by LAURA HAYES
Walking across Winona State University’s (WSU) campus, arborist David Lein often stops to check on the budding trees or strawberry plants popping through the ground. “This tree, I was told, used to be in someone’s front yard,” he said, pointing to a hackberry tree in front of the Integrated Wellness Complex (IWC).
“Apparently there used to be a street all the way to the student commons … this was actually in someone’s lawn,” Lein said. “These trees have been here through a lot — building of houses and the deconstruction, road construction, put this building here — all of this stuff is changing around them. The stories they could tell.”
In 2015, WSU was recognized as a Tree Campus USA, sporting around 100 different species of trees across the campus’ arboretum. Growing up, WSU’s Arboretum Director and Landscape Services Supervisor Lisa Pearson had two major passions — she loved the outdoors and enjoyed drawing and sketching. She and her family lived on a 40-acre hobby farm, and Pearson reveled in spending her time in the woods. “I didn’t know a landscape architect at all, living out in the country,” she admitted.
When she went to college, Pearson realized that becoming a landscape architect combined the two things she loved. From the budding trees to the snow-lined branches, Pearson enjoys seeing the natural artistry on WSU’s campus.
With winter melting into spring, Pearson and her staff are excited to see their hard work pruning and maintaining the plants through the colder months pay off and watch the trees and flowers blossom. While there are some perennial flowers on campus, most of the annual flowers on campus won’t get planted until after graduation. “You can’t safely plant flowers until after Mother’s Day,” Pearson explained.
WSU’s Senior Groundskeeper Amy Welch has been the university’s horticulturist and in charge of the campus’ colors and fragrances for the past 39 years. Welch said that she didn’t have a predetermined flower plan — though she favored snapdragons. Sometimes, Welch would reach out to the people whose offices were near the flowerbeds, and ask what colors they might want for the year.
“She’s done it for so many years that she has in her mind what she wants to do,” Pearson explained.
Initially, Welch said that she wanted to be a veterinarian as a career. However, after being told that women couldn’t be vets and not wanting to be a secretary, she decided to pursue an outdoors career. One thing she has always wanted during her time at WSU was more planters, and next year, her wish will be granted. Recently, Pearson bought new trashcans for campus, and they plan to use some of the campus’ old bins as plant potters.
Every year, they rotate what flowers are planted where depending on the changing conditions surrounding the flower plot. For example, if a tree is cut down, they may plant flowers that prefer the sun versus some that like the shade. Typically, Pearson’s staff doesn’t remove the flowers after they bloom. There are some exceptions, of course, such as planting pansies so that the campus has color for graduation. “Pansies can typically tolerate [cooler temperatures], but they don’t last into the summer,” she explained.
Pearson said that the flowers are usually worn by September, and in the future she hopes to extend the blooming season to when students are on campus. “It’s kind of frustrating that you have all of this color on display and the kids can’t always appreciate it because they’re gone,” she said.
She suggested planting mums in the falls — something that she said has been a challenge with limited staff members. Currently, there are four arboretum and landscape services employees, including Pearson, Welch, and Lein. They also employ a number of student workers, who Peterson said did the “ungrateful job” of picking up trash, raking, and fluffing the mulch beds.
Pearson explained that the city removed dead trees — including ash trees due to the emerald ash borer — along the edge of WSU’s campus. Currently, there are a number of tree stumps dotting the terraces along the streets, and Pearson said that this year they will plant a number of new trees. This will add tree diversity to prevent the loss of large groups of the same species to pests or disease.
While there are 52 tree species on WSU’s campus native to Minnesota, the university also features a number of trees that aren’t native to the area, such as the ornamental pear tree found on the corner of Minné Hall and the ginkgo trees dotted across WSU. “Winona has a unique microclimate from being in the valley. So we can grow some trees that you wouldn’t necessarily think of growing this far north,” Pearson said.
Lein said that they look for trees that can survive and thrive where they decide to plant it. Because of where they plan to plant the trees along the road, Pearson said that they looked for trees that may be smaller and tolerate the surrounding environment. Some tree species such as ash and maple are over-planted on campus, and this year Pearson planned to introduce other species like cyprus and poplar trees. For example, around WSU’s founder’s circle, Pearson and her staff will plant four narrow oak trees that can tolerate the salt from the surrounding pavement as part of the campus’ Arbor Day celebrations.
Shrubs, Pearson said, is where they needed the most improvement. In the future, she hoped to plant more shrubs that could typically be paired with trees in nature. “We’re removing a lot of overgrown shrubs right now,” Pearson explained. Currently, the staff was working on trimming back some of the campus’ juniper plants and trees that have outgrown their spaces.
Last week, Winona Nursery staff came to campus to plant native plants at the new bio-infiltration sites along side WSU’s IWC. “These collect storm water off of our roofs and allow it to infiltrate into the groundwater gradually,” Pearson said.
The bio-infiltration sites are the newest gardens on WSU’s campus. Featuring a number of native plants, Pearson said that the sites are designed to complement the Brooke Baures memorial garden near the IWC.
“The thing I really enjoy [about my job] is seeing the students out in the landscape … sitting at the tables or under the trees. Some do look at the flowers and appreciate it. That’s the coolest thing when you can see people interacting with this environment that you’ve nurtured and created,” Pearson said.