Students work to keep campus gardens green
April 22, 2009 8:27 PM
Work-study jobs aren't all paper-pushing and latte-making. Some students are rooting around in the dirt pulling weeds and planting mushrooms, improving campus sustainability and loving every minute.
With efforts to make campus plant life more sustainable, beautiful and, well, green, two students are altering the university's manor-like gardens. Jacqueline Sarratt and Jennifer Reiff began working on the Biodiversity Gardens Project after starting their work-study jobs at the grounds department last winter. The project seeks to create a university landscape that is abundant with native plants that use less water than the current environment and attract much of the area's natural wildlife, such as salamanders, bees, butterflies and hummingbirds.
In a blue-green jumpsuit and kneepads covered in a thin layer of dirt, Sarratt took a break from weed-pulling between the HSS and Science buildings and recalled the first garden.
"I was hired to work in the Garden of Remembrance, which has many plants that need specific attention. I noticed an area closer to Burk Hall that was kind of neglected."
It wasn't long before her boss agreed to let her design a garden within that area.
A biology graduate student studying evolution and ecology, Sarratt's thesis is about the evolution of the plant-insect relationship. It doesn't take a stretch of the imagination to believe that the first garden was built with bugs in mind.
Located by Burk Hall, near the Garden of Remembrance, the Pine Understory garden is devoted to the beetle. It has dead wood that beetles can burrow into and live. The downside to the current policy of chipping dead wood is that it eliminates a natural habitat for burrowing animals such as beetles and some bees, Sarratt said.
"San Francisco has a lot of solitary bees that don't live in hives but in tiny dugout holes in wood. They can't burrow in mulch."
The Health Center Bee garden, on the Center's roof, has many California native flowers designed to attract the more than 70 varieties of bees in the Bay Area. Reiff is currently working on informational signs for all of the gardens.
Other gardens include the Succulent garden, a small garden near the Science building that displays plants that have adapted to very little water conditions, mostly agave, from which tequila is made.
The Coastal California Demonstration garden is filled with small plants, such as sagebrush, lupine and poppy, which are native to California and would normally be thriving on the land the university is built on.
Work has just begun on the Mushroom garden in the foliage between the Science and HSS buildings. "It's going to have a lot of stumps, and wood and logs. We're going to drill holes in them and they'll be filled with fungi," Sarratt said. Those fungi and other native plants will provide pollen and nectar and food sources for local wildlife.
Reiff recently completed work on the Butterfly garden, which "contains both plants that provide food and shelter to butterfly larvae and plants that provide nectar to adult butterflies," according to sign templates. It has lilacs and daisies and will attract more than a dozen species living on the peninsula.
Phil Evans, director of campus grounds, works closely with Sarratt and Reiff. They hope to officially unveil their work this fall. "We'll get to where we have a sign that's a teaser and students can go to the Web site and get to do more."
Drafts of the signs tell readers why the gardens are vital, the wildlife they are attracting and what is in the garden.
"We're focusing on natives because they're drought tolerant and sustainable and they'll attract wildlife. We are thinking in terms of least expensive, most functional, longest-lasting, nicest place to be," Evans said.
"We've succeeded at the estate garden model," Evans said of the grounds, which have brought recognition and even some awards, such as best urban university landscape, but, "It's not sustaining and it's time to do something different."
In an e-mail, Evans added "We would like to see students develop long term research projects here on how well the grounds serve their purpose as both an environment for students and in sustaining the natural local ecology."
"We welcome students in a variety of fields to set up independent study classes that focus on real life projects - both as thought experiments and those for actual construction."
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