WSU CAHNRS

Washington State University

College of Agricultural, Human, and Natural Resource Sciences

LA Students to Design, Build Display Garden

Since they were built in 1951, thousands of students have passed through the trio of greenhouses situated on Wilson Road, just across the street from Johnson Hall. This spring the venerable greenhouses will be torn down and, next fall or summer, new instructional greenhouses will be built elsewhere.

Students in the old Wilson Road greenhouse, soon to be replaced with a display garden
Students in the old Wilson Road greenhouse,
soon to be replaced with a display garden

Gone—but not without a trace. At the suggestion of WSU President V. Lane Rawlins, the two-thirds-acre site of the old greenhouses will be reused as a Horticulture and Landscape Architecture Display Garden. According to Phil Waite, associate professor of landscape architecture, traces of the greenhouses will be incorporated into the garden’s design in order to both preserve and serve as a reminder of the past. “The design of the garden will be focused on sustainability and keeping some of the history of the previous users of the site in place,” Waite said. “This way, the thousands of alumnae who worked or took classes in the greenhouses will have a place they can come back to that leaves a record of their history in the new use.”

Conceptual drawing of Horticulture and Landscape Architecture Display Garden; drawing by landscape architecture professor Phil Waite
Conceptual drawing of Horticulture and Landscape Architecture Display Garden; drawing by landscape architecture professor Phil Waite. Click for a larger version of the drawing.

Waite and his students will design and build the display garden over the course of the next four or five years. Working with Associate Dean for Administration and Planning, Pete Jacoby, and Horticulture & Landscape Architecture Department Chairman, Bill Hendrix, Waite received approval and funding for the project, and proceeded to draw conceptual plans for the garden.

“It’ll create a visual sound byte,” Waite said, explaining that new and prospective students and faculty form an impression of WSU within minutes of their arrival. The proposed display garden “is in a very public location,” said Waite. “It’s adjacent to the French Administration and Lighty Student Services building, the Lewis Alumni Center, and Ensminger Pavilion—all locations frequented by campus visitors.”

“It has to look good all the time,” Waite continued. “That’s why it needs to be a display garden, as opposed to a demonstration or research garden.” (See the sidebar for more information about the difference between display, demonstration, and research gardens.)

While Waite has created conceptual plans that elegantly fill the site, it’ll be up to students to create working designs—and to build from those plans. “Horticulture and Landscape Architecture students from four different courses will be directly responsible for the design, construction, and maintenance of the garden,” Waite said.

Considering the garden’s proximity to often-visited locations, Waite considers it important to “accommodate the broadest range of possible uses.” The design program calls for at least three distinct areas, including a large gathering area for groups of between 100 and 200 people. This would serve alumni gatherings, pre-football game BBQs, or a ceremonial function. A smaller gathering space would be suitable for holding classes on warm spring days, or for team or departmental meetings. “More intimate spaces for individuals or very small groups might take the form of alcoves,” Waite said, “furnished with amenities such as seats, benches, and tables.”

The separate spaces or outdoor “rooms” would be in part defined by the traces of the old greenhouses. The curbed planting beds would be kept, and planted with a variety of ornamental grasses and bamboos. The stem walls, too, would form a room, potentially covered by a shade structure. Concrete from the greenhouse floors would be reused, as well as other building materials.

The garden would not only look good year round and accommodate diverse uses, but would also serve an instructional function. “For instance,” Waite said, “the garden might contain some hedges that would require pruning and shaping, thus providing hands-on training for students in horticulture classes.”

Waite said that by reusing and recycling materials, and with students donating their talent and labor, the cost of constructing the garden will be about $5,000 per year for the next five or so years. “However,” he added, “we’ll be looking for donations of plant and construction materials.” For more information about making a donation to the Horticulture and Landscape Architecture Display Garden, please contact Phil Waite.

Watch a video about WSU’s program in landscape architecture.
Click to watch a video about WSU's program in landscape architecture

Poinsettias in the old Wilson Road greenhouses
Poinsettias grown by the Hort Club in the old Wilson Road greenhouse

Phil Waite Explains the Difference between Display, Demonstration, and Research Gardens

“A display garden is permanent in character,” associate professor of landscape architecture, Phil Waite, explained. “It may display design in a specific style, for instance Italianate or Japanese or illustrate particular topics, for example sustainability or xeriscaping. A demonstration garden proves that something is possible, while a research garden explores what is possible.

Inside one of the Wilson Road greenhouses; photo courtesy of WSU Hort Club
Inside one of the Wilson Road greenhouses; photo courtesy
of WSU Hort Club

As an illustration, Waite likes to talk about rhododendrons in the inland Pacific Northwest: “Suppose we plants rhododendrons in the display garden. Since rhododendrons are not native here we would make very sure that only the hardiest variety would be planted because we want to ensure their survival and performance—it has to look good all the time.”

Horticulture Terresa Koenig working in the Wilson Road greenhouse with a student
Horticulture professor Terresa Koenig working in the Wilson Road greenhouse with a student.

In a demonstration garden, “we would demonstrate a variety of methodologies that could be employed to protect a marginally hardy variety of rhododendron through the course of our hot dry summers and cold winters. In a research garden we would plant several varieties in randomized, replicated plots and test their cold hardiness and drought resistance, knowing full well that several would die and their appearance would be less than aesthetically pleasing. While this would no doubt be instructive, it wouldn’t showcase the university.”

Plants in bloom in one of the old Wilson Road greenhouses
Plants in bloom in one of the old Wilson Road greenhouses.
Photo courtesy WSU Hort Club.
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