UND’s floral landscape is changing almost as much as the new architecture on campus
It’s not the right time to say Melissa Grafenauer stop and smell the roses. In fact, there may never be a good time for that.
On a mission to keep thousands of blooms and dozens of gardens perky and tidy, UND’s full-time horticulturalist and landscape specialist is always on the go.
She has weeding and watering to do. Planting and pinching. Design and dig. And when she and her small team of student aides are done — well, there’s weeding and watering, planting and pinching, designing and digging.
“I like being outdoors. I need to move,” Grafenauer says. “I think that’s one of the best parts of my job. I like that it’s seasonal and there’s work to do all year round.
Now, just weeks before UND Homecoming — and at a time when most other gardeners in Grand Forks have all but ditched their ruffled fuchsias and long-legged petunias — Grafenauer says she’s just getting ready for the fall floral show. .
Keep the color coming
When UND Today had the chance to catch up with the forever planter recently, she was nursing double bee stings — a job hazard when you stick your hand in an irrigation valve box — and anxiously awaiting the arrival of a jumbo order of frost resistant chrysanthemums.
The bold bursts of purple, orange and burgundy blooms are for the permanent planters that line the center of University Avenue, she said, as well as the roughly 60 giant pots spread across campus.
They will all be dressed in pieces of birch, burlap ribbons and clusters of blooming green-purple-pink cabbage.
“I love getting into garden design,” Grafenauer said. “I don’t like doing exactly the same thing every year. It would be boring. I like to surprise people and sometimes add something they may not have seen before.
“It’s so fun to see people stop and say, ‘Oh my God, that’s so pretty’ and then take a picture. It makes my day. I want people to love flowers as much as I do.
And when it comes to flowers, Grafenauer has a lot of love.
Before joining UND in 2018, she trained as a horticulturist at the University of Minnesota-Crookston and worked with the Grand Forks Park District for 14 years.
There, she was so well known for her green thumb — and her outstanding gardens in the city-owned University Park — that she was the go-to expert for a consultant helping UND develop a job description for hire his. horticulturist.
More floral power
Grafenauer explained that UND facilities management had wanted to “up its game” at the time in anticipation of several upcoming construction projects – the redesigned University Avenue for pedestrians, the brand new Memorial Union and Nistler College of Commerce and Public Administrationto name a few.
“As part of the contract to build the building, they had hired landscape architects to do all these fancy designs, and they wanted to make sure they had enough people and knowledge to maintain it all,” he said. she stated. “I think they were looking for someone who knew our soil, someone who knew what grows well and what doesn’t grow well here and other sorts of things like what can get in the way of snow plows.
“In my head, I kind of went through all the things I’ve done for the Park District and then I was like, ‘Damn, maybe I should apply for this job. “”
Three months later, she did and was hired. About a year later, his former Park District colleague and arborist Jared Johnson joined her at the UND.
“We share an office now and we work really well together,” Grafenauer said. “Were annoy on plants all the time. I’ll tell him about something new I’m trying at home and he’ll send me pictures of what he’s doing in his backyard. We brainstorm and exchange a lot of ideas with each other.
It’s a professional partnership that also turned out to be the right combination for UND.
Seeds of change
In just a few years and during one of the University’s greatest architectural growth spurts, the campus landscape has also been transformed. Where there were once only gray concrete parking lots, there are now perennial rain gardens swimming in rivers of bright yellow and pink Rudbeckia.
Elsewhere, rambling bushes and tired trees were replaced and lined with mulch beds filled with ornamental grasses, 6-foot-tall petunias and cannas topped with red and orange flowers.
In every corner and at every turn there are new gardens and brilliant splashes of color. And to borrow from the vernacular of a gardener, each pot has its thrillers, fillers and overflows. Flowers frame the brick buildings, hug the driveways and line the frilly iron fences.
“I love my work. It never gets old,” says Grafenauer. “It seems like a mad rush to get all those tiny flower plugs perfectly spaced and nestled in the ground, but your reward is watching them grow.
“You see people smiling and looking around, and you just know it uplifts people. For me, I can’t even let a cloudy day define my mood because, guess what, a cloudy day makes the flowers and the landscape all the more vibrant.