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NWP Global Registry of Apprentice Ecologists - Asbury College, Wilmore, Kentucky, USA

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Asbury College, Wilmore, Kentucky, USA
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Kenton Sena

Registered: December 2009
City/Town/Province: Wilmore
Posts: 1
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Gardening has always been a part of my life. As I write this, I look across at the wall of family photos and see the picture of little five-year-old me picking strawberries. Yes, from long before I could remember, my mother’s green thumb has been rubbing off on me. For most of the years I spent toiling in her gardens, I despised the work; but it was only a matter of time before I was won over to the fact that I am a gardener. Now, I look back on the years of “slave labor” and thank my mom for her wisdom in giving me that experience. It has definitely shaped who I am today. Well, just who am I today? I am a sophomore at Asbury College in Central Kentucky, the land of shallow clay soil and limestone substrate, majoring in biology and English. (Yes, that is an odd combination. I’m an odd person…) I am the founder and director of the Asbury College Horticultural Society, which is currently functioning as a wing of A Rocha Asbury (our Christians in conservation student group). The Horticultural Society is dedicated to conducting a variety of projects involving the planning, planting, and maintenance of flower beds and trees on Asbury College’s campus. The more work I have done with the Horticultural Society, the more passionate I have become about educating others about the beauty and value of plants and using plants to beautify and improve the biodiversity and health of our campus and community.

Yes, beautify campus. One area that definitely stood out to me as needing improvement was the original Asbury College building, circa 1890, which we affectionately named the “White House” for its white siding. This building had no landscaping to speak of, something that spurred the Asbury College Physical Plant to suggest this as a potential project site for the Horticultural Society. The only plants around it were on the side with the “Asbury College 1890” sign, and those were two small holly bushes, two ornamental grasses, and three scrubby Nandinas. There was nothing on the two long sides of the building—not even mulch beds. Unfortunately, the White House is very centrally located on our campus—with the science, music/arts, and physical activity buildings on one side and the languages, business, and social sciences on the other side. Without any landscaping, it is a bare and uninviting building to pass on your way from class to class. The building itself is referred to as AHOP (Asbury House of Prayer) and serves as a location for students to have prayer meetings and Bible studies.

So, at the suggestion of the Asbury College Physical Plant, the Horticultural Society drafted and submitted a proposal for the landscaping of the original Asbury building. In order to prepare this proposal, I met with Mrs. Witherington, faculty sponsor for the Horticultural Society, several times on-site to discuss plant selection and placement, soil requirements, lighting, watering needs, and other various logistics. Our proposal included a cost analysis, plant list, and general description of intended bed design. We submitted this proposal to the physical plant, where it was approved for funding and installation. We began the project on April 18, 2009, with a volunteer labor force of eight people, including Mrs. Witherington and myself. Mrs. Witherington and I worked all through the day, from start to finish, while the others came and went as their schedules allowed. Our labor force invested a total of 36.5 hours in the first day of this project. First, we marked the outlines of our beds with spray paint and removed the sod from these plots. Sod is the layer of grass and weeds plus an inch or two of topsoil and the roots contained therein. We then trenched the bed perimeters, which gave a clearly defined edge between the bed and the lawn around it. We also moved five cubic yards of rich organic topsoil by wheelbarrow from the onsite dump location to the beds, using it to build up raised beds. Most flower beds installed in Central Kentucky will require approximately five inches of rich topsoil. Incident topsoil in this region is shallow and almost entirely clay, which is low in nutrients and practically impermeable to water. Our topsoil blend was high in organic material, which contributes drainage and nutrients to the soil. It is important for flower beds to drain; otherwise, the soil becomes soggy and roots and plants can rot and become diseased. After moving the topsoil, we installed the plants and watered. By the end of the first, day Mrs. Witherington and I had each logged eight hours of hard gardening labor, and were assisted by 20.5 hours from our friends.

For the second phase of this project, Dr. Carpenter of the biology department led his botany class in mulching the newly installed beds. We used natural shredded hardwood mulch to help prevent erosion, aid in moisture retention, and regulate temperature. The purely organic mulch absorbs rainfall much more quickly than normal soil. Rainwater will runoff unmulched beds to a greater extent than mulched beds. Mulch absorbs the water and slowly seeps it into the soil. Mulch also helps keep the soil underneath moist throughout the heat of the day. Soil with mulch on top will stay moist longer than soil without mulch. Also, mulch helps to prevent erosion by forming a protective barrier between the small and easily dislodged soil particles and the heavy raindrops. Mulch is usually heavier and bulkier than soil particles and is thus harder to dislodge and erode than normal soil. Thirdly, mulch aids in temperature control by keeping the soil cooler in the middle of the day. This also helps with moisture retention.

We are currently adding plants to the beds intermittently—picking up plants on sale and adding them to the bed design. Note that our bed design called for primarily native, low-maintenance perennials and shrubs; we generally avoided exotic species. We used Itea virginica (Virginia sweetspire), Calycanthus (sweetshrub), and baptista (false indigo) as anchoring shrubs. Our smaller perennials were dominated by Echinacea purpurea (coneflower), Aquilegia canadensis (columbine), Leucanthemum x superbum (Shasta daisy), Solidago (goldenrods), Salvia (sage), Coreopsis (tickseed), Campsis radicans (trumpet vine) and Arundinaria gigantea (native river cane). We were very excited to add the native river cane to our design. River cane once covered large regions of Kentucky—forming dense breaks up to ten feet high of the native bamboo—so it has significant historical value as a native Kentucky plant. In general, we chose to forego many popular “modern” cultivars and chose instead the more historical original specimens. The only non-native plant that featured prominently in our design was Liriope muscari, native to the Far East. We received a large donation of these plants. We also have placed plant labels next to most of the plants in our beds, so that observers can learn the names of the plants we used.

I believe that this has been a useful and beneficial project for several reasons. First of all, I think that any college campus should make the most use of any opportunity to educate its students. I see the White House gardens as an excellent opportunity for us to educate students about the landscape and conservational value of native plants. I also see it as important because students, faculty, and administration at Asbury College recently declared that stewardship is one of our “cornerstones”: identifying it as an aspect of our community that we believe should be strongly emphasized. Installing flower beds with native plants is a great example of practical and educational environmental stewardship. Also, I believe that our campus should be as beautiful as plants can make it. We simply can’t plant too many flowers and trees. They not only have high environmental value, but also serve to beautify where we live. What was once empty and barren is now overflowing with life and blooms. It has been significantly encouraging for us to receive compliments from members of faculty and administration who have noticed the change in the appearance of the building.

Leading the landscaping of the White House sharpened my leadership skills. I improved my experience with collecting and managing a labor force, setting and reaching goals, and directing an ongoing project while participating in the labor. In addition, I heightened my landscaping skills by improving my understanding of and experience with bed design and plant selection. Perhaps the best experience I received from this project is the ambition to continue with the Horticultural Society. I know that we can mobilize students who are interested in helping out with landscaping projects. I know that we have the experience we need to plan, propose, prepare for, and complete a large scale project. With this experience under our belt, Mrs. Witherington and I have begun plans for two additional large-scale projects. One major project we have in mind is the installation of a rain garden in a soggy area of Asbury’s front semicircle, where runoff water from some of the campus buildings drains into the grass and forms a muddy swamp. This project entails the usage of native water-loving plants and trees. In addition, we are planning to install a prayer garden in a shady courtyard on campus, which will introduce a new set of challenges: landscaping for the shade. We will again use native plants in this bed design.

I am excited to be the founder and director of the Horticultural Society at Asbury. I look forward to the impact that we will have on our campus community in the upcoming semesters of my college career and afterwards.
· Date: December 20, 2009 · Views: 2750 · File size: 28.1kb, 325.1kb · : 2500 x 1875 ·
Hours Volunteered: 4.5
Volunteers: 8
Authors Age & Age Range of Volunteers: 19 & 18 to 22
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