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A Year Round Job - Laying the Groundwork for Graduation

University Grounds Staff
University Grounds Staff
Originally published 22 July 2003


It's the time of year when the whole campus really has to look its best, but few of us stop to consider exactly how much work goes in to preparing the campus all year round.

For example, David Howell, the University’s Grounds Superintendent, has already chosen the colour scheme for next year’s graduation display. The plants are ordered from international wholesale markets in order to get the best range and quality, and then raised so that they are in peak condition for graduation week.

Butterworth Hall – 500 plants

David explained that laying out the floristry is like painting a picture, he has it all planned out in his mind’s eye as well as on the numerous project plans and timetables that he uses to ensure that everything goes to plan on the week itself.

Over 500 pot plants go into the display in the Butterworth Hall alone and David and his team have such detailed plans in place that the estimated number of plants needed is always correct to within 20 plants. Working with nature means that plans often have to be adapted according to how the plants have grown.

The plants are carefully nurtured and laid out so that they are easy to care for. They need half an hour’s maintenance every day of graduation week to ensure that they are looking as good on the Friday afternoon as they did when they first went in on the Monday morning.

Those plants that survive the week are re-used. The foliage is always grown on for another year until it outgrows its use and the perennials find homes in arrangements for conferences, or on other parts of campus.

Wimbledon-style Lawns and Colour Co-ordinated Bedding

It’s not just the Butterworth Hall that has to look its best – the entire team works hard on the whole campus to get it in peak condition. Grounds staff are requested not to book any time off in the two weeks prior to graduation.

Getting the grounds in order was especially difficult this year due to the heavy groundswork and maintenance that has been going on all over campus and the extreme weather conditions.

Working from Senate House outwards, the gardening staff take great pride in getting the campus looking as good as possible. David says with satisfaction that he thinks, “It looks as good as any campus in the country.” He also pointed out that visitors and University members respect the work that’s put in “The tidier you have the site the tidier it gets kept.”

On graduation week the litter picking crew was in at six in the morning and the number of bins of campus was increased. All the benches were cleaned up so that best frocks and graduation robes weren’t spoilt and this year two new benches were put in at the back of Senate House. Finally all the grass was fed and watered and all the beds were given a once over to be in prime condition for the week, and season, ahead.

Over the two-week period before graduation upwards of 30 grounds staff, excluding sports staff, work longer hours than normal, including much of the weekend before the ceremonies, – they even hire in an extra vehicle. This is the one time of year that you might see David with his sleeves rolled up helping out!

Tea with The Queen

David was in his best clothes on Tuesday 15 July though, as he and his wife appreciated someone else’s garden at The Queen’s Garden Party at Buckingham Palace.

University Horticultural Officers’ Conference

As if all this weren’t enough David is also organising the forthcoming University Horticultural Officers’ Conference to be held at Warwick in September. 37 delegates from all over the country have so far accepted the invitation to come and share best practice and exchange ideas.

On with the Annual Cycle

Now that graduation’s over the grounds staff are moving on to the next bit of their annual cycle.

Some of the bedding plants used to enhance the campus for graduation have been relocated to new permanent schemes outside the Avon Building at Westwood.

Current projects include planning the landscaping at Lakeside, getting the extension to the Sports Centre ready for landscaping and preparing the planting for the new Mathematics and Statistics Building.

It’s not all special projects though - the day-to-day maintenance work goes on as normal. Next time you see a gardener on campus you’ll know a bit more about what’s involved!