Celebrating the Seasonal Campus

Longwood Gardens asters and solidago

One seeming irony of the annual cycle in higher education is that autumn and new visitors arrive on campus in the waning growing season, just when lush summer plants begin to fade. It becomes a challenge to show off a campus landscape to good effect. Yet, knowledgeable grounds men and women use seasonal blooming (and easy care) plant materials to make a lasting impression.

There are many examples in the less temperate sections of the continent where winter weather looms as the fall term advances. Here are a few notables from my memory bank.

At the University of Saint Thomas in Minnesota, late-blooming hostas (e.g., Hosta, Royal Standard) are incorporated in simple foundation plantings near building entries to greet first-year and returning students. At Muskingum University in Ohio and Fairfield University in Connecticut Japanese or autumn anemones (e.g., Anemone hupehenisis, var. japonica) are massed in dappled shade to delight passers-by and lingerers. Even the bleakness of winter can be countered. Somewhat obviously dark evergreen plantings remind us of a greener springtime, but there are also brightly colored twigs of deciduous shrubs such as red or golden stick dogwoods (e.g., Cornus alba, elegantissmia and Cornus sericea, flaviranea) to provide color and contrast as the season advances through winter doldrums. One of the more spectacular winter displays that I recollect from my travels was at Smith College where a stand of winter berry (e.g., Ilex verticillata) was allowed to mature in prudently untrimmed fashion, creating an immense and eye-popping display of scarlet orbs against February snow.

My colleagues who are landscape architects have taught me that massings of bloom and color are to be favored over sparsely planted specimens for visible impact on campus. Plants left to claim their own forms and habitats often complement each other handsomely, as the accompanying photo from a late September arboretum visit suggests—a timely combination of perennial asters and goldenrod (e.g., Symphotrichum novi-belgii and Solidago rugosa). Native species tend to thrive with knowing but only periodic care. Part of sustainability it would seem is investing less in labor and more in delight.

Looking closer,