While the Landscape Services Installation team often participates in landscape rehabilitation or other special projects, they shine when afforded the opportunity to use historical and horticultural knowledge to find landscape solutions. Such an opportunity arrived when University Housing and Dining (UHD) Sustainability Coordinator Neil Kaufman asked for a unique planter for the South Asia Garden.
“UT Austin’s Landscape Services has a staff that is very talented and easy to work with,” Kaufman said. “There was no question as to who we would ask to help with the South Asia gardens.”
Scott Webel, PhD., events and public engagement coordinator for the South Asia Institute, originally had the idea for the South Asia Garden, said Kaufman. Webel wanted to have a place on or around campus to grow South Asian crops. He reached out to Kaufman, who is the staff advisor for UT Farm Stand. Webel and Kaufman decided to partner in creating the space.
Kaufman explained that a piece of unused land was available on the south side of Brackenridge Residence Hall. The location had a secluded atmosphere while still being close to walking spaces that students traverse daily, allowing passersby to enjoy growing plants. Kaufman noted that it was the kind of space that would be perfect for a small garden--one that could incorporate a water feature and distinctive South Asian plants in a custom-built planter.
“So many parts of the project fell right into place,” Kaufman said. “There was a small, manageable piece of unused land adjacent to the UT Farm Stand gardens. There is a growing movement among student affairs professionals to incorporate more diverse icons and landmarks around campus.”
Landscape Services Horticulturist and Installation Supervisor Ty Kasey was brought in to the project once the initial planning had begun. Kasey designed, procured materials and ensured construction was completed on time and on budget. Kaufman noted that the Green Fund, a program funded by UT Austin to support sustainability-related projects on campus, was an obvious choice to pay for the project.
“Most of the project was worked out among Neil Kaufman, who wrote the Green Fund grant and is overseeing long term care, Dr. Webel, who provided cultural and academic expertise and hopes to bring his students to the garden in the future, and me,” Kasey said.
Landscape Services’ landscape architect Lisa Lennon knew Kasey’s team was a perfect fit for the project. “Ty is remarkably talented in history and cultural accuracy,” Lennon said. “This project was no exception.”
Kasey said he was inspired by the complex repeating geometric patterns that have been used for millennia in art and architecture of South Asia.
“Stars are one popular geometric motif in this tradition,” Kasey said. “I did internet searches on the different stars that are commonly depicted in South Asia and the meaning and significance associated with them. The eight-pointed star seemed to be positively associated with many different religious and ethnic groups of South Asia. I designed the star and sent a draft to the professors in the South Asia Institute and to Housing and Dining. I asked what they thought about the design. The response was very positive.”
As this was a Green Fund project, sustainability was a crucial component of the design and installation of the garden.
“Sustainability was considered through every aspect of the project,” Kaufman said. “The tables and benches are made from recycled plastic. The garden is irrigated with rainwater captured from the roof of the adjacent Brackenridge Residence Hall. Most of the mulch is sourced from chipped trees on campus. And the signage details facts about sustainable agriculture originating in South Asia.”
Lennon was impressed with Kasey’s sustainably-minded team efforts.
“He used local limestone to build the planters and our greenhouse manager, Casey Limerick, grew many of the Asian plants from seed,” Lennon said. “He and Andy Fiegel of our design/install team brought in highly organic soil and planted the garden with plants grown in our greenhouse and local nurseries.”
Landscape Services Manager Jim Carse noted that any time Landscape Services can partner with other departments or students on campus, the result is a win for all.
“Plants have a way of connecting people, and that’s exactly what happened here,” Carse said. “It was a great job by all involved.”
Kaufman emphasized that completing the garden was rewarding for all parties, but the most important clients are the students. Kaufman said he has received many compliments.
“I hear from colleagues and students how much they enjoy and appreciate the garden,” Kaufman said. “But the best feedback is constantly seeing students at the gardens relaxing, enjoying the space.”