MU landscapers prepare for commencement

Designers are focusing on a Mexican cantina theme for the landscape this year.
Bright tulips decorate the front of the Arts and Science Building on Thursday afternoon. Landscape Services' theme for this year's landscape design is Mexican cantina.

With commencement a month away, the 50-person Landscape & Grounds Maintenance staff is preparing for spring and working to spruce up the campus for the ceremonies.

“We look at commencement as our opportunity to have the campus looking its absolute best,” Landscape Services Director Pete Millier said. “We want parents to realize that in addition to the wonderful education you’ve gotten, the school is really an attractive, beautiful campus.”

Landscapers focus a large part of their efforts on major areas of campus like Francis Quadrangle and Jesse Hall.

“We’ve got to have it looking good,” Millier said.

Plans for the spring landscape design have been in the works since last year, Millier said.

“Before the snow ends, we’re dealing with this,” Assistant Superintendent of Horticulture Charles Paxton said. “We still have snow on the ground when we’re trying to fertilize the grass. We’re still putting down ice melt when we’re trying to seed the grass.”

To account for the snow, landscapers have a seven-month window to work.

“That’s why planning and preparation is so critical to our success,” Millier said.

Each year, designers choose a theme to base the landscape around.

“We have a very talented perennial crew,” Paxton said. “We give them a little bit of artistic license. We challenge them to come up with something unique and colorful.”

This year’s theme is Mexican cantina. Designers hope to incorporate more red, yellow and orange plants into the landscape this year.

“It’s really big, tropical, robust, loud plants,” Paxton said. “Everything is so big and difficult to ignore.”

Landscape designers are experimenting with elephant ears and grasses they have never used before.

“There’s always opportunities to enhance,” Paxton said. “There’s always this idea of what’s new, what’s hot, what’s fun. You want to enhance with what’s new.”

Designers spend between $2,000 and $10,000 per year on the landscape, which is funded both publicly and privately through the Mizzou Botanic Garden, Millier said.

“We’re very frugal people here,” he said. “Very practical.”

The Landscape Services consists of a 40 to 50 person full-time staff, 30 to 35 of which handle manual labor including planting and mowing. More than 1,600 hours are put into landscaping the 740-acre campus per week, landscape gardener Jenna Rozum said.

Sixty to 70 percent of the physical labor goes into mowing the grass, Paxton said. The maintenance crews operate more than a dozen riding lawn mowers.

About 10 of those staff members are students who work part time.

“I think a lot of times, some people just don’t want to be working in an office,” Rozum said.

Landscape Services is also working on the area around the MU Student Center, which they hope to have finished within two weeks.

“It’s a pretty bleak area,” Paxton said.

Plans call for the use of shrubs and reestablishment of deciduous trees.

“It will be a park-like atmosphere again,” he said.

Paxton said the response they receive during the planting process is always positive.

“When the crews are out working in the flower beds, it’s a pretty instant reaction they get from students, staff and visitors,” he said. “The landscape looks good now, but it’ll look even better for commencement.”

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