If a university takes good care of its plants and its campus, then it will take good care of the students who attend.
That is the philosophy of Dr. DeBow Freed, president emeritus of the University of Findlay, according to Susie Stratton, co-owner of Stratton Greenhouses. If parents see that the grounds are well kept during campus tours, they will be more comfortable sending their teenagers to college there.
“The past president of the University of Findlay had a very strong belief that if you keep a campus looking beautiful and nice, it gives back in a lot of ways,” says Stratton, who has been in charge of the campus plantings for about seven years. “He has a passion for flowers. And the wonderful thing is the new president, Dr. Katherine Fell, has carried on that tradition. She has continued and enhanced the plantings for the university.”
Stratton, who is the design coordinator, and her husband, the grower, install the majority of the plants on campus. Each year, they plant 3,000 to 4,000 tulips in the fall, and they plant and install 36 Kinsman hayracks, 32 Kinsman post planters and 40 cement planters. In addition, they plant numerous beds across the University of Findlay.
“Students would stop me and thank me for planting, and employees would tell me they just loved the color scheme I used this year. Parents would tell me, ‘We took our son or daughter to six other campuses, and this by far was the most beautiful campus,’ and I’d hear that over and over again,” Stratton says.
“(The University of Findlay) made this commitment of excellence that is amazing, that you don’t find at a lot of schools. They needed the story to be told that plants do make a positive impact on campus, and I thought of America in Bloom.”
In March, Stratton recruited a group who could help her with the application for the Capturing the Spirit of America in Bloom contest. The committee included Stratton, Myreon Cobb, physical plant director at the university, Rebecca Jenkins, marketing director of the university, Sam Ream, grounds keeper, Jessica Ramey, who wrote and organized the information and the man who started it all – Dr. Freed.
The biggest challenge was writing the more than 20 page biography of the university, Stratton says. “A university is different than a community, and we truly had all of the different categories, it was just trying to figure out the best way of telling the story.”
When the judges came to town to survey the university in July, Stratton says it was a benefit for more than just the university. “We made sure the judges stayed downtown and ate downtown. I think it had a positive impact on the community,” she says.
“In terms of my business, I’ve already had more people calling me, and that’s been extra revenue for our business.” And, Stratton says, where else can you pay less than $1,000 for an evaluation from professional consultants?
“You have outside eyes coming in to evaluate, and it makes you think about who you are and what image you are putting out to people. They are looking at the entire community,” she says.
She recommends people get involved with the organization, and gives one important piece of advice that worked for her.
“Start early, and choose your committee wisely.”
The author is associate editor of Garden Center Magazine.