Scenic Roots Bring Campus to Life

A Scripted Freelance Writer Writing Sample

(This is an excerpt due to space constraints.)

Mowing and mulching, planting and pruning are all in a day's work for Sherrie Moyer, grounds maintenance and horticulture technician and the green thumb behind much of the College landscape. Moyer, along with Rick Gressley, Facilities Management, is responsible for the upkeep of campus grounds; two other full-time employees maintain the athletic fields and help with general campus upkeep when there is a heavier workload. Student workers pitch in, too.

Since she arrived at Elizabethtown in 2004, Moyer has been adding to the biodiversity of the campus landscape, while maintaining its integrity by incorporating native plants. There are approximately 400 plants in Pennsylvania on the Species of Concern list—and 15 of them have roots planted at E-town, she said.

"If we can provide a home for some of those, somewhere on campus, I'm making a difference."

Elizabethtown Natives

"Native species are called natives because those species have existed in this region for thousands of years," said Dr. David Bowne, assistant professor of Biology. These plants, he said, have adapted to local physical conditions such as climate and soil.

Moyer adds that the plants have evolved along with native insects, birds and mammals. In the fashion of "The Old Woman Who Swallowed a Fly," Moyer explained that perennials feed the insects; insects feed the caterpillars; and caterpillars feed the birds. Not all of the caterpillars are for the birds, however. Many metamorphose into brilliantly colored butterflies. If it seems as if there are more monarchs on campus than in years past, that's because Moyer planted additional 'butterfly weed' on campus, including in front of Alpha Hall, to complement the existing plants in wildflower beds near the track.

"Monarch larvae only eat milkweed, so if you want more butterflies, you need this. It's a magnet," she said, adding that the plant variety is great for bees, too. They can feast on the "nectar buffet" offered by other nearby flowers.

Moyer's planting philosophy includes developing a relationship between plants and insects, in support of Bowne's opinion that native plants provide better shelter to native animals than can non-native plants. So, the campus landscape is more than flowering plants and trees; it's buzzing with winged wildlife and furry friends. Nuts, berries and acorns lure birds, chipmunks, rabbits—and what would a college campus be without squirrels? These small creatures bring birds of prey to campus, as well.

"[Native plants] complete the ecosystem cycle," Moyer said, adding that exotic plants from places such as Asia are aesthetically pleasing, but they don't contribute much to the surrounding life.

In fact, Bowne said exotic and foreign plants could damage an ecosystem. "It's important to remember that while an individual plant does not move, its seeds and pollen do," Bowne noted. "If we plant non-native species here, we will be responsible for the spread of those non-native plants, further degrading our environment." This is especially true, he said, for those categorized as "invasive species"—plants that can lead to the decline of native species.

Seasons Change

Thanks to thoughtful, careful design, accompanied by existing plants and trees, distinctive colors can be enjoyed all year at Elizabethtown. Season by season and month by month, each plant takes its turn in the spotlight.

Even during the cold months on campus, sprigs of color come out, often complementing snow-covered branches. Winter berries appear on trees in front of James B. Hoover Center for Business, for example. "The red twig dogwoods hold that red spark throughout the winter," said Moyer.

"Flowering trees make the campus look great during the spring," said Moyer, adding that many of these trees—magnolia, dogwood, redbud, crabapple—already were on campus when she arrived. Also, more than 3,000 spring bulbs dot the landscape, including white daffodils near Hoover and the Academic Quad.

The bulk of summer plants on campus are perennials, many of which come out month by month—kind of an ever-changing scenery.

"The foliage color on campus is the most spectacular part of this season at E-town," said Moyer. The number of old, big trees on campus contribute to this fiery scenery, and Moyer gives credit to whoever had the foresight to plant them for future generations to enjoy.

Natural Landscape

The Victorian era formalized gardening and popularized vast manicured lawns, said Moyer, and some homeowners and landscapers still see this as ideal, but she prefers planting in a more natural style rather than neatly arranged flower beds of annuals.

"[Formal gardens] are beautiful for what they are, but as far as sustainability and functionality, it's antiquated. We've come so far in technology, but in our gardens we're still trying to look 18th century," she said.

Formal garden beds exist on campus in only two places: bordering the Elizabethtown College sign, on the corner of Mount Joy Street and College Avenue, and surrounding the 'E'-shaped shrubbery in front of Baugher Student Center. The majority of landscaping throughout campus grows more naturally and features a variety of plants and grasses, many that change with the seasons.

"[In my opinion] I think this is how a landscape should function and look," she said of E-town's native approach.

Caring for the plants, grasses, trees, flowers and shrubs on campus is a big part of Moyer's job. However, the natural style of landscaping makes for easier maintenance. For instance, native plants require less water and don't need fertilizer. Also, fallen needles are not removed from beneath evergreens. Instead, the pine trees make their own mulch.

The more full the flower beds, said Moyer, the less bare ground for weeds to grow. In the summer, Moyer spends half her time weeding, or "editing," as she likes to call it. From summer into fall, she prunes every shrub on campus. She doesn't shear heavily though—except on the 'E'-shaped feature. Rather, she takes a more natural approach to pruning, which, she said, gives the plants a softer and healthier look and makes it less noticeable when new plants grow in.

Donna T

Lancaster, Pennsylvania, United States •

Donna has more than two decades of experience in marketing, communications, writing and media, and about half of that time has been in higher education, most recently as director of integrated communications at Elizabethtown College (2010-2015) in Pennsylvania. She speaks at higher education and publishing conferences, writes an adult learner recruiting column for Wiley, and has contributed to Currents (a higher education trade publication), Guardian Higher Education Network, The Writer, mental_floss, Games World of Puzzles, and others. Her creative nonfiction appears in The Los Angeles Review and The Los Angeles Times. She authored a chapter in mStoner's Social Works. Donna teaches or has taught about branding and digital identity in several graduate creative writing programs. She has an MFA in creative writing and an MBA.

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