The appearance of pumpkins and hay bales in the flowerbeds is a signal to campus that fall is here and winter is on its way. The gardening season is drawing to a close for the year and our campus gardeners are still hard at work as ever removing the summer flowers from the beds and finish up their orders in preparation for the next gardening season in the spring.
Peter Nipp (Pete) is the Head Gardener on campus and works alongside his colleagues Gretchen Damon, the English Gardener, and Dave Oelkers. As a team, they work from February into November planning, preparing, planting, and taking care of the beautiful gardens spotted around campus.
Nipp has been gardening since he was quite young. His interest led him to horticulture classes at his high school and later to Century College and Anoka Vo-Tech for Landscape and Greenhouse Growing. He began his employment with St. Catherine University in 2007 and has been here ever since.
“The best part of my job is seeing people’s faces when they walk by a new plant and see something they’ve never seen before. And they’re just excited to see it,” says Nipp.
“[Gardening] is a really good stress reliever,” said Oelkers. “I’ve been [gardening] for fifteen years. When you’re out there by yourself it’s… it’s just you and nature.”
Throughout the summer and the fall, many people walk up and down the sidewalks to be with nature for a while, admiring the summer flowers, asking how the gardeners keep the flowers looking so happy and healthy.
“I always relate back to having a baby. You have to feed it, and you have to give it nutrition, and you have to give it water. [Plants] grow the same way,” said Nipp.
It’s also important to understand the makeup of the area where you’re gardening. Wind, soil quality, and amount of sun can all mean the success or demise of a garden. In the event of an invasion of unwanted organisms on the plants, the gardeners do not use pesticides if they can help it. They spray the plants down in the morning (to avoid harming pollinators, such as bees) with water in an effort to remove pests or they use horticulture oil. As a last resort, they use a pesticide that one can use at home as opposed to industrial strength pesticides that more hurt than harm. But all of these precautions aren’t especially necessary most of the time.
“When plants are outdoors, nature takes care of them for you,” says Nipp.
On top of the conditions the plants live in and the necessary steps to taking care of the plants on campus, Nipp attributes the success of the gardens to one more element…
“Without the student workers that we have here [during the summer], we couldn’t do half of what we do. They make up the rest of our crew,” says Nipp.
During the spring, students on campus are hired via an application on KatieCareer (formerly KatieClick) to plant the gardens and take care of the flowerbeds and hanging baskets around campus.
“The student workers are our bread and butter here. I wish I could have more for a longer time,” says Nipp.
Nipp, Oelkers, and Damon would like to thank this past summer’s student workers:
Alissa Hynes, ‘19; Meghan Thoemke, ‘19; Anna Carmen, ‘19; Lindsey Kast, ‘19; Karen Lally, ‘16; Mysee Lee, ‘19; Megan Bernard, ‘16; Samantha Olson, ‘19; and Leslie Yang; ‘19; as well as Minvera Nguyen-Johnson, a Montessori Teacher on campus.