Flower Beds Have Fruits, Veggies and the Spice of Life
by John Gagnon, promotional writer
Lynn Watson, Tech's master gardener, has soiled clothes and calloused hands that attest to her hard work; her gardens attest to her lively imagination as she fashions a campus of enchanting blooms and lovely colors.
While she transforms the campus from plain to pert, she plants more than flowers, shrubs and trees; she also plants tomatoes, blueberries, rhubarb, sugar plums and chives. Most of them are by Fisher and the Administration Building, and they will be handy fare when ripe. "Anybody that comes by can pick them," Watson says.
She calls mixing flowers with vegetables "interplanting." She does it for looks, diversity, habitat and food. On her list for the future: watermelons, pumpkins, cucumbers, beets, peppers and cabbages. "Don't think of them as vegetables--they're beautiful plants," she says.
She's in her second year of sprucing up the campus. Some of it was a tough row to hoe. When she first began working on the south side of the Administration Building, she says, the soil was "concrete dirt." Now, under her nurturing thumb, it is so "fluffy" she can dig a hole with her hands.
The garden is as bountiful as it is soft. Watson says the plants are "happy"--just like the songbirds and butterflies that she says now grace campus in much greater abundance than a year ago.
Outside of Facilities, there is a touching sight: four sleepy white-crowned sparrow hatchlings nestled in a planter of pansies basking in the sunlight. Watson says birds nest in potted trees that haven't even been planted yet. "That's how habitat-hungry this campus was," she says.
Her gardens also entice other animals. "Deer nibble their way around," she says. "They like young vegetation, especially hostas." Rabbits are more bothersome. "We have an extreme problem with rabbits," she says. "They eat lilies, and they eat our vegetables. It's frustrating. You plant it, and it's going to multiply, and then it's gone."
Meanwhile, she says, John Rovano, director of Facilities, and Andy Niemi, manager of grounds, are the roots of this endeavor. This spring, Watson drew up "a big long wish list--ten times the minimum" of what she would like to work with this summer. "They gave me everything I wanted," she says. "It was astounding."
In May, then, she received 500 flowers, shrubs and trees from a nursery in Minnesota. "We're still planting what we bought," she says. "It's all we've been doing. I know where they all go. It's just getting there.
"You have to do it the right way," she says about the work, "and that's the hard way." Everything she does is times 500.
She works from April through November and has two student helpers: one is Deanna Larson (CEE) who works full-time on irrigating the gardens; the other is Kristina Raisanen (SBE), who works part-time--for a total of 100 hours of labor a week.
Watson, speaking figuratively, not literally, describes the campus and buildings a year ago as "shoe boxes on dirt." She's transforming it to fertile and colorful repose. She remembers the space between the library and Rekhi Hall as "a dust bowl" that she's turned into "a rose bowl."
"Use a little imagination," she says. "It's just going to get better and better." She envisions the whole campus sitting pretty. "We'll be there in five years," she estimates.
She especially likes to beautify the grounds at the MUB, where the gardens are a popular backdrop for people taking photos at weddings, banquets, graduations and the alumni reunion. She hopes that the overall impression people get is, "One, we have a sense of aesthetics, which is classy. And, two, we are into nurturing--so it's an okay place to leave your kids."
The whole enterprise, she adds, "comes down to water," and she dreams of having it piped throughout campus right out of the Keweenaw Waterway--the way it's done to feed the snowmaking operation at Mont Ripley.
Not only Watson enjoys the fruits of her labor. "Everybody's looking," she says, "and they really, really like it."
She and her husband live in Houghton. "People say, 'Your garden at home must be gorgeous.' No, the shoemaker's kids don't have shoes. My own gardens are just awful."
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Sue Sergey, senior executive secretary, reports that there is now a small vegetable garden by the old grounds building at Facilities. It's tucked against the south-facing wall that gathers in the sun.
Sergey helped Watson and her students plant the garden. Sergey tends to it on breaks and lunch hour. "It's a totally different environment from the office," she says. "It's a good morale booster."
"We're going to share it," Sergey adds. Come the harvest moon, there will be bushel baskets filled with tomatoes, cucumbers, squash, pumpkin and broccoli--all for the taking. The small spot, about fifteen feet square, is named "Sue's garden."
"It's my baby, my pet project," Sergey says. "I get all excited. But it's hard work, and I'm not going to quit my day job."