If you’re strolling through campus, it’s hard to miss the handiwork of Jason Cottrell. As UT’s campus horticulturist and a member of the Facilities Services department, Cottrell and the grounds team oversee the planting – and replanting – of just about every flower, shrub and tree you see on UT’s 556-acre campus.
In addition to acting as a consultant to the nine, three-person grounds crews that each manage a piece of the campus, Cottrell develops the landscape designs for areas throughout UT. Not only does he have to make them look good, he has to work within the restrictions of an urban-campus environment.
They have to plan ahead, usually three to six months. "There’s never a slow day," Cottrell said.
Adding to the chrysanthemums and other flowers blooming around campus now, the team will plant 10,000 tulip bulbs that will bloom in the spring, along with 10,000 pansies to provide color in the mean-time. The orange pansies are grown especially for UT by a local greenhouse.
Cottrell, a 1997 graduate of the ornamental horticulture and landscape design program in UT’s College of Agricultural Sciences and Natural Resources, always had a desire to help beautify the campus.
About a year before he completed his program, he approached the university about joining the staff as a campus horticulturist. While the position didn’t exist at that time, it was created a few years later. After working in private industry for a number of years, Cottrell jumped at the chance to return to UT when the position was open in 2005.
Right now, he’s developing a plan for a section of ground near TRECS that, due to an overhang, receives very little rain, making it an especially tricky place to grow much of anything.
This year’s drought also has challenged Cottrell and the grounds team. They’re responsible for maintaining the grass on campus, and the lack of rain has made that especially difficult. In recent weeks, they’ve had to take advantage of every rainfall to aerate and seed the grounds, working around the busy schedule of classes and events that take place each fall.
In addition to managing the planting around campus, Cottrell’s group also maintains a campus green-house for the tropical plants used as decorations during campus events such as commencement.
Even after this fall’s planting season, Cottrell says that there will be very little time to stop and smell the pansies. Winter will bring two major tree-planting projects.
First, 60 trees will be planted around campus to replace those that died during the last year due to stress from the late freeze in April and the summer’s drought conditions. The second project involves planting 90 new willow oak trees down the median of Volunteer Boulevard.