A closeup image of pink tulips.

From the Ground Up: UA’s Campus Beauty Comes From Within

It’s no secret that The University of Alabama is home to one of the most beautiful college campuses in the South, maybe the country. But many visitors to the Capstone may not know the extent of the work and care that goes into creating and maintaining the grounds that captivate students and visitors from around the world.

The People

Roughly 100 men and women within the grounds department spend their days managing 12 maintenance zones around UA’s 1,400 acres. “We have three flower teams, a chemical team, an irrigation team,” said Kim Byram, director of the grounds department. “Of the 100, 65 are true groundskeepers.”

Grounds crews mulching.

While that crew works hard to maintain the look and health of the landscaping, an even smaller team is dedicated to cultivating, planting and pruning annuals and perennials. They also plant and maintain every bed, container and hanging basket on campus.

“I do want people to say, ‘Oh, I wonder how they do that,’ or, ‘I wonder how many little elves come out and do that stuff,’” said UA Horticulturalist Chrissy Plowman. “With all of this campus, we maintain it — the plants, the annuals — with five employees.”

The Work

While some argue that campus is most photogenic during the spring, crews work year-round to achieve the perfect campus environment.

“We start pruning very hard and cleaning up beds in November/December to get ready to plant what will eventually bloom in the spring,” said Byram. “We planted pansies and tulips in November and the tulips have already bloomed. Those are everyone’s favorite.”

There’s a strategic plan for the entire campus so that all teams know what they are working on, when and where.

“We have Level A sites that are higher traffic or where we know visitors go the most,” said Byram. “Those are areas like the President’s Mansion, the Walk of Champions and along University Boulevard.”

Those may be the most visited areas, but every corner of campus is touched by at least one landscaper or crew member daily through either mulching, fertilizing, planting, mowing, managing irrigation systems or turf treatment from the Law School steps to Bryant-Denny Stadium and every blade of grass in between.

The Results

Pink flowers.

The Blooms

Along with the visitor favorite, the tulips, crews are busy year-round sodding, mulching and planting pansies, azaleas, begonias and over 25 other varieties of blooming flowers and shrubbery.

“Of course, we always do the red and white and some pink. It really depends on availability,” said Byram. “One year, there was a strike in Holland among tulip growers that really delayed several vendors from getting their flowers. We had ordered well enough in advance that we weren’t affected, but things like that can happen so we always have a backup.”

The Topiary

One staple of University Boulevard is the elephant topiary in front of Rose Administration. While being one part of UA’s campus beauty, it almost takes on a life of its own due to its care and maintenance. That got a little easier this past year when it was given its own storage shed.

“The first couple of years we had it, it was out in the elements and required almost a complete redo [every year] and would take hours and hours and hours to repair it,” said Plowman. “It still takes weeks to get it ready, but once we get it back into good shape, it’s just maintenance.”

The topiary sits on a wheeled platform so it can be moved anywhere on campus and easily to its winter home.

Two people tending to an elephant topiary.
A woman tends to an elephant topiary.
elephant topiary

The Insta-Worthy Spots

Both Byram and Plowman stress that the work of the grounds crew is all for the students and their families.

“We do schedule some around homecoming so we’re careful of where we’re mulching and sodding then because we’ll have a lot of people on campus,” Byram said. “We definitely plan for Honors Week and A-Day.”

“I think this campus feels like home, and I feel connected to people and I feel connected to nature,” added Plowman. “And that, to me, is important and I think it’s important to a lot of people.”

Dig a little deeper into some of UA’s most photogenic spots and find them, or perhaps a new favorite spot, on UA’s campus map.

WATCH: Behind the Scenes with UA’s Grounds Department