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Joseph Fearn

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    Drury University
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    Springfield, Missouri
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    Reconciliation landscaping, ecological restoration, innovative landscape design, beautiful turf, healthy soil. Drury Panthers Athletics.

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  1. A Note on COVID19 The Coronavirus is impacting all of us in different ways and on a massive scale. Our deepest condolences go out to any and all that are struggling with this virus and the heart wrenching consequences of it. We appreciate the incredible dedication of the healthcare workers and others doing their best to provide for our communities. As members of the Facilities Department at Drury University the Grounds Crew qualifies as essential personnel. We will continue to work during this crisis. We fully recognize our work doesn’t compare to so many other fields directly fighting COVID19. All we can do is strive to do our best in our role. We every day take very seriously the recommended precautions to prevent transmission and to help flatten the curve. Our DEEPEST THANKS and BEST WISHES to all on the frontlines of this crisis. Spring Will Be Online This Year Everybody looks good in spring. After several months of winter weather, everyone (at least in parts of the country that have cold/snow) is ready for blooms, butterflies, and mild temps. Daffodils emerge and the turf starts to green up. As another growing seasons starts, flowers and fresh growth is everywhere. Nature provides this time of year with all the benefits that bolster the landscape. We have early season bloom ;species, warming soil temps, plentiful rainfall and the stark winter season passing by to provide contrast. A pervasive sense of optimism and rejuvenation makes even us groundskeepers see the beauty of the season. Spring has a lot going for it and for these reasons “everybody looks good in spring.” Sharing the campus… virtually Our campus has cancelled all seated classes and our students have moved out of housing. As approximately 90% of our campus community is remote, I am struggling with how to share the beauty of campus. Fortunately for us Drury Grounds has a robust, albeit not large, social media presence. In addition to our overall numbers, we have a core following that is very much engaged with the message and content we push out. So to try to keep our campus community engaged we are trying to increase the content and frequency. In spring, there are ample opportunities for posting the eye-candy that is so prevalent. These provide a means to share the landscape. Reminding people of the beauty of campus hopefully helps people remember a simpler time, and may provide welcome distraction from this serious situation. Social media like Twitter, Instagram & Facebook can keep your community connected even while they are away. New Growth Is Everywhere All of us in the grounds industry frequently face a similar question. What do you do in the winter? I am not sure of the genesis of this question since no person I’ve ever known that “tills the earth” doesn’t spend the winter as busy as any other season. Maybe it just stems from the dormancy of plants in a temperate climate. Regardless, spring is a time for an amazing flush of new growth. Spring ephemerals and bulbs pop. Buds on trees and shrubs swell. The turf greens up and begins to elongate. After a winter spent waiting, everyone is eager for this spring bonanza. One of the best aspects of this time is the absolute prevalence of newness and rebirth. This flush of life isn’t just limited to plants and trees. The animals and insects that share our campus are awakening and their activity adds to the sense of restoration. While spring bulbs are blooming the next rotation of flowers are growing alongside. Spring Blooms Are Just the Start Here in our landscape, our goal is to have something blooming on our campus at all times. Through smart landscape design and sound plant selection we are continually extending the color rotation. This isn’t as easy as it sounds though. So many of our horticulturally important plants are spring bloomers. This is especially true for trees and shrubs (these plants need to have longer periods to form viable fruit/seeds and need to before the usual onset of summer stress). Nature has preloaded spring flowers because it makes the most sense from a plant-species continuation perspective. In order to differentiate from other landscapes (sometimes that’s what it is about) we seek to use more or different plants in spring. We plant spring bulbs in large drifts in the turf/tree-rings, we mass flowering trees for increased impact, and select natives which are not as prevalent in the landscape trade. A spring flower blitz sets the bar high for the season and leads right into our season-long show. A Spring Unlike Any Other It is a shame that our campus community is not physically present this spring. We feel bad for all the students (think Freshmen, Seniors) that didn’t get to finish their once in a lifetime experience. We feel bad for the Drury Lady Panthers (nationally ranked #1 all season in NCAA D2 WBB) and how they won’t get to compete for a national championship. And of course, we feel bad for our community (and the Grounds Crew) for not getting to appreciate the campus landscape. But these are minor compared to where the world is at this moment. This COVID19 pandemic puts things in perspective. Appreciating spring remotely is nothing compared to the difficulties many people are facing. Our earnest hope is for better springs to come for everyone. Massing trees, native plants, and less than common plants can help differentiate your spring.
  2. Organism diversity is a hallmark of a healthy landscape. Microorganisms, fungi, plants, animals, etc. all relate together to create an ecosystem. Diversity creates the stability that allows the ecosystem to be a self-sufficient loop, where all parts mesh together for the benefit of all parts. While there are fluctuations due to a variety of factors (weather, disease, pollution, etc.) adjustments to the system are always sought to bring back balance. Monitoring the indicator species (species that can be used to indicate system health) of the system allows managers to evaluate system health. Indicator species exist in all components of the system, but some are more visible than others. For many systems, birds of prey are a very visible and valued indicator species. Redtail Hawks Make a Home We have always had birds on our campus. Several years back, the cast of characters was what you would expect. Robins, Mockingbirds, Cardinals, Sparrows etc. all made their homes at Drury University. Over recent years we have noticed a gradual but continual increase in the frequency and permanent residency of other birds. Eastern Bluebirds, Scissortail Flycatchers, and Killdeer are all now seen on a regular basis. What has proved to be most remarkable is when birds feeding or passing through become residents and rear young on campus. For the last two years, and by all indications this year too, a pair of Red-Tail Hawks is making Drury home. This pair of hawks has successfully raised chicks and hopefully will rear a third brood this year. Eastern Bluebird (above) and Brown Thrasher (below) are two of many bird species that started only recently being spotted on campus. Green Space Supports Adaptable Wildlife Drury University has always had a reasonable population of the birds as you would expect on a mixed-urban campus. Green space, even given low diversity (trees, turf predominant), will always draw and harbor whatever is most adapted to these areas. Squirrels and rabbits easily exist in these areas also, which in turn will attract predatory birds that feed on them. Nature abhors a vacuum, and every niche is exploited and sometimes expanded. Many of the predatory birds common to Missouri can exist in urban areas, adapting to areas that can provide a reasonable facsimile of their necessary habitat. What is more remarkable is when higher level animals change from utilizing an area for forage or rest, to using that area for rearing young. Increased Diversity Results of a Sustainable Strategy The method we used to increase diversity on our campus was a multi prong approach. First, we expanded our planting palette. By adding different plants along the whole plant type spectrum (trees, small trees, shrubs, grasses, perennials, predominantly native) we increased the variety of food, habitat, and cover that were available to animals on campus. This stratification of the landscaped environment coupled with intentional design increased the complexity of landscaped areas and also creates green corridors. By increasing the variety within planted areas, and considering the vertical expansion of these areas, we maximized the niches available for exploitation by a variety of organisms. We also decreased the use of chemicals both for pest management and for fertilization. Regardless of how targeted any pesticide is, there is the potential for off target impacts. Increasing planting complexity with trees, shrubs, and perennials (including natives) even in small doses increases habitat opportunity for many organisms, including birds. Popularity on Campus Birds are a popular aspect of the landscape for the community whether by intentional birders or just the casual passerby. Birds add to the community’s understanding of the landscape through watching them fly, feed, and hearing them sing. What has been the biggest surprise though is how our campus community has adopted the Red-Tail Hawks as a member of our community, essentially treating them as a pseudo-mascot. Red-Tails have a wing of about 4 feet and stand around 20-24”. This makes them a presence on our campus. I frequently hear stories from campus of these hawks flying right by someone’s head or feeding in a tree close by. It is quite a sight to see these birds in action. We (the Grounds Crew) have been active in promoting all birds through our social media but pay special attention to the hawks. Several people on campus share photos and comments regularly throughout the community. Birds Help Tell Your Story Our campus birds, especially the red-Tail hawks have been a shot in the arm for our campus and our Grounds Crew. They really are an illustration of all our success in maintaining the ecological and sustainable direction of our campus. Much like the bald eagle did for endangered species, and the Monarch Butterfly is doing for pollinators, these hawks have become a symbol and benchmark for the Drury University environment. They give a tangible ecological aspect to what the landscape can provide to an organization. Golf courses have long known the value of birds on a course. We have within the last several years learned how beneficial they are for our campus also. Reproducing birds on campus are sure signs that the campus landscape is healthy. This system health is clearly demonstrated by baby hawks fledging (above), baby Blue Jays (below) and Killdeer eggs (bottom). All pics taken in 2019.
  3. Dear TurfNet Readers, IMHO this article primarily addresses parts of the landscape aside from the golf course, but the same dynamic applies. I sincerely wish/hope that your golfers appreciate the winter course for all it has to offer during a season when growth factors conspire against you. Playable greens, tee-boxes, and fairways in the depth of winter throughout the country (Canada too!) is a remarkable horticultural feat. My limited experience with golf course maintenance is the seemingly counter intuitive capability to see play on a beautiful brown Zoysia fairway surrounded by beautiful green(ish) rough back into beautiful brown OOB. keep up the good work all! JF
  4. For many of us in the green industry, our landscapes experience four seasons every year. The flush of spring gives way to the deep lushness of summer, which gives way to the fall colors as the seasons follow their inexorable progression. Yet as fall slips into winter we are presented with the starkest of seasons we face for our grounds. Winter weather and cold temps challenge grounds people while performing cool season duties such as dormant pruning, snow removal, and even construction projects. Winter is often seen as an inconvenience to be endured until spring breaks forth. Our teams and customers simply pass time while this season, lacking any perceived redeeming value, passes ever so slowly. Instead, let's look at why the winter landscape should be appreciated every bit as much as those of the other three seasons. The Amazing Function of the Winter Landscape There is a common misconception amongst many people (even gardeners) that the winter landscape is lifeless while it waits for spring rejuvenation. Seeing winter as a void couldn’t be farther from the truth. Turfgrass roots continue to grow in winter albeit slowly. Soil organisms are still active helping to create fertile soil necessary for all plants. Leaf litter and faded plants provide harborage for insects that will be a vital part of the life/nutrient cycling next growing season. Trees live on all winter even while enduring the very cold temperatures they cannot escape. On our campus the Redtail hawks, rabbits, chickadees, etc. are year-round residents to be seen more easily since there are no leaves to hide them. Winter teems but requires some nuance to appreciate it. Spent growth and leaf litter provide protection for beneficial organisms/plant crowns plus organic matter to improve soil. The Unique Appearance of the Winter Garden People rightfully love the landscape of spring, summer and fall. Flowering plants, flowing leaves, ample color, and pleasant temperatures are wonderful to appreciate. Appreciating the winter landscape can be easy too. In winter the biggest benefit is there are no leaves to get in the way of what you might see. The ever-present, but unseen branch structure of trees and shrubs is readily observed. Changing sunlight trajectory and intensity color the landscape in hues and shadow that will be absent come the growing season. Aspects of the plants and landscape such as bark texture, berries, growth habit, etc. all present themselves for the visitor’s enjoyment. One of the aspects I like best about the winter landscape is solitude. The opportunity to be alone yet surrounded by nature is increasing difficult in our lives but can be very refreshing. Trees can only be given full appreciation after seeing their branch structure in winter. Why Don’t We Enjoy the Winter Garden? So how did we ever get to the point where, from a landscape appreciation standpoint, 1/4 of our year is basically spent waiting for a different season? If I had to guess, one answer may be that winter survival was challenging for animals (humans animals included). Animals and plants responded by hibernating (dormancy), or at least hoarding resources to last through the cold/barren season. This may have left a deep biological impact on us. Of course, the natural life cycles of cool/cold temperate climates play a part. There simply are few plants visibly growing during this time. Little opportunity exists for cultivation of the landscape and no opportunity for harvesting from it except for maybe firewood. But in light of modern life, there is some opportunity for leisure time to appreciate the winter landscape, yet too often we don’t. Don’t Wait for Spring in November If you were to suggest to anyone in commercial grounds management that winter is downtime, they would literally laugh. Approaching winter as just a dormant period shortchanges the importance to truly make the landscape a year-round attraction. The practice of “putting beds to sleep” is counterproductive. What we are really doing in this instance is removing the interesting vestiges of the landscape and replacing them with, well, nothing. Far better it would be to leave this spent growth as a marker of what had been, and of what is to be again. Our landscapes are expected to meet our customers needs every day. If your customer (be it a potential student or golfer) can only visit one day during the winter, doesn’t it make more sense to provide as much landscape interest as possible rather than insinuate “just come back in spring when it really looks good”? The winter landscape can provide significant cold season interest, and if planned will need not sit empty for 2-3 months. Revel in The Winter Landscape The winter landscape is wondrously unique. The myriad plants, animals and organisms that make up our gardens must have winter to survive. It is an amazing time of recuperation, resilience, and ultimately rebirth. It is a time to see the basic structure of the garden in a new and wholly unique interpretation. Winter provides the opportunity to differentiate your garden from others because everybody looks good in spring. Only the best landscapes look good in winter. So, when December rolls into January, don’t get spring fever quite yet. Stay in the present season a little longer and see the magic winter instills in the landscape. From My Grounds Crew to yours, here's wishing all TurfNet readers a Joyous Holiday Season, a Prosperous New Year, and an enjoyable winter landscape!
  5. It should go without saying that accomplishing work is why our teams have jobs. It should also go without saying that while at work we should all be working. In this post some of the atmospheric factors that may encourage more work will be discussed. I say some because improving the desire to work is not cookie cutter. Every team is unique and comes with their own dynamics, motivations and deterrents for work. And, even when everything seems to be coming together, it is challenging to maintain the will to work. The following thoughts are not a guarantee, nor a one off. They are lessons I have learned over years of being a team member, manager and most importantly (IMHO) a front line, working supervisor. Lead by Example Yes, I know “lead by example” is overused, ill defined, and assumes any team members are predisposed to following some example. At the same time, it is the bedrock stipulation for effective team dynamics. Your team simply will not consistently listen to, or follow you if they do not believe in you. When you demonstrate that you are yoked by, and work under, the same conditions they work under, they see you also as an ally, not as only a boss. I am in no way saying that you should be the same as them. As the boss you have the responsibility (I do not like saying 'authority', I try to earn it) and hopefully the experience/knowledge to determine the work methods, scheduling, assignments, etc. Your team needs to see the evidence of your capability, rather than only hear about it, EVERYDAY. Our teams have finely tuned BS meters, and can sniff out hypocrisy a mile away. Lead by example or you may find yourself and your message discarded. Expect the Best and Show Your Passion Low expectations will lead to low execution. If my team (of course including me) set our sights low, then that is inevitably where we will end up. Low expectations/low execution will never lead to success. The problem is that high expectations/high execution is demanding on a number of fronts and therefore requires high effort/high commitment. What I have found is my team will seek, by and large, to deliver whatever valid expectation is set to them. My job is to use instruction, training, support and high expectations to convey an achievable target for them. But this is only the procedural part of the puzzle. Being passionate about high standards is the other part. Why should they want to execute high quality work/production? Because I honestly believe most people want to be the best they can be. Emphatically setting high standards, being consistent in evaluating work, and celebrating achievement will usually improve results. High expectation raises high execution which decreases complacency Work With Your Teams Strengths Every person on your team has strengths and weaknesses. Soft strengths include persistence, self-motivation, patience, concern for others, willingness to share thoughts, tolerance, etc. Hard skills can be physical dexterity/endurance, mechanical know how, design skills, horticultural knowledge, hands on job experience, etc. Of course there are corresponding weaknesses but I am not nearly as interested in them. Why? Because playing to a team member’s strengths makes much better sense. I recently read that most organizations want well rounded people. This makes some sense. However, trying to instill performance traits, or even skills that are hard for team members to grasp is wasting effort. If someone clearly enjoys a certain aspect of work, or has an aptitude for that work, it is a performance multiplier to have them perform that work as often as can be. Team identity is a team strength created and nurtured at work. Utilizing team strength maximizes potential. Be Patient and Never Quit Sometimes when I interact with my team, we focus on things we should improve on. This is perfectly reasonable and is an authentic attempt at dynamic development. But narrow focus can sometimes obscure the big picture of team performance. By definition, my team (and yours) is successful because we are currently employed and performing the work necessary to maintain said employment. Truth be told, you are surely more successful than just meriting continued employment. Out team has improved our campus along many important organizational/horticultural metrics over the years. We constantly continue the pursuit for performance improvement. Allowing yourself patience and encouraging a sense of accomplishment to carry on, bolsters inevitable success. We must not be not be defeated by temporary setbacks. The only way this journey falters is to quit trying. Do not quit. Measuring team success in snapshots is like judging all trees by a sapling. Mindset Versus Skillset There are many other forces at work that must be present to help improve your team’s ability to do your job. OJT, technical training, shared experience, mentoring programs, an effective review program, bonuses/raises, appropriate equipment, and even a realistic policy for disciplinary action, etc. is still a short listing. All should blend to support highly effective work teams. But that all fails if the mentality of the team is wrong. High execution of our jobs occurs when we want high execution to occur. That desire for high execution is a mindset, not a skillset. This is a crucial distinction that can be easily confused. The desire, the fire for high performance must be nurtured and replenished constantly and the above considerations can help. Don’t quit.
  6. While working as branch manager for a large landscape contracting company one of the maxims I heard was “re-work kills us”. I agree with this completely, but also know there are other production related issues that kill (diminish) my team’s ability to successfully complete our work. For this blog post I am not focusing on equipment failures, budgetary shortfalls, non-professional meddling, or even the weather. I want to start a discussion around how my team stops itself. For some actions, or lack of actions as it were, are frequently and consistently among the biggest impediments to team success. Fortunately, it is one area that the team itself has immense leeway to identify (if honestly self-aware and openly discussed) and self-correct. Mindset Many factors influence the mindset of our team (individually and collectively). Worker’s diligence can be significantly influenced by peers but is also reliant on internal standards and self-expectations. Overall organizational strength plays a role. Mission/vision for the team/organization as well. Some other influences are motivation, on/off the job stressors, professional training, physical fitness, etc. All of these diverse and fluid factors come together to create a mindset for my team. Mindset ultimately manifests in three possible ways: Work-focused, non-work focused, or some combination thereof. The bad news about mindset is once formed it is powerful, persistent, and pervasive. The good news is it can be changed. It is amazing what a motivated team member can do when they want to. Why we stop working I’ve asked my crew to list the reasons we stop working (we also examine obstacles/bottlenecks in our work, which is a related but different issue). Some common procedural issues are preparing the wrong tools or unforeseen need for different tools, miscommunication in any/all possible forms, weather, change in schedule/priorities, supply chain issues, etc. These issues and myriad others are relatively black and white. Most are fixed by improved planning and communication. Human reasons for not working are (in no order) fatigue, frustration/resentment, apathy, jealousy, stress, team interpersonal dynamics, lack of motivation, motivation for non-production, etc. These factors are hugely impactful, can be easily misdiagnosed, and may be much harder to rectify. But, again, they can be fixed. We Achieve What We Want to Achieve This management maxim may seem obvious, but it isn’t widely applied. If a person sets their mind to an objective, it is usually achieved. Unfortunately, too often, we don’t set our minds to work, we don’t set our minds to anything, or we set our minds to something that takes us away from work. No one has to be reminded about lunch, or at least very rarely. Lunch is a prevalent goal and is ingrained into our body clocks (and not just because our stomachs are rumbling). The crew doesn’t even need to look at their clocks. Many tasks that distract from work are deemed important (by the team or individually), then prioritized over performing our actual work. Countless times I’ve asked my team for a production account only to hear that they fell short of expectations. Yet, they managed to keep tabs on coworkers across campus, submit vacation requests, check the tires on their car, etc. Clearly, they wanted to perform these tasks, and they did. But they didn’t want to perform the work, and therefore it wasn’t completed. Hopefully what they want to do is work. But that is not always the case. Cost/Benefits Another reason work isn’t performed appropriately is a poor understanding/reckoning of the costs and benefits of performing our work. The production of work costs us something. Time, energy, opportunity to do something else, are all payments. What we derive in return is the benefit. Money, accomplishment, pride, job security, etc. are what we earn; the benefits of performing our work. If the benefit is satisfactory, work is gladly paid. If the benefit is not seen as equitable, work is not paid, or is done so poorly/grudgingly. Cost/benefit friction is very common in the workplace. Personal feelings on what is fair varies by position, personal situation, career path, etc. and can vary by person and day-to-day. Having frank and honest discussions about cost/benefit can help a team understand why someone is/isn’t motivated, or why a job is/isn’t getting performed acceptably. Sometimes valid work can look unproductive. Only through open, honest discussion can the truth be found. (Side note: When I saw this happening I almost blew a gasket. Three workers, one mower. Fortunately I asked what was happening. Senior Groundskeeper Leroy was instructing on proper usage of new Stihl battery mower.) Much More to This Story This blog post is in no way meant to be exhaustive. For as many variables as there are for workers personalities there are as many variables for explaining why we do or don’t work. What I hope to demonstrate is usually subpar performance is not as easy as declaring someone lazy or incompetent (although this does occur). Getting to the real reasons behind less than stellar job performance can be trying and time consuming. It is usually beneficial, but not always as sometimes it demonstrates that the situation is irretrievable, and a parting of ways is the only solution. But, in the interest of improving job performance it is worthwhile. Coming Next… “Let’s get To Work.”
  7. Chicago, IL is fabulous city. Because my home in Springfield, MO is relatively close (8 hours drive, which in the Midwest US may as well be next door) and because I have a sister who lives there, I make the trip 2-3 times a year. Perhaps my favorite aspect of the city is the architecture, including that of the landscape. One of my favorite classic landscape architects, Frederick Law Olmsted, practiced there, and work of one of my favorite current garden designers, Piet Oudolf can be seen there (Lurie Garden). Chicago is truly a world class city. Studying its gardens and landscaping can allow anyone to see great garden attractions and some emerging directions of gardening influencers. During my most recent visit I spent time in the Morton Arboretum and self-guided touring of Oak Park /River Forest. In this blog and my next, I’d like to share some of what I took away from my visits. The Morton Arboretum The Morton Arboretum is a world-renowned public garden and tree research center in Lisle, IL, near Chicago. It was founded in 1922 by Joy Morton (of Morton Salt fame). The mission of the Morton Arboretum is to collect and study trees, shrubs and plants from around the world and display them for people to enjoy. Its goal is to encourage the planting and conservation of trees and plants for a greener, healthier, and more beautiful world. The arboretum covers 1,700 acres and has thousands of different species of plants. The Morton welcomes over 1 million visitors each year. Natural Plant Growth Is Upfront The bed you see below is at the very front entrance. What I loved about this was the lack of ornate arrangement and extensive floral color. I suggest this is a purposeful effort to demonstrate that the garden has more to offer than just annuals and showy flowers. The bed is well designed and focuses on plant texture/shape to create interest. The maintenance regime for this area also says something; plants are not sheared or manipulated into unnatural shapes. Natural growth is obvious and intentional, which results in the bed having a soft yet stylish feel, as opposed to the harsh and unnatural look of many sheared plants. Deeper in the garden, there are many examples of flowers and topiary, but their placement denotes horticultural significance, not the necessity for these approaches everywhere. This natural planting welcomes visitors to the Morton Arboretum. Go Big or Go Home The next aspect that impacted me was the scale of the garden. I’m not just talking about the 1700 acres. Not only are vistas and sightlines large scale, but many of the hardscape components are also. Scale in the garden shows an understanding of space and relationships through mass and void. The particular view shown below is of massive columns, a big lawn, and large paver walk. All of the components blend to create a sense of grandeur. This sense of grandeur is everywhere at the Morton. Scale is also present in the quality of materials used throughout the arboretum. My takeaway regarding scale was that the designers and builders had no hesitation in their work. The assuredness of the design success demonstrated by the scale (magnitude) of the entire garden was awe-inspiring. The scale of the Morton Arboretum demonstrates how size/space can beautify the landscape. Innovation Museums, even living museums, can sometimes feel stuffy or boring. Displays are old and running down, exhibits are static, and the artifacts are meant to be quietly observed without interaction. This is not the case at the Morton Arboretum. In the parking lot visitors are immediately met by sustainable design in the form of pervious pavement, curb cuts and swales to catch rainwater. While rain gardens are not particularly remarkable, the fact they are featured so so prominently is (rain gardens like this are still not commonplace despite widespread awareness of them). Innovation at the Morton Arboretum keeps the experience new and highlights what is coming in the landscaping world. Further into the park, an new and extensive display on urban forestry features a deadfall that is meant to show how roots really grow around a tree (90% of tree roots exist in the to 12” of soil). Also there are many interactive gardens coupled with the inherent growth of all the plants creates a new experience every time one visits. A deadfall demonstration of root mass. Perfectly Imperfect or Imperfectly Perfect The aspect I liked best about the Morton Arboretum was the subtle messiness of the place(perhaps even unnoticed except by professional Groundskeepers). Don’t get me wrong. This garden is meticulously maintained. However, it is impossible to keep everything trim and tidy all the time. Because of the diversity and extensiveness of the garden and plantings, there is an occasional weed, a few plantings creep into others, and some pruning is a touch unkempt. This simply adds to the magic of the place. I have worked at Class-A office building complexes where nothing is out of place (this is not an exaggeration!). I figure this perfection is supposed to reflect the perfection of the commercial enterprise residing in it. The result is that the landscape is cold and only passed through, not mingled with. The perfectly imperfect Morton brings expectation down to a human level where the imperfect feels right at home. A perfectly imperfect landscape bed where ground covers mingle into others. Aspiration My visit to the Morton Arboretum was fantastic. I saw plants that were stunning in their beauty, and planting arrangements that were the same. I saw execution of work that demonstrated expertise and also incredible devotion to the design and construction of the installations. I saw and met staff that beautifully blend authoritative knowledge with patient appreciation of gardeners who are not as advanced. Perhaps most importantly, I witnessed so many kids and young people being immersed in an experience that hopefully ignites a passion for nature and conservation to last a lifetime. If all our landscapes, whether course or campus, aspired to achieve the objectives the Morton does so well, we would all be so lucky.
  8. Groundskeeping is a challenging profession. We are impacted and affected by horticultural limitations, weather and environment, organizational imperatives, laws and regulations, budgetary constraints, seasonal influences, etc. We are in a constant battle of managing inputs, stressors and outcomes. In all of this grind, we must occasionally factor in a crisis of the now, where we focus on where our operation currently is and what lay immediately before us. Recently I had an opportunity to step out of my job as Head Groundskeeper/Manager and step into a role as instructor. I was contacted by Dr. Kris Wiley (former Drury professor) to speak about the campus landscape to a group of gifted middle schoolers in a program called SummerScape. I wanted to articulate to these students that my job, the role of the grounds crew, and our work, was incredibly complex, rich with fulfillment and purpose, and touched every person who came on campus. I didn’t have an outline and being prone to train of thought/tangential thinking, I just jumped, in letting the tour take its own direction. What follows below is simply a stream-of-consciousness recounting of the topics we touched on. They are in no order but based on recall several weeks after the fact. If anyone thinks grounds departments don’t do it all, read this list. These SummerScape kids were very generous and patient while being toured around our campus. Head Groundskeeper. Grounds Crew. Make the campus beautiful for our community. Education. Support the organizational goals. Ecology. Environmentalism. Outreach. Cost effective. Sky to subsoil. Air. Water. Land. Trees. Shrubs. Flowers. Grass. Drury Fusion program. Jordan Valley Park. Palace at Versailles. Florence, Italy. Central park. Lurie Garden. Biltmore estate. My backyard. Community. TreeCampusUSA. Garden visitor. Landscape design. Landscape Architecture. National Arboretum. Morton Arboretum. St. Louis Botanic Gardens. Strategic Plan. Weekly schedule. Have fun. Lots of different personalities. Teamwork. Friends. Thanks. Criticism. Climate change. Genetically modified organisms. Photosynthesis. Senescence. Organic matter. How fallen twigs as mulch may replicate a natural process. Red-tail hawks. Keystone species. Cambium. Ecology. Natural gas and alternative powered equipment. Missouri Department of Conservation restoration project and grant. N-P-K. 16 elements required for plant growth. "C Hopkins café managed by mine cuzn mo cl" (a mnemonic device using the elemental symbols to help memorize the 17 essential plant nutrients). Most nutrients for plant growth supplied by air and water. Irrigation. Water conservation. Honey bees. Honeybee decline. Decomposition. The Great Plains. Land disturbance. Grazing. Fire. Mt. Saint Helens. Succession. Pollinators. Tree growth. Pollution, Reduce, reuse, recycle. Social media. Ants. Electron transport chain. Hydrogen ions. Cation exchange. Potential of Hydrogen. Cars. Monarch migration. Rabbits. Hollow trees. Tree retrenchment. Adventitious growth. Working with a fraternity service project to plant 20 Missouri native shrubs. Rain gardens. Soil structure. Infiltration rate. Use a coffee can hammered halfway into the ground, fill with water and time how long for it to soak in. Commemorative trees. Urban forest. International Society of Arborists (ISA). Certified arborist. N-P-K. Board Certified Master Arborist. Retired MU turf expert Dr. Brad Fresenburg. Professional Grounds Management Society (PGMS). Certified Grounds Manager (CGM). Sports Turf Managers Association (STMA). Golf Course Superintendent Association of America (GCSAA). Restoration gardens. Heirloom seed. Planned sterility to prevent seed formation. Plant patents. Organic fertilizer. Decreasing chemical use. FRAC codes. Corn gluten. Pelletized alfalfa. Fertilizer analysis. The front and back of our team shirt says it all about our Grounds Crew. Botanist. American beaver. American Indians. The Great Spirit. What happens to soil that has been under a building for more than 100 years. Fallen logs. Placing logs to create insect habitat. Insect hotels. Architecture. Student volunteers. Entomology. Hydrology. Irrigation association. Smart Irrigation. Smart irrigation month. Certified irrigation auditor. Precipitation rate. Rain sensor. Adjusting irrigation programming. Evapo-transpiration (ET). Certified pesticide applicator. Missouri Department of Agriculture. Pesticide inspectors. Round up. Glyphosate. Acetic acid. Citric acid. Smell of Oranges. Organic materials Review Institute (OMRI). USDA certified organic program. National Audubon society. Eastern Bluebirds. Skunks. Snakes. Nothing cuter than a baby skunk. After several sessions with these kids, in an informal and unstructured setting, and without a script, what resulted was essentially a recounting of the work that has taken place at Drury since 2012 (much homage has to go to my groundskeeper predecessors because none of us usually walk into a blank slate landscape). Behind each topic is a story which represents the heart, mind, and muscle of the Grounds Crew that allowed it to come to be. What I found most fulfilling was a comment from one of the students at the end of a tour: “Wow, you’ve done a lot here”. Yes, we have. The 2019 DU Summer Grounds Crew proudly upheld the standards of Grounds Crews everywhere. L-R Joe, Andre, Dave, Andrew (DU Student), Leroy, Matt (DUS), Conner, Riley (DUS), Cole
  9. On June 27 this year I turned 55. Now this isn’t a defining age as much as say 21 or 65, but is significant. I am not a person who puts all my stock in chronological age. I definitely think there can be an old 30 or a young 70, but again I say 55 is significant. I am now seriously contemplating retirement although I can’t see how I won’t have to work until 70 (or longer) if anyone will have me. I have been in commercial grounds management since I was 23. I know there are many people who have more experience, more talent, more training or just more of something than I. But, I say with humility, I’ve earned a seat at the table. So, it is in the desire to prevent some unnecessary bumps and bruises for my newer-to-the-game brethren (and sisters) that I’d like to share some insights I wish I’d known long ago. Turning 55 and still very much in the game. Enjoy the ride; You may end up where you SHOULD be... I distinctly remember one day at work when I was in the early stages of a landscape bed renovation. I was working alone removing old shrubs and installing new shrubs/perennials. I was working fast because I was so eager to see the finished product. Problem was the weather was hot, the work was hard, and my progress wasn’t what I expected. I found myself frustrated until I viewed each step as an accomplishment in itself. A career can feel like this sometimes too. The job we have isn’t fulfilling, myriad organizational roadblocks get in the way, or sometimes significant weather events can disrupt work for long periods of time. The key I’ve found is to look for success where you are and find positives that may add to your competency and potential. Plans and careers are a lot alike. Sometimes when they change, there are great results. Get certified and be a lifelong learner... I am a Certified Arborist/Municipal Specialist with ISA and a Certified Grounds Manager (CGM) with PGMS. I wholeheartedly believe these are reputable credentials that demonstrate an understanding of, and commitment to, superior grounds management. Although I have held these both for many years, I did not pursue them until I was well into my career. While I am very satisfied where I am now professionally, establishing these certifications earlier could have expanded my opportunities for career paths and development. Credentials enter one into professional circles (TurfNet) that are invaluable. Grounds Managers hear fresh ideas, question old ones, and establish professional relationships that can be references for employment or improve current performance. Ongoing CEU requirements force us to be lifelong learners. For us time challenged grounds professionals, sometimes being forced to do something is the only way it gets done. Relationships are key to success. Protect them. As a young man I spent five years working in a paper mill in Connecticut. It was smelly, loud, repetitive, and ultimately mind-numbing. I hated it. When I left at 23 to make my way in the world, I made sure to let everyone know I was getting out. Well, after three months guess who came back to look for a job. The boss wouldn’t hire me because he knew that I hadn’t changed (matured) and that the negativity I brought to the job (rarely is a bad situation completely one-sided) was still in me. 21 years old and so much to learn. Would I have taken a chance on me? This impacted me in two ways. One, try to be at least a little positive. Two, remember that the people you are with now may have an impact on you at some point down road. If you can cultivate positive relationships and help others in some meaningful way, it will likely come back to you. Since those early days, I have been rewarded many times by someone I have maintained good relations with. Even better, you may have chance to return the favor! Put people first. I, like most of you, am challenged every day to accomplish more with less. This creates pressure which can sometimes force our teams into blunt force operation. There may also be a belief that results are all that matters and work trumps fulfillment. Both of these can drive performance but will usually come at a steep cost (conflict, absenteeism, turnover, etc.). Running a grounds team where the personal lives and personalities of the team are appropriately meshed with the organizational goals just makes sense. By demonstrating an authentic appreciation of your team's unique personalities (Oh, the personalities!) and motivations you create the desire to participate in the team's success. You diminish the antagonism between individual and organization. If you put your work and accomplishments first, your team may find fulfillment, but, if you put fulfilling your team first, you will work better and accomplish much. Allowing your team's personalities to add to your efforts creates great results. A career should be a continuum, but not necessarily linear. Over a career, all of us evolve. This is the career continuum. But not all evolution results in success. I have learned, applied and discarded, many managerial/occupational practices over the years. I have also, fortuitously, found some that have helped me run a productive and fulfilling grounds operation. But this learning has not been linear. I am still actively succeeding and failing. What I really hope to impart, especially to younger managers, is to be your best where you are at the moment. Know that you will evolve. But be very open to learning from anyone/situations around you. Especially the ones that challenge you to look at things differently than your status quo. Hopefully it won’t take you 30 years to learn some valuable lessons.
  10. Mr. Wilson, So happy to see some of these old shorts again (cant even remember if I watched them back then). You haven't lost anything and you certainly had back then too. Perhaps the truest takes on golf maintenance ever. Joe Fearn
  11. I love my job. I don’t love it the way I love my wife and kids, or even my dog, nor do I love it all the time, but on a whole, I love it. Being able to say this puts me in a significant minority in the workplace. A 2017 Gallup poll found that 70% of workers in the U.S. hate their job (hate may have a spectrum of intensity, but I am splitting hairs). There are many strategies we all know to combat job-hate, and any job-hating individual must shoulder some responsibility, yet job-hate continues. Love is an antidote to job-hate. I can’t say if love makes the job, or vice-versa. I can say unequivocally that putting some love into your job produces some great side-effects. Your Community Will See It Our jobs in the green industry are all inherently visible and bring us into contact with people (customers/clients) regularly. This means all of us frequently have the chance to share love with the people who are influencers to our success (or failure). Regardless of the specific circumstances, most normal people prefer to be served by people who share their happiness in that service. One can get service which is acceptable, but when you receive something extra in that service, it impacts you. You remember, and value, the interaction a little more. If the little extra is authentic rather than merely duty, than even more so. Exhibiting honest enthusiasm in performing our jobs is felt by those we work for, and that is a valuable contribution. Putting passion into your work is a marketable contribution and will be recognized by your community Your Team Can Feel It Many organizations state that passion is usually an indicator of a top-flight team. I believe this is true. Having an enthusiasm for your work can help provide the drive necessary for achievement. If someone doesn’t have that excitement about their profession, then what? Even if someone isn’t in their dream job, love can help them find the motivation to excel. If most team members feel some sort of love in their work, it becomes infectious. Our crew exhibits love by sharing camaraderie and a sense of accomplishment with their coworkers when performing the task at hand. This team energy frequently becomes a feedback loop. Success brings success and even though setbacks break our momentum, it becomes easier the next time to restart a positive cycle. When your crew works with love, they are eager to share it with coworkers and the community Love Is Infinite Our jobs are both physically and mentally demanding. Trying to perform consistently without love leaves me depleted and defeated. My moods get dark and nothing is easy. The truth however is that these moods are fleeting because they require a lot of (negative) energy to keep them going. The simple truth we all recognize is that no one wants to be around an unhappy person. Fortunately, love is infinite. Think about it. No one gets tired of being happy. When things are going well, conversations are easier, people forgive minor issues, and team members willingly help others carry the load. None of this work requires momentous action, long winded speeches, or threats of punishment. Workers work because it makes them feel good, a lot. Plants Sense the Energy To this point, nothing in this blog is likely new to you. But here is where you may think I’ve left planet Earth. The plants (and yes, turfgrass is a plant) at your site will feel the energy and respond in kind. Plants can communicate in many ways. Some stressed trees release chemicals that signal insects to attack them rather than healthy trees. Some plants can communicate via roots. I believe that the plants at my campus pick up on our crews love and enthusiasm and grow just a little nicer for it. Our crew always knows when one of us is in a bad mood, so maybe plants can sense moods too. Bad energy comes off and can’t be disguised. If one’s mood is good, the plants get bathed in it. And a plant love-bathing is a happy healthy plant. (For further discussion please read… https://www.newyorker.com/magazine/2013/12/23/the-intelligent-plant) This Blue Fescue never drew attention until this year. It was divided last fall. Coincidence, sound horticulture, or the love of a Groundskeeper? Get Love into YOUR job. NOW. Performing your job with love is worth it. The benefit to your spirit, performance, and satisfaction will far outweigh the cost of doing it. As a matter of fact, the energy required to perform your work with love actually doesn’t feel a burden at all. It flows naturally from a well spring within. Be mindful though that love in a workplace setting should be a two-way transaction. Your organization must return love within an equitable ratio. This ratio will fluctuate in that sometimes either will be giving more. Putting love into your work must be authentic also. I’ve never seen anyone be able to pretend to like their work for very long. And not being able to put some modicum of spirit into your efforts will eventually cause frustration or resentment. So, do yourself a favor, and find some way to put a little love into your work. Your team's loving work will create positive energy for your organization. But flowers never hurt too.
  12. If any TurfNet reader were asked what is the most important aspect of your job, I imagine there would be a wide variety of responses. This variety would stand to reason because although TurfNet followers gravitate towards Golf Course Management, they actually represent a variety of green industry segments. I am a Groundskeeper for a university which is different than a golf course superintendent, which is different again from a landscape contractor (I won’t even get into irrigation people who are different altogether). But, one thing that unites us all to some extent is grass mowing. As a hopeful blogger some years back, I submitted the following blog (in somewhat different form) as a test run. In a wise move, TurfNet Guru Peter McCormick said it wasn’t quite what he was looking for and asked for a different submittal to introduce myself to readers. I complied, and this particular article was relegated to the dustbin for a while. I have returned to it time and again usually trying to prove to my crew my vast knowledge on the subject (joking!). I’m not kidding, though, when I say I am serious about mowing. I believe cutting greens to be the pinnacle of mowing (apologies to my sports field brethren) yet I am very proud of all my experience. So, see if any of these experiences evoke a memory of your own, and of course, happy mowing. First Mower That Made Me Feel Like I Wasn’t Mowing a Yard: Yazoo 26” Big Wheel mower circa 1988, built by Yazoo Manufacturing of Jackson, Mississippi. First mower I used as a part-time Groundsman at George Mason University. Bigger than a 21” and was self-propelled by a friction gear against the pneumatic large tires. Boy, I felt cool. First Mower That Made Me Feel Like A Professional: John Deere 52” Commercial Walk behind, belt drive, circa 1989, pistol grips, squeeze to turn. I had moved up to a mower with THREE blades! Man could that thing cut some grass. Such an old mower it didn’t even have operator presence control handles on the grips. I’d love to get one to restore. Just imagine the custom paint job I’d put on it. Favorite Mower of All Time: John Deere 755 w/60-inch belly deck, circa 1990. Again, I felt like a professional. ZTRs weren’t even on the scene. When I left GMU for my first supervisory job at Alexandria Hospital, a 755 was my first purchase. Nice mow quality and very productive if mowing big areas (straight lines only). Deck took about 20-30 minutes on/off to add a range of implements to tractor. What a beauty! Most Impressive Mower (Pros Only!) Toro Groundsmaster 3500-D Sidewinder, circa 2004. Surely anyone who has driven a Sidewinder can speak to what a joy it is to mow with. Quality cut even with rotary blades, great traction, the sliding front decks, smooth diesel power and of course the unbelievable comfort. When I say pros only, there are lots of homeowners now that have experience with fairly nice ZTRs, but only professional turf people know about the Sidewinder. On the Job Today… Now in my job at Drury University we have a John Deere ZTR and a Grasshopper ZTR, both with 60” decks. We mow 35 acres a week, but have lots of smaller areas and obstacles, so the smaller deck is really nice. Both of these were someone else’s choice though. If I had to pick on my own I would definitely go Exmark or Scag. I think you can’t beat them for durability and quality for ZTRs in utility turf. But as my boss says, what are the best mowers you currently have? Given some of the mowers I have used in the past, these two are wonderful. Some of the runners-up from my career have to be given their due: Best Cut Quality with a Walk Behind: Toro 52” with floating deck. The suction on the deck had great lift and the floating configuration managed uneven areas beautifully. I have not seen this quality (close, but no cigar) in any other configuration. However I never really liked the “T” handle steering on my particular mower. Definitely prefer pistol grip. Looks Good Even Sitting Still: Any Scag Tiger, especially 72”. With Brickman Group in Nashville, we used these to cut 4MM sq. ft. of turf every week. Power, spectacular engineering, production. Be sure you can handle a mower before you use one of these. Not for the faint of heart. If you want to mow for real. Got Leaves on the Course: Toro Groundsmaster 4000. I had to mow rough that had several inches of leaves. This mower ate them up and mulched as good as anything I’ve ever used. Being able to lift decks independently allowed impressive maneuverability. Mow over an area two times and it looks more like spring than fall. Mowing at a Whole Different Level: Greens mowing. Enough said. No matter the specific mower, walk behind or triplex, mowing greens is in a class by its own. Seeing your diamond pattern when double cutting, headlights on for an early start, correcting a banana pass, and of course the teardrop turn without stopping the drive mechanism. Nothing else in mowing can compare. A good greens mowing by the best crew member is something to see and requires unique talent. The Hall of Fame of the mowing world. Mower Manufacturers Used: Billy Goat, Bobcat, Bolens, Bunton, Dynamow, Exmark, Grasshopper, Gravely, Honda, Hustler, Jacobsen, John Deere, Kubota, Lawn Boy, MTD, Scag, Snapper, Toro, Yazoo. Some I liked, some I hated. Same can be said of cut quality. I imagine there are some others I can’t remember. What Is Your History? I know better than to think this history is unique. I’d love to hear some of the stories from our valued readers. What was your favorite mower? What stories do you have to share? Please respond and share some of your recollections. Thanks, JF.
  13. I believe wholeheartedly in sustainable landscaping. Despite the definition of sustainable landscaping being subject to many interpretations, for me it simply rests on several key premises. Does the management of the landscape seek to decrease resource consumption? Will the landscape continue to grow as we (the organization) need if we decrease intervention? Lastly, does the particular iteration of grounds management meet the long-term goals/needs of the parent entity? If these questions are answered positively, I am at a loss as to why a person or organization would not want to pursue sustainable landscaping. In an effort to see this issue from another perspective, I would like to put forth some reasons I believe cause sustainability reluctance. Sustainable Landscapes are Messy This may be the biggest misconception about sustainable landscapes. Most people will equate sustainable with wild and this is not always so. Sustainable landscapes need not be rambling plantings run amok. I suggest this misconception arises due to a confusion of objectives. Often when seeking to restore or support an ecosystem, gardeners will utilize native plants which co-exist well within a given ecosystem. In these habitat and organism-focused applications, “wild” plants provide shelter, food, and ecosystem services when left to grow “naturally”. Many restorative plantings are sustainable when left alone, but not all sustainable landscapes need be maintained in this manner. Landscapes exhibiting traditional design/maintenance attributes can be sustainable as long as they seek to meet the aforementioned criteria. Sustainable Landscapes can adhere to traditional design and are not necessarily "wild". Sustainable Landscapes are for Eco-Crazies Evaluation of anything new or different frequently results in assumptions and stereotyping. A conclusion is reached about an idea before it is even given a hearing of objective evaluation. This can be the case with sustainable landscaping. People may conjure up images of long hair, Birkenstock wearing grounds people sabotaging mowers and growing corn in the front yard. This isn’t the case. Nor is it accurate to think that all the landscape will look like tallgrass prairie, or if a tree falls, it will be left lay to decompose to enrich the spirit of the earth. Sustainable landscaping is a management philosophy that draws on the same organizational and operational imperatives as any other landscaping. Funny I rarely (never?) hear people question the underlying assumptions about the dominant unsustainable landscaping methods. Some sustainable landscapes follow the stereotype, but may still accomplish organizational goals. Sustainable Landscape Changes Everything If an organization chooses to pursue sustainable landscaping, it should be the overarching principle determining grounds management, but not necessarily in a prescriptive manner. Sustainability is about seeking to diminish resources consumption (time, money, materials, etc.) but this aspiration will not result in identical results for every organization. Consider chemical use in the landscape. One organization may seek to diminish chemical use as a way to contain costs, and market an environmentally conscious landscape approach. Another may choose to continue utilizing chemical interventions but explore ways to decrease frequency. A third may need to hold the line on current chemical use, knowing there is not organizational support for a changed approach, but seek to slowly introduce alternative groundcovers/designs that will not need chemical intervention. Being appropriate in how and where you pursue or initiate a more sustainable approach sustains progress. Everything need not change to demonstrate a commitment to sustainability. Sustainable Landscaping Doesn’t Matter to Our Organization If you have, or are an organization, sustainable landscaping should matter to you. Sustainable landscapes contribute many benefits more than just a pretty, environmentally focused campus. Consider these questions when evaluating sustainability. Do I want my organization to sustain? Do I want my assets/resources to sustain? Do I want my position/livelihood to sustain? Do I want my company’s reputation to sustain? Likely, the answer to all of these questions is a resounding yes. Sustainable landscaping has a positive effect on all facets of an organization. In addition, taking a cue from natural ecosystems, a sustainable Grounds Manager balances the individual needs against the collective, always understating that the success of the whole is paramount. Sustainability Is the Way of the Future Rarely does sustainability reluctance debate on the science and vocational merits of sustainable landscaping. Prejudices and stereotypes come to the fore when naysayer’s pushback against a sustainable landscape. This does our organization’s a great disservice. Evaluation of the value of landscaping should weigh the positives it brings to its parent, and at what ROI. This is a harsh truth, but a good grounds operation does not flinch from close inspection. Delivering expectations while staying within resource limits is the bottom line premise of sustainability. Drawing a straight line between these two aspects requires accurately defining, and agreement of, what constitutes a sustainable landscape. Sustainable landscaping can be adapted to any application and is greatly beneficial when it is. Truly sustainable landscapes blend organizational goals and landscaping while also seeking to decrease resource consumption.
  14. Most people will recognize the title of this blog as a cornerstone approach to pursuing sustainability. Reduce, reuse, or recycle represents three different approaches for resource management that if instituted wisely diminish resource consumption in an operation or household. In my experience, recycle is the step that seems to get the most attention and is also practiced (considered) more frequently than the other practices. But these “3 Rs” are not just arbitrarily ordered so they roll off the tongue. The ordering represents a hierarchy of benefit whereby reducing resource consumption is most beneficial, reusing resources is next, and recycling is the benefit offering the lowest ranking return when seeking to decrease resource consumption. Recycling is important, but only one piece of the 3Rs approach. Drury Reduces & Recycles Reducing our resource consumption upfront will be our greatest step towards sustainability. In the past several years we have taken the same steps many operations have by reducing water consumption for irrigation and decreasing the amount of chemicals we apply to the landscape. A step that is a little more painful is reducing the frequency of purchasing major new equipment (trucks, mowers, UTVs). We also have changed our maintenance practices and zone expectations to diminish the intensity of operations without decreasing takeaway quality. Here at Drury University we have a fair recycling operation. In 2006 I was in an Environmental Science class with a fellow student that was single-handedly pushing recycling for our campus. Through her efforts, each building received several receptacles for the recycling of paper, aluminum, and plastic. Until recently Drury partnered with a number of organizations to host a recycling center for the use of the downtown Springfield area. In addition to many single stream dumpsters on campus, Drury also takes recyclables to an enhanced City of Springfield recycling center nearby our campus. We are in the process of evaluating our recycling, so we can increase participation and waste diversion. A Drury student uses the 3 bin composting near Smith Hall. Photo credit Taylor Stanton, DU student. Drury Reuses Reusing materials is another leg of the 3 Rs that Drury University incorporates into our maintenance. Drury Grounds has several composting bins throughout campus that are used by us and students. These three-bin systems are not only effective for household and yard gleanings but are also good looking enough to place unobtrusively on campus. I have blogged elsewhere about how we use obsolete architectural stone from razed buildings in our gardens. One other way that Drury reuses materials is by using our limb chip as mulch on campus. Because large trees are the signature of our campus grounds, we generate large amounts of chip in just normal tree care operations, not to mention during removals. This limb chip allows us to close our organic waste stream, but also provides “heritage mulch” for us. Tree Failure Results in Reduce, Reuse, Recycle Opportunity In July 2018, Drury lost a large oak tree from the heart of our campus. This tree was blown over in a thunderstorm having peak straight-line winds of 74 MPH. In an interesting aside, a post failure autopsy revealed the likely cause of failure was due to damage sustained by the tree during the 2007 Ozarks ice storm. A large wound (see photo below) allowed a column of decay to travel into the root flare where it impacted enough of the buttress roots resulting in instability. Tree physics requires all forces acted upon the tree to ultimately travel to the roots where they are dispersed into the ground. In this case, the torque on the tree caused root failure and the tree toppled. Despite being greatly saddened by the loss of this tree, we immediately realized we had an opportunity to sustainability efforts into practice. First, we would reduce (to zero) the amount of tree refuse that would leave our campus. All tree branches and major branches would be passed through a chipper to create mulch. Next, we contacted a saw-milling business we had used before to take the large trunk sections and mill them into lumber that we could reuse/recycle. This is a very sustainable step and also generated nearly 1200 board feet of excellent oak lumber. The trunk base/root flare was placed in a native area on campus where it will be allowed to fulfill its life cycle through decomposition. Instead of being hauled off, large logs from fallen tree were milled and will be reused on campus. Sustainability Pays Reduce/reuse/recycle doesn’t solve all our grounds management problems. But it does provide an additional avenue for pursuing a more environmentally compatible operation. It also demonstrates to Drury University associates we take our sustainability charge seriously and are constantly seeking ways to deepen our resource conservation practices. The 3 R’s are a well-known approach to conservation and waste diversion. By practicing these steps in our campus landscape management, Drury Grounds provides leadership and hope to our community and hopefully spur others to greater 3 Rs commitment.
  15. My official title here at Drury University is Assistant Director of Facilities – Grounds. I much prefer to call myself the Head Groundskeeper. I believe this job title says something about my philosophy of grounds management. Including 'Groundskeeper' in my title reminds me, and more importantly my crew, that I am to some extent like my team. We are all focused on “keeping the grounds”. Unfortunately, sometimes a rift can develop between us. The crew and I can have differing opinions on how well we are functioning in our role. This rift usually stems from a communication breakdown resulting in different concepts of where we are, and where we are headed. Getting to the bottom of it. At the end of last year, our rift was why we were not being effective (we all agreed we could be better, the question was how). To find out why we had this gap in understanding, we undertook a meeting to have some discussion. I like to hear from my team because it gives them a voice and a stake in how we operate. Rather than ask why we weren’t effective, though, I chose to ask why we would accept mediocre performance? The answers were very interesting. Lack of recognition – hard work is taken for granted by organization Serious days result in more of the same – maximum exertion just gets us more maximum exertion No finish line – perpetually behind No consistency – emergencies prevent a plan Appreciation not shown with meaningful currency – put it in the paycheck, take us to lunch, get good gloves, etc. Little cognizance of how hard the work is – This isn’t a chain gang, but we do work hard We tolerate it – self-explanatory Complacency – we are in a rut Putting thoughts on a board makes sure everyone is seeing the same thing. We’d Gotten Soft Every crew I’ve been in has had these issues at some point. But the best crews always find a way to overcome, or at least to manage and get by. My final summary of our situation was we were soft. I mean we lacked the toughness to put our heads down and perform. We didn’t lack knowledge, tools, or even the capability to work hard. We simply lacked the conviction to do what we knew needed to be done. We were at the point where mole hills became mountains, and small obstacles weren’t being overcome. Of course, no crew wants to be called soft. If I was going to help us overcome, I needed to figure a way to get them to see this issue from a different perspective rather than just “being soft”. Finding a way out Communication within the team has many benefits. One positive is misunderstandings can be presented for open discussion. Instead of asking how our team could overcome “being soft”, I asked how we could improve our effectiveness. The team came up with several answers. What I think is remarkable about nearly every team I have worked with is we all know how to do a good job. By teasing out the thoughts of the crew, they answered the question of improvement on their own, with their own language. Acting as facilitator, all I had to do was summarize concisely what they said. Helping the team craft answers creates an attitude of shared commitment to problem solving. Seeing something in writing adds significance to what is shared. Our Key Response Overall, our crew performs pretty well on all these expectations. What we lacked most, at least in my opinion, was discipline. It is not that we had no discipline; it is just that we were demonstrating it inconsistently. Discipline allows a team to set a goal and pursue it to completion. Discipline also allows a team to manage problems that are potentially disruptive and overcome them. Discipline is the framework that underpins all other aspects of crew performance. At the end of last year, I told the crew we would set expectations and meet them. This commitment to discipline, first on my part, then on all our parts was to be the difference maker. A Very Good Start Crew dynamics fluctuate, but hopefully evolve. What seems to work for a period of time, sometimes does not work perpetually. This is to be expected. What must be sustained though is the discipline to set standards and goals, and then meet them. If the crew is committed to meeting high standards, those standards having been well explained and unanimously adopted, discipline becomes the catalyst for success. Apathy and inconsistency are the opposite of discipline. A lack of discipline becomes a consistent drag on all efforts to improve. So far this year our team has responded to the call to discipline and even they agree we are better for it. A disciplined crew is appreciated by the entire organization. You may even get cupcakes as a thank you.
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