If our 137-year-old campus looked a little more colorful this year, thank the seventy-four faculty, staff and student volunteers who joined the Adopt-a-Planter program sponsored by the Campus Beautification Committee and grounds management. A lot of people have already thanked them.
"I've gotten calls from people who pass by and want to know what's growing. I've gotten lots of compliments, too," says Wendy Cooper, who tends two of the planters scattered about campus, designed to block car traffic from the UMass sidewalks. Cooper's efforts were also noticed by the beautification committee, which awarded her a $50 gift certificate to Fitzwilly's or The Depot restaurants in Northampton. Plant and soil sciences major Jill Sorrentino and her friend Brian Lipka received a gift certificate for their container garden by the campus pond, as did the team of Diane Blondin, Ellen Weeks, Kathy Rice and Kathleen Carroll for a planter they adopted between Franklin Dining Commons and their offices in French Hall.
Beautification committee member Barbara Pitoniak says the planter program has been a surprising success in its first year. The committee had offered prizes to encourage participation, but most of the campus' coffee-break gardeners found the planter projects offered their own rewards.
"It's great to have something here that's your own creation," Cooper says as she inspects the twining, purplish hyacinth bean vine that climbs gracefully up a small bamboo trellis in her planter near Draper Hall.
Marc Fournier, assistant director of grounds management, is impressed with the creativity of the volunteer gardeners, and says that, besides decorating the campus, the program allowed his staff to concentrate on other groundskeeping and maintenance projects. "The variety of plantings and landscaping has been great," Fournier says. "We've seen everything from cactus to metal sculptures." A group of gardeners tending a planter in the engineering quad used a four-foot-high handmade copper sculpture of a DNA double helix to support their climbing vines.
In early spring, grounds management staff prepared each of the thirty recycled plastic planters with soil and an engraved nameplate identifying its volunteer gardeners. Meanwhile the beautification committee allotted each group of participants a $40 gift certificate to the Hadley Garden Center and a five-gallon bucket of UMass's own "earth enhancer" compost. Cooper used her seed money literally to buy seeds instead of seedlings. That made her garden "a late-bloomer," she says, but by early autumn her planters were teeming with lobelia, liatris, sweet potato vine, heliotrope and alyssum, purple basil (which she and passersby occasionally pinched off for the evening's meal), Swiss chard, and flowing ornamental sage that spilled nearly to the sidewalk below.
Cooper, an administrative coordinator in the computer science department, said she spent a few hours planting in late May, then tended the garden every few days on her way to lunch at the Campus Center. Her biggest challenge was carrying water, until she befriended Tom Scott, a foreman in the physics and astronomy department's machine shop in nearby Draper Annex, who gave her access to his shop and its spigot.
Blondin's foursome planted tuberous begonia, coleus, impatiens, perennial juniper, and lamium. She's hoping next year they can adopt the same planter and cultivate the perennials while adding new annuals.
"We got very excited about this project," Bondin says, "and now we know what works and doesn't work."
She said the cool, wet season put their garden a little behind schedule, but left very little work for them to do. "We pinched it back a few times," Blondin says, "but mostly we just let it be."