Saturday, August 13, 2022

UM Landscaping, Students Keep Campus Naturally Beautiful

The people responsible for earning Ole Miss’s “Most Beautiful Campus” title are partnering with a group of interested students and professors in a project aimed at bringing more native species of plants to campus.
Biology professor Jason Hoeksema initiated the project in hopes of working with Landscape Services to get the Ole Miss community involved in a conversation about native plants.

Jason Hoeksema and several students discuss possible species to use in their native plants project.
Jason Hoeksema and several students discuss possible species to use in their native plants project.

“A group of us who are members of the native plant committee at Strawberry Plains Audubon Center started talking back in the fall about ways to diversify the native plant landscape in northern Mississippi,” Hoeksema said. “And one way we really wanted to do that was to engage with the university community and with our towns and cities including Oxford.”
According to Hoeksema, this native plants project began when he contacted Jeff McManus, director of Landscape Services on campus. As they discussed potential projects that could involve students, McManus mentioned an area of land near the Jackson Avenue/Fraternity Row entrance to campus.
Hoeksema has now assembled a group of students and faculty members that will begin working on a plan to transform this area and dedicate it to native growing plants. Although Landscaping Services already uses native plants to beautify the campus whenever possible, the project is aimed at making the process of cultivating this area educational for the students and the community.
“The university’s Landscape Services do a great job, and they’ve been really supportive in getting started with this project,” Hoeksema said. “They already use a lot of beautiful native plants on campus, and so this project is really in line with their values and we’re excited to have this partnership with them.”
For the busy staff of Landscape Services, a partnership with undergraduates obviously slows down a busy day’s work, especially when the campus has such a highly esteemed reputation to uphold.
“We’re constantly moving fast—we’ve got to move fast—so when [students] come along side of us, that really slows us down,” McManus said. “But we really appreciate and understand the value in that. We want the kids that are here to appreciate what’s happening.”
Hoeksema envisions the area becoming a place where visitors and community members alike can learn about the importance of native species.
“I think it could potentially be a really neat demonstration and educational area for people to visit and see the potential for native plants and to learn about their value for biodiversity and how compatible they are with every day landscaping,” Hoeksema said.
The area that the native plants project will focus on is near the Jackson Avenue entrance onto Fraternity Row.
The area that the native plants project will focus on is near the Jackson Avenue entrance onto Fraternity Row.

Additionally, Hoeksema hopes to accomplish his initial goal of diversifying the local plant population.
“We want it to be diverse so that it has even more natural beauty including birds that use it for nesting, butterflies that come visit for nectar, and be a place that is really an attractive place from a natural beauty perspective,” Hoeksema said.
For McManus, the vision is similar, although he must, of course, also view the project from a landscaper’s perspective.
“We want something attractive; we want something that’s safe and clean,” McManus said. “But we also want to see more of our native populations in there.”
For the Landscape Services Department, the project must stay in line with one of their goals: attention to detail.
“When we think of natives, we don’t think of wild, unkempt, un-manicured areas because we’re in an urban environment, and there’s a place for everything,” McManus said. He also noted that the campus’s appearance is often a tipping point for prospective students and their parents.
“They know if you’re taking care of the plants that you’re going to take care of their kids,” McManus said.
Over the summer, Hoeksema’s group of students, with the help of experts from Strawberry Plains, will be taking inventory of the existing plants in the area as well as researching and brainstorming to develop a possible layout for the area, determine which species should be incorporated, and planning ways to maintain the area.
“Getting students opportunities to be engaged in environmental projects in their own backyard here on campus is really exciting to me because there is a lot of opportunity for learning and teaching and that’s the mission of this university,” Hoeksema said.
To learn more about Ole Miss Landscape Services visit Features include campus tree maps, landscaping schedules, and a list of native species you might just see popping up around campus.
-Grace Sullivan is a staff writer for and can be reached at

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