Landscaping and maintenance: UAA’s horticulture heroes

Summer is in the air, and the current view of UAA’s outdoor campus looks a lot like a beehive. The Landscape and Maintenance department workers are busy throughout the day with all sorts of groundskeeping jobs, and among those workers is a group of people specifically dedicated to landscape horticulture — that is, the specialty of growing flowers, trees and other plants.

Flowerbeds outside of UAA Cuddy Hall

Landscape horticulture supervisor Catherine Shank, along with student worker Steffany Willhauck and nine other employees put in hours all throughout the week in order to keep the campus beautiful. As each new year begins, the landscape workers have what seems like a simple job, but it turns out to be no walk in the park as the month progress.


Every January, workers begin to plant seeds in the greenhouse until mid-May. Then the hard work picks up in order to prepare the campus’ 36 annual flowerbeds for transplanting by Rototilling the dirt and adding manure.

“You get really buff during it. … It’s so hard at first! The machine will just take off, and you’re, like, running after it, but you get used to it,” said Willhauck about the tilling process when she was first learning.

After tilling, flowers are weaned away from the greenhouses by slowing introducing them to outdoor temperatures in “cold frames,” special outdoor boxes to protect them from UV light and wind. Then they are transplanted into the prepared soil according to specific flowerbed layouts designed uniquely each autumn by the three permanent horticulture workers.

“Our job is always changing; you get to do something different all the time,” said Shank glowingly. “It’s not the same thing day in and day out.”

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The job doesn’t stop once the summer ends, however. When frost begins to set in, the same maintenance service workers who planted seeds in the spring suit up like snowed-in superheroes to prepare for their winter plowing duties — minus the cape.

“We get called in at 4 a.m. when it snows. We have to be here at 5,” Shank commented.

Considering Anchorage’s recent record-breaking winter, the crew’s early morning plowing is nothing short of an act of heroism, complete with a double identity for some: student by day, snow pusher by night. Armed with the equipment, workers like Willhauck make it possible to get through the doors of the campus buildings.

Very few people know about the hard work and dedication that the landscaping and maintenance employees put in all year round in the snow, rain and shine, even though the work of these unsung heroes is nearly impossible to ignore — or, at least for some. Others aren’t so mindful.

Purple drumstick primroses

Even though the flowerbed tilling began just recently, there are already footprints and tire tracks in some of the beds, despite the bright orange cones surrounding the in-progress areas.

Willhauck begged the question to the anonymous perpetrators, “Really, you couldn’t go those extra two feet to go around it?”

A suggested alternative to putting footprints in the flowers is instead a unique way to experience the campus in a hands-on fashion: fruit picking. There are numerous fruit-bearing trees all over campus — including crab apples, cherries, and pears, all of which is free for students to pick and eat. According to Willhauck, picking the campus fruit trees is actually encouraged, because the fruit that goes unpicked just falls on the ground and gets squashed by people walking to and from classes.

The Landscaping department has created a way for people to learn about the trees — including name, species, and even if the fruit is good — and the event is this week. The department is hosting a free public “tree tour,” which is led by Community Forestry Program coordinator Patricia Joyner and showcases more than fifty trees planted in the Cuddy Quad.

The Landscaping tree tour begins in the West Parking Lot on May 30 and goes from 6 p.m. to 7:30 p.m. But be sure not to step on any flowers on the way there!