, and then maintaining it, is no small undertaking. Even at its most basic our work is physically demanding and takes place in frequently challenging environmental conditions.
Grounds men know the work it takes to beautify the landscape.
The tasks and projects we accomplish can be small or large. They may take minutes or weeks. Regardless of the intensity or the particulars of a job, our work builds over time through a continuum. Landscaping is never done, but is a journey that creates experiences either satisfying or stressful. The result is our grounds reflect the magnitude and quality of our investments of knowledge and effort. As groundskeepers we have shepherded our courses and fields over time and cannot help but see the massive determination we have invested.
Travelling a Long Road Together
I came to Drury University as a student in 2006. While working at another position, I happened to meet and talk with a DU professor (who has since moved on). While we were discussing sustainable landscaping and groundskeeping in general, I said working at Drury was exactly the type of job I hoped for. Well, in 2011 I started as the Head Groundskeeper at DU.
This is the first tree i planted at Drury. We have travelled a long way together.
In the years since, we have made many changes to our campus. We have planted hundreds of trees and shrubs, and thousands of flowers and bulbs. We have installed dozens of new flowerbeds through which we have articulated a native, low resource paradigm, even while continuing to maintain a high threshold for aesthetic design. I have now seen many students, faculty, and even groundskeepers come and go. When I think back to the campus that was, I am keenly aware of the long road the campus and I have travelled together.
We Deal With Life
One of the fundamental facets of groundskeeping is that we are managing living organisms and ecosystems. While this factor adds some stress to our work, it also is the source of much of our greatest satisfaction. Regardless of the life form that we tend to, seeing these entities thrive is rewarding. When you consider that grounds managers watch over soil (yes, it is alive), turf, flowers, shrubs, trees, etc. we have a lot to keep healthy.
The life of the campus never ceases to amaze us...
Since our landscapes are also parts of larger systems, we also have impact over animals, insects, streams and lakes. Our cultural management approaches can provide significant health benefits to the parts of the systems. But the greatest potential for satisfaction is the wellness and enjoyment the landscape can impart to our human patrons. Humans are hard-wired to connect with nature, and for many the landscape is a primary opportunity to engage with it.
...the greatest potential for satisfaction is the wellness and enjoyment the landscape can impart to our human patrons.
Thinking Beyond Myself
Here at Drury, our landscape is shared by thousands of people. All of these people have a story, needs, and aspirations. Most often they do not center on the campus grounds (unlike the groundskeeper). But this does not mean that they don't care, or invest in some small way. When a visitor asks a gardening question, or a student relaxes in a shady spot, when anyone appreciates the landscape, they are getting a small taste of what us grounds managers experience nearly all the time. Because for most of the time we love our campuses and are thoroughly attached to them. They are our babies.