If “all the world’s a stage,” then that theater needs a backdrop–a setting for the events.
At UNF, our ceaseless symphony of academic life and growth has a backdrop of lush and diverse landscaping.
The person in charge of the campus’ appealing aesthetic is Chuck Hubbuch, assistant director of physical facilities, landscaping and grounds.
Hubbuch came to Florida from Louisville, Kentucky. After working at gardens in Miami for 20 years, he moved north to work for the Botanical Gardens at the Jacksonville Zoo.
In 2005, Hubbuch was invited to work on the landscaping and grounds for the Campus Beautification Program set into motion by John Delaney. Since then, Hubbuch has helped create the botanical backdrop for our campus environment.
“I like to think of it as painting in the future,” he said.
For Hubbuch, there are many facets to the canvas of our campus on which he is “painting.” Some plants die, some do well. Hubbuch said the landscape shifts and develops over time and never stops changing.
Hubbuch said he is often asked what he’s thinking about when he plants a tree in a given area.
“What I’m seeing is a full sized tree that’s 30 foot tall or 40 foot across, further along with its growth,” he said.
His design isn’t just about aesthetics either, Hubbuch said the olive tree planted just last year in the Peace Plaza contains its own significance transcending its appearance. The landscaping has more than just soil to play off of: concrete, brick, glass and water all are considered when Hubbuch starts a new project.
“We have some of the bold foliage of the tropics, like bamboos, but also finer textured Northern species.” Hubbuch said. “The colors and textures are great. It’s all really fun to play off.”
Hubbuch did not expect to go into botany. Originally a biology major at the University of Kentucky, he moved toward horticulture through influences of his father’s work in the field as well as the experiences he had in biology courses.
“I began to realize that there are a lot of interesting things about plants. They’re as diverse as animals, active in response and adaptation,” he said. “The plants have just appealed to me.”
Hubbuch uses plants to see the interaction between other plants and animals.
“Even though they just seem to be sitting there statically, there is always something going on if you watch closely enough,” he said.
Richard Gedihovich, a UNF political science major, said he enjoys the atmosphere brought on by the bamboo garden.
“I can sit out there for hours,” he said. “I study there all the time.”
Hubbuch said he appreciates how the bamboo garden has become a sort of landmark.
“Someone may be giving directions and say ‘turn right at the bamboo garden’,” he said.
Along with planting new things, Hubbuch’s responsibility extends to natural landscape. The Sawmill Slough, a wetland preserve of former timber industry area, hosts a range of species.
The prescribed burns and removal of invasive species make the 400 acre preserve into a large natural garden. Hubbuch said tending it has been an interesting and seems to fit well with his background.
“Even if most people don’t utilize it as they could, it provides a nice backdrop,” he said. “All the woods flanking the roads sets the campus off nicely compared to the urbanized core”
Throughout the time Hubbuch has been here, over 500 species have been planted. Despite this large number, the utilization of drought-tolerant plants has decreased the amount of water used for irrigation. The amount of fertilizer used has dropped, as well.
Keen on water restrictions, Hubbuch has been planting drought-tolerant plants will be adopted more widely.
“I think we’ll be a great laboratory for that and a great example for the community,” he said.
Hubbuch wants students to become more educated about the plants around them, and has a few ideas to help with that.
“It would be great if we had a smartphone app to identify plants with a quick answer rather than signs that are rather ephemeral,” he said.
As for future projects, Hubbuch said he hopes the landscaping at UNF’s entrances, but his can’t happen until modifications at the Kernan entrance are completed.
Email Jason Howard at firstname.lastname@example.org