Volunteers Bring New Life to Courtyard Garden at W.E.B. Du Bois Library

AMHERST, Mass. - A group of volunteers at the University of Massachusetts is bringing the garden in the courtyard of the W.E.B. Du Bois Library back to life. The effort is spearheaded by library staff members themselves.

From now on, the raised concrete beds will bloom with the color of tulips and daffodils in the spring and flowering annuals and perennials during the summer. Newly planted grasses and shrubs will add interest during the fall and winter. The planting is currently under way, and is expected to be completed in the next few weeks.

The beds had once been planted with pine trees, but the overall appearance of the courtyard was less than pleasing, says Barbara Morgan, reference librarian, who, along with Betty Brace, head of the circulation department, determined to do something about the situation. They approached Marc Fournier, director of grounds management, who offered his assistance once a plan for the gardens was developed. A group of faculty including Jack Ahern, landscape architecture and regional planning; alumna Nancy Garrabrants, plant and soil sciences; and Robert Childs, entomology, along with Leslie Schaler of the library’s technical services division, then contributed their time and expertise to come up with a garden design. The library and physical plant have provided funding for the project.

"The site is sunny, hot, and very exposed, so the design had to incorporate low-maintenance plants that can withstand a lot of heat," says Schaler. "We also tried to select plants with visible interest during all four seasons," adds Garrabrants. Workers from grounds management cleaned the beds, replaced the soil, and added bark mulch, all by hand because the courtyard is accessible only through the library’s basement reference area. An automatic drip irrigation system has been installed to solve the crucial problem of keeping the plants watered, which had always been an obstacle to maintaining the beds in the past. In addition, landscape contracting students from Stockbridge School helped to prepare the beds for planting last fall.

The transformation involved cooperation on many campus fronts, Morgan says. "It’s a good example of how diverse campus entities can bring their unique skills and perspectives together to create something greater than we can envision separately."

Schaler and her corps of library volunteers, along with assistance from physical plant staff, have pledged to keep up with routine maintenance of the beds. Many at the library envision the courtyard as a space for sculpture displays, art exhibits, readings, or other formal events, Schaler says, and the next step is to find funds to pay for benches. The plantings have already made a big difference in the appearance of the courtyard, but as the shrubs and perennials mature, Schaler says, it’ll look even better.