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May 26, 2005

Gardens spring up at Pittsburgh campus with 34,000 plants

The term flower power holds special meaning for the dozen groundskeepers on the Pittsburgh campus now planting 94 flowerbeds with more than 34,000 marigolds, zinnias, ageratums and a kaleidoscope of other annuals.

In a month or two, beds will be lush with impatiens billowing over garden banks. Palms will sway in the breeze, giving a tropical air to the showy displays adorning the Cathedral of Learning fountain and the bronze panther at the William Pitt Union. Sweet potato vines and wave petunias will fall like curly tendrils from hanging moss baskets.

The profusion of summer color takes root in the 270,000 pounds of mushroom compost and 204,000 pounds of topsoil that groundskeepers spread in early spring, according to David Heintzinger, grounds manager in Facilities Management. Heintzinger’s gardeners are part of a team of 23 full-time groundskeepers who tend to the flowerbeds, cut grass and generally manicure the grounds.

With gardening trowels and flats of annuals in hand, groundskeepers began fanning out across campus on May 16, digging and planting and spacing the flowers ever so carefully. And they have been planting ever since, rain or shine. According to Heintzinger, the planting should be completed shortly after Memorial Day. Then it’s just a matter of time before the gardens swell with horticultural standards such as bacopa, verbena, canna, vinca, dusty miller, begonia, salvia and dahlia.

As always, expect to see marigolds spelling out “Pitt” flanked by blue Hawaiian ageratums in front of Clapp Hall, a campus horticultural fixture.

The groundskeepers try to reinforce the blue and gold color scheme in places with high pedestrian traffic, such as the William Pitt Union.

But each year, Heintzinger tries to bring something new to the University gardens. This year it is lupines: delicate looking perennials with spikes supporting small, upright but plump, sturdy flowers crowded like kernels on a corncob. This idea came from Ana Guzman, retired Facilities Management associate vice chancellor, who currently is a consultant for the department. While in her native Argentina, she admired the lupines and thought they would thrive on the Pittsburgh campus. Already, 70 percent of the lupines are beginning to bloom, which bodes well for the future of this sometimes-fussy perennial.

Planting is just the beginning of the groundskeepers’ work, according to Heintzinger. The plants need nourishment — water-soluble fertilizer every three to four weeks. And the 163 containers and pots and 84 hanging baskets dotting the campus dry out more quickly than do the beds. When Mother Nature can’t accommodate the container plants’ demand for water every two days, the groundskeepers must supply it, tooling around campus in a water truck to provide what Mother Nature doesn’t.

Pitt’s gardens have attracted more than the admiration of faculty, staff and students. The Professional Grounds Management Society bestowed one of its green star awards for excellence in 2003 on the University, one of only seven schools honored nationally.

—Mary Ann Thomas

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