Gardening on the Otterbein Granville Campus

Posted on: August 28, 2023

Otterbein Granville Resident Dave Skeen describes how he has continued his love of landscape architecture for the past 11 years as a resident at the community.

I am writing this blog the weekend following Thanksgiving. I have spent much of Friday morning outside our cottage pruning and trimming shrubbery and perennial flowers before the first snow fall. This is the time of the year when I am already assessing the current garden plantings and planning for some changes for next spring. One constant evolution of our garden since moving to our cottage at 527 Middleton Avenue 11 years ago has been the increasing number of perennial plants and flowers. At 70 bending, kneeling, and digging I considered “good” exercise, but now at 81, I consider the same physical activity to be manual labor!

A bit of my gardening history. Growing up in northern Kentucky I was blessed with a maternal grandmother and mother who were avid gardeners and wildflower fans. Christmas presents for Grandma Moore from my sister and me were iris bulbs from the Wayside Garden catalogue. As you might expect, Grandma always provided subtle hints as to which of the new varieties would be most appreciated. When we would go to visit her in South Haven, MI for vacation, we would observe our gifts from previous years in bloom. Grandma would smile and thank us over and over for our gifts. They continued to brighten her life.

During my years in grade school, each spring beginning in April, mother would encourage a walk in the large park near our home on Saturday mornings to see the wildflowers. Of course, for a boy who wanted to play baseball with my neighborhood friends, these were, at the time not appreciated. However, the memories of violets, jack-in-the-pulpits, trillium, dutchman’s breeches along with many other varieties are now very sweet. Little did I know at the time that flowers and gardening would become one of my favorite hobbies.

Following graduate school graduation in the summer of 1968 we moved to New Concord, Ohio where I became a member of the Psychology faculty at Muskingum College. The following spring, we began construction of a house which became our home for 42 years. For the first time I had an opportunity to select trees, shrubbery, and flowers to decorate our yard. I knew very little about all these choices and was very fortunate to have neighbors whom I could rely on for advice.

When Becky and I moved to Kendal in 2010 I was delighted to find I was living next to two avid gardeners. Anne, who favored a more traditional British style and Jim, leaning to a more informal approach with native shrubs and small trees. Anne, Jim, and I immediately found our common interests and their advice I welcomed in planning my own landscape option. Another aspect of my gardening experience at Kendal has been the opportunity to learn from neighbors about new plant varieties and to share plant material in the fall or spring when thinning was necessary. Specifically, I brought fall crocus bulbs from New Concord which I had been given from my grandmother’s garden in Michigan, planted before WWII! This crocus variety spreads rapidly and now can be seen in many of my neighbor’s gardens.

At about the time of our move to Kendal, our community hired Cindy Dill to oversee our campus landscape program development and maintenance. Cindy is a graduate of The Ohio State University School of Landscape Design, hence a terrific resource for advice in the selection and care of plant material. Cindy also helps a group of our residents create and achieve recognition as a nationally documented arboretum to which are added new species each year, in cooperation with the Licking County program “1500 Trees.” Our campus has added more than 50 trees in the past 4 years, many given in memory of community members who passed away.

As I complete this set of reflections, I already have catalogs open for reviewing possible additions or replacements to incorporate in our garden this spring. I am also looking forward to March when our campus prairie and wooded areas will begin to blossom with an abundance of native wildflowers. Last spring while our travel was curtailed by the COVID pandemic, Becky and I spent many hours walking the campus trails identifying well over two dozen varieties of spring blooming flower. My personal joy was to discover a yellow tiger lily which I had never seen before. Even at 81, there are still new adventures to enjoy.