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Behind the Blugolds: Campus landscape architect Daria Hutchinson

| Denise Olson

Editor’s note: This profile is part of a Q&A-style series created to shine a light on the Blugolds who work “behind the scenes”  to make UW-Eau Claire a beautiful, safe, transformative, functional place for our students. If you know of someone whose work and dedication deserve recognition, submit a nomination here.

Daria Hutchinson sitting by the Sprites statue

Hutchinson seated in the area surrounding the "Sprites" statue near Centennial Hall, another favorite spot among students who enjoy the shade of the many trees growing and filling the space for almost a decade.

For the University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire, being known by many as the state’s most beautiful campus is an honor and a highly valued distinction worth investment. Especially as we enter the summer blooming months, kicking off this “Behind the Blugolds” series with the visionary behind our campus beauty was an obvious choice.

Daria Hutchinson, a state-certified arborist and the sole landscape architect for UW-Eau Claire, has spent the last 13 years envisioning, sculpting, planting, staffing and maintaining the splendor of our campus surroundings.

With painstaking care and attention to not just the appearance but also the sustainability and environmental health of our landscape, Hutchinson makes UW-Eau Claire a magical place to live, work and learn for all Blugolds, as well as the community.

We’ve asked Hutchinson for some reflections on her career, and found a student and a colleague to speak to the intrinsic and lasting value of Hutchinson’s contributions.

landscape architect Daria Hutchinson teaches students about trees on campus

Hutchinson at the April 2018 Tree Campus sign dedication event.

When did you join the campus staff and how has your role changed over time? 

I have been with the university since 2010, so it will be 13 years in September. I started as the sole gardener on campus in 2010 and I worked in that role for four years. I was promoted to the position of landscape designer, and when I finished my registration exams in 2017, I was named campus landscape architect. 

You wear many hats in your position (often literally), but how would you summarize the big picture of your job?

I spend the winter months planning and designing for summer, ordering plants and materials, and updating the campus tree inventory. I work with students throughout the year on service-learning projects measuring and mapping campus trees, a requirement of our Tree Campus designation. The students and I plan our annual Arbor Day events, which have included tree tours, campus cleanups and invasive plant removals in Putnam Park. This year, we hope to organize a tree planting during Homecoming week with students.

In the summer, I work with our two gardeners and a student crew to complete projects and maintain the campus landscape. We work with two to five students daily in the gardening crew, but have employed as many as 15 to complete larger projects. Our students do great work and play an essential role in making our projects happen.

UW-Eau Claire grounds crew working on a flower bed.

Student crews take part in planning the flower beds, planting annuals and maintaining the perennial beds, all of which are carefully designed to flower three times — in spring, summer and early fall — providing many months of color across campus.

What role do eco-friendly and sustainable practices play in your work?

We use no herbicides in the planting beds on campus; we control weeds through mulching and hand pulling; and we use native plants as much as possible as they are adapted to this environment. Our planting beds are fertilized with organic Cowsmo fertilizer.

Additionally, we compost all leaves, plant trimmings and weeds, and make compost tea used in the landscape beds and turf to promote microbial activity in the soil, and mineralize organic nutrients for growth and development.

We always strive to use the most sustainable methods possible and educate ourselves on new ecological practices. It is our way to support the university’s commitment to sustainable campuses and climate action.

In what ways do you see your campus contributions making life and learning better for Blugolds?

A campus landscape is a defining aspect of a university’s identity and has a profound impact on the quality of daily life for students, faculty and staff. Providing places to relax and rejuvenate between classes, places for meeting up with friends for activities and events, or spaces for outdoor learning experiences are just a few ways that the landscape shapes the academic experience. Wellness is another significant factor in academic success, and the campus landscape is a key program element that supports student engagement and provides daily connection with nature.

I hope that this recognition will bring more attention to the entire staff that works in grounds. I am just one part of a team that takes a lot of pride in keeping our campus beautiful and safe while creating beauty for the campus and greater community.

student studying on campus mall , flowers in the background

As most Blugolds will attest, the incredible campus landscape inspires heavy use of the endless outdoor study spaces during nice weather.

High praise from fellow Blugolds

As Hutchinson says herself, many people are involved in executing the visions and sustainability goals she has proposed for the campus landscape over the years.

One of those recent collaborators in some elements is UW-Eau Claire’s sustainability specialist Lily Strehlow from the Office of Risk Management, Safety and Sustainability. A Blugold alumna, Strehlow knows the value of our campus scenery and sustainability from both the student and the staff perspective.

“Daria’s thoughtful planning has helped transform UWEC into such a beautiful campus,” Strehlow says. “In 2016 she established an official campus arboretum and sought the Tree Campus USA designation. Under her leadership we are prioritizing endemic plant species; 75 % of trees on campus and the majority of our perennial plants are native to Wisconsin.  

“Additionally, campus trees sequester 25 tons of carbon dioxide annually, equivalent to removing 2,540 gasoline-powered automobiles from use for one year. We have this important data because Daria works with the biology department and service-learning students to meticulously track data on our campus trees.”

Current and prospective students and families remark year after year that they’re struck by the beauty of campus, some also indicating that it was a factor in their choice to enroll. For junior geospatial analysis major Samantha Consiglio, the outdoor study spaces on this campus were exactly what she was hoping to find while on her initial college search.

“When I was touring schools, I wanted a place where studying outside, hammocking and hiking were all possible,” says the Waukesha native. “Since coming here, I take every opportunity I can to sit out in the campus mall to study with my friends. I love that many professors also make use of our outdoors for class time and writing time. On top of all that, the landscape allows for awesome events outside like Bark Break, one of my favorite events each semester.”

flowers and sunset by Chippewa River

The giant planters along the Garfield Avenue mall and the beds that frame the pedestrian walks make for a brilliant scene against the backdrop of the river when colors reach full bloom.

Thank you from a grateful campus community 

As we think of the many elements that contribute to student success, a beautiful physical environment fulfills for many a basic need for inspiration, and we are happy to take this opportunity to recognize the talent, knowledge and skill that Daria Hutchinson brings to her work, giving us all a spectacular landscape to admire as we come and go from the business of learning and working at UW-Eau Claire.

If you have a person to suggest for an upcoming “Behind the Blugolds” profile, please contact us here.