Students dig in to improve Oberlin

Hanna Miller

There was a time when Oberlin students were forced to spend four hours each day toiling in the fields. Last Sunday, dozens of Oberlin students returned to their roots.

The college's official motto "Learning and Labor," grew from the nineteenth-century philosophy that cultivation complements education. It's a philosophy that Grounds Department Manager Dennis Grieve subscribes to today. Planting Plants around Oberlin

"Gardening is the oldest occupation in history," Grieve said. "It's the first thing that developed us into civilized people."

As Grieve talks, dirt flies around his feet. Forty Oberlin students have turned out to help Grieve's staff plant a native plant garden at North Hall. Sunday's event, which was advertised as "Dig In at Oberlin." It was planned to encourage student involvement in campus landscaping. Students were handed shovels and shrubs at three sites; North, Harvey House and Dascomb Hall.

"Our window looks out on this," first-year Renee Timberlake said. "We wanted to make the campus beautiful and get dirty."

The genesis of the event can be traced back to Grieve's intial meeting with Residential Life. Grieve had supervised public horticulture programs in his previous job at the Smithsonian Institution, and he suggested a similar program might work at Oberlin. Grieve and his staff began to develop plans for a number of thematic gardens.

Besides the three gardens planted on Sunday, Grieve designed a landscape for the area on Talcott lawn surrounding the sculpture commemorating the Underground Railroad. The landscape will feature healing and medicinal plants that were used by escaped slaves.

"We're bringing education into grounds," Grieve get stories involved in the landscape."

The students who helped plant the new gardens quickly created their own stories.

"This tall tree is the one we call Ivan the Terrible," first-year Becka Rich motioning to an ilex glabra inkberry said. "We wanted the name to start with an 'I,' and Ike was too boring."

Ivan and his comrades will eventually grow to an imposing height of 20-feet, providing a canopy for the smaller plants.

"The goal is to make outdoor spaces into outdoor rooms," Grieve said..

Members of Grieve's staff said they did not expect to attract nearly so many student participants. "Next time I'll bring more mulch," groundsworker Tony Scott said.. "I could have had all the work done for me."

"I said we could have t-shirts and donuts and people will show up," said Grieve. The commemorative t-shirts were quickly snapped up by the amateur gardners, who also aquired light green thumbs in the process.

"When you're digging your hole, keep your dirt near it," Scott advised one student who had unknowingly scattered valuable soil.

Gretta Pallister, OC'41, has been gardening for years. "Heavens yes, we're gardeners," she said. "This greening up is a great thing to do." Pallister and her husband drove from Strongsville to participate in Dig In Oberlin.

"The campus never looked like this when I was here," Pallister said. "To see this campus look this good is very heartening. I love that lonely little cone flower. I think next time I'm here I'm going to check on it."

The gardens will be maintained by the grounds department. "I know I'm going to get some weeds," said groundsworker Terry Kish.

Grounds specialist Gayle Willis is hoping her garden gets some butterflies. The butterfly garden, situated behind Harvey House, is planted with nectar and host plants to attract the winged insects. "We're looking for monarchs, swallowtails and skippers," Willis said. "There's already one floating around here."

Associate professor of creative writing Pam Alexander joined the crew at the butterfly garden. "I planted a cone flower," Alexander said. "The butterfly landed on someone else's plant, but I don't take it personally."

"It looks great," Alexander said. "It's a clear indication of the Oberlin spirit which is 'let's do it, and let's do it now.' The Oberlin students are very enthusiastic and it looks like the butterflies are too."

Digging in:First-year Danielle Densimhorn helped build a new garden Monday. (photo by Matthew Green)

Back // News Contents \\ Next

T H E   O B E R L I N   R E V I E W

Copyright © 1997, The Oberlin Review.
Volume 126, Number 1, September 5, 1997

Contact us with your comments and suggestions.