By Lynne Testoni
A busy school with extensive grounds provides an award-winning maintenance team with many challenges, but even more rewards.
School grounds are a challenge for landscapers. Balancing education and hardiness, maintenance teams need to look after spaces that face demanding conditions and busy, energetic clients.
Prestigious private school, Sydney’s Pymble Ladies College, is a growing educational campus. It has had major renovations and new buildings constructed over the last few years, making it a changing environment for not just the students and staff, but the living landscape.
Located on the leafy North Shore of Sydney, the school collaborates with Green Options to maintain its extensive grounds and ensure an exciting and safe outdoor learning environment for students and staff. The school has both day students and boarders.
New areas of the campus are being developed, which involves heavy machinery and vehicles coming in and out of the site. This requires constant attention to ensure the roads are kept clean. There are over 2000 students and more than 200 staff on site each day, which the site team need to work around to ensure efficiencies are kept high. The carparks fill up from 8am every day and school start, finish and break times need extra attention.
It’s a big job, but the work is paying off. Green Options won the Husqvarna Landscaper of the Year for Commercial Maintenance, plus the Gold Award and Best in Category of the Commercial Maintenance Resorts/ Retirement Communities / Educational Campuses category at the 2022 Landscape Excellence Awards for their work with Pymble Ladies College.
The grounds of the school are much commented on by students, parents and visitors and it’s easy to see why.
An important element of the maintenance of the school gardens is the focus on sustainability. The sustainability area is regularly maintained as an environmental initiative for the school. Students can use the space as outdoor therapy time as well as part of their school learning in agriculture.
The vegetable and herb beds are utilised by the kitchen staff when cooking for the students. The Head Chef liaises with grounds staff to choose the plantings for each season. The rainwater harvesting irrigation system is checked weekly for correct operation, the outdoor furniture wiped down and kept clean each week, and the worm farm and composting station maintained daily. The animals (chickens, ducks and sheep) are an important initiative for the students to interact with. Students take care of the animals, feeding them leftovers from school mealtimes, and their eggs are also used in cooking.
Pymble Ladies College is more than 100 years old and has many areas of the grounds with historical and cultural significance. The Memorial Garden includes established traditional plants and flowers, which need regular maintenance. Planting includes buxus, azaleas, camellias, abelias, euphorbias and convolvulus (morning glory). Each plant is trimmed and watered regularly to keep it at its best.
The heart of the college
One of the most significant plantings in the school is a spectacular jacaranda. This deciduous tree is a well-loved treasure of the college. When Princess Alice, Duchess of Gloucester, made her first visit to the college in November 1946, the tree was planted in remembrance of her visit. From 1983, the Jacaranda Day Service has been a feature of the school calendar. The college gathers when the tree is in full bloom to distribute gifts and money to various charities.
The tree is carefully maintained by Green Options with quarterly fertiliser and soil additives injected into the soil. Dead branches are removed just before spring each year.
Hundreds of roses are also scattered throughout the campus, carefully and meticulously maintained. Horticulturists from Green Options undertake a heavy prune during July/August, pruning the roses back to a vase shape and trimming away any inter-twining stems. Seasonal pruning takes place in autumn and late spring while deadheading happens on a weekly basis. A mixture of granular and liquid fertilising takes place, depending on season and needs of the plant.
Mulching and irrigation
With such extensive grounds the mulching and irrigation of the gardens needs extra help. All garden beds are mulched, and cover is kept at a minimum depth of 50mm as part of regular maintenance. The irrigation system is functional at all times to ensure that all plants, trees and lawns receive adequate water at optimal frequency. The system is tested regularly to ensure the correct timing is set for the season. Adjustments are made where necessary. Staff make a visual assessment of the areas they work in to identify any changes in the colour/look of turf and plants. Where irrigation is not installed in a garden or turf area, all efforts are made to ensure sprinklers are set up to help keep those areas healthy and flourishing.
Home away from home
With the campus designed to be a second home to all, and a boarding home to many students (with additional facilities provided such as barbecue areas, landscaped walking paths and working gardens for students), the areas need to be kept as safe as possible.
Green Options say that it is a labour of love to work on these gardens and they enjoy putting a smile on the faces of everyone in the school community.
About the awards
This garden won the Husqvarna Landscaper of the Year for Commercial Maintenance, at the 2022 Landscape Excellence Awards, which celebrate the very highest standards and achievement in Landscape Construction, Design and Maintenance, in the Residential and Commercial sectors. To learn about the 2023 Landscape Excellence Awards proudly brought to you by GlazedCo. and how to enter, visit www.landscapeassociation.com.au.
Main image: The extensive grounds of Pymble Ladies College