With weeks of summer sun and heat ahead, these are times that test every Kansas backyard gardener. It’s an even more challenging task for the crew of landscapers who maintain Pittsburg State University’s 275-acre, park-like campus.
Cate Breneman, landscape architect and grounds crew supervisor, said she adds about 10 seasonal workers to her normal crew of 13 to keep up with the work.
“We start the week doing a lot of mowing,” Breneman said. “We have six or seven mowers that run basically full time from Monday through Wednesday, if everything goes well and we have no rain.”
Breneman said there is also a full-time crew devoted to caring for the university’s flower beds, which right now means a lot of watering.
“This is obviously the most prolific time,” Breneman said. “There’s lots of watering, weeding and that sort of thing.”
Breneman said the crews work hard to make the campus look beautiful for the summer CARES sessions. She said she believes having the campus look nice is an important recruiting tool for prospective students and it is something the university has long been known for.
“I know that when I was looking at college, I looked at it (campus landscaping), and that was before I knew I was going to be in landscape architecture,” Breneman said. “I think students and families look for a good aesthetic. (It should be) a place that they want to be and they want to be around.”
Breneman said she has a talented and experienced crew and the university’s many beds and plantings have been developed over many years of hard work and planning. She said one area she would like to tackle is finding ways to make the beds more interesting in the winter months and also easier to maintain during the hot, dry months.
“We’re looking at integrating more permanent and semi-permanent landscape into the beds,” Breneman said. “There are times during the winter when there’s nothing in those. We’d like to have ‘bones,’ if you will, in each bed so that there’s something there that we can enhance with seasonal color when it’s appropriate.”
Breneman said the plants that could provide the ‘bones’ she described could also help the campus reduce water usage.
“Typically shrubs and ornamental grasses require much, much less water than annuals do,” Breneman said. “In addition, flowering perennials require much less water, once they’re established, than annuals do. We’re looking at integrating some of those where appropriate and where we can, so that we don’t have to depend so much on someone coming and watering every day or every other day.”
Breneman said the campus is already known for its beauty, so any changes will be made with care.
“We want to make sure we’re making smart decisions,” Breneman said. “We really strive to make this campus beautiful and maintain the precedent that has already been set.”