Houses for the Future
We as Cal Poly students know campus as the classes we go to but forget its land holdings extend further than those desks we sit in. Main campus only holds 155 of the University’s 10,000 acres that extend out of SLO County into Santa Cruz County. Poly landscapes outside of the campus buildings provide students with abundant material and space to bring our motto “Learn by Doing” to full fruition. The working landscapes of Cal Poly include the dairy farm, a slaughter house, and methane conversion center. However the jewel of places happens to be within reach of many students--the Environmental Horticulture Science (EHS) unit.
In my entire first quarter at Poly I had no idea that a luscious, idyllic garden such as the EHS existed, nor did I know the proximity of the beautiful plot of land. Jogging or walking up the road east of Campus Market leads to the Horticulture unit. It’s located on Villa Carte, across from the equine unit. Upon entering, visitors see the Plant Shop and the adjacent greenhouses. The lovely varieties of plants present a magnitude of floral eye candy. Rows of roses, ostentatious orchids, mounds of “mums,” pots gushing with blooming carnations fill long benches. In addition to the plant shop, the Horticulture unit also includes the Leaning Pine Arboretum and a green house area. Free tours of the arboretum and greenhouses are given to visitors by the shop’s employees.
During my visit, tour guide and President of the Horticulture Club, senior Daniel Stever pointed out a golden hybrid known as the Cal Poly rose. It is named for our school colors. Cal Poly is a deep yellow rose, bred in 1991 by Ralph Moore, “King of miniature roses.” I assumed a Poly graduate had designed the flower, but Mr. Moore has no educational relationship to Cal Poly. Although past students have bred varieties of plants, our current students don’t breed plants due to changes in curriculum. However career concentrations for horticulture grad students involve making varieties of flowers like these roses.
The Horticulture Unit exemplifies the motto “Learn by Doing.” Agriculture students engage in activities at The Plant Shop, green houses, and arboretum. Horticulture is the science and art of growing plants. The green house projects teach students the fundamentals of propagation, care and production of plants. Plants grown by students are sold in the Plant Shop. Learning ventures include graduation requirement senior projects and independent enterprise projects. Senior Projects involve upkeep and study of the arboretum, golf course experimental turf, and the maze display. Enterprise projects independently started by students of any grade level teach a student how to apply their horticulture and business skills in real life situations. Students find holidays to be lucrative times for student enterprise projects. Freshman Amanda Rosa, said that students will commonly work on cutting flowers for Valentine’s Day or in poinsettias for the Christmas holidays and keep a portion of the profits. Cal Poly Land, A Field Guide, states that the motto here is “earn while you learn.”
North of the Plant shop and the greenhouses, the leaning pine arboretum offers an eclectic collection of plants. The term, Mediterranean paradise, sums up the look and feel of this area. Exotic round Australian trees, huge collections of South African plants, and Chilean bushes offer blazing colors with an abundance of blooms. These plant collections come from three of the five Mediterranean areas of the world. Endangered trees, shrubs, and scrubs find sanctuary in the oasis.
As I explored the Horticulture unit, I began to become aware of the large greenhouses which fill the view at the center of the mosaic of trees. These houses are part of the rich landscape and have been an important part of Cal Poly for many years. The late Dr. Howard Brown, Department Head of Ornamental Horticulture for 22 years, documented the history of Horticulture unit and the greenhouses in his book Memories of the Ornamental Horticulture Department 1932 to 1976. According to Dr. Brown, who helped build original greenhouses of Cal Poly in the late 1910’s, “Since the founding of Cal Poly in 1901, horticulture has been an important part of the curriculum,” and it is evident that it still is today.
Cal Poly supplies a variety of greenhouses to the students to grow plants and study horticulture. Greenhouses enclose 35,000 square feet of Cal Poly land. Presently six different greenhouses are used at the horticulture unit. There are greenhouses constructed out of corrugated polycarbonate glazing, structured polycarbonate glazing, glass and polyethylene film. Each glazing material provides different solar filters that adequately promote plant growth. The Lath house, a partially shaded shed covered in fine pieces of wooden boards is perhaps the oldest green house. And there is a saran house, made out of black blankets of woven plastic material, which houses materials and tools. The other greenhouses provide the space for plant maturity. A good example of this is the greenhouse dedicated to orchids and roses. They are housed in separate rooms to allow for individual care and pest treatment. Because when orchids and roses are grown in artificial environments they have soaring numbers of pests. Fumigation of the soil is performed by machines that inject steam into the plant beds to sanitize the soil and rid the room from pests. As students run these machines they gain knowledge on new processes for ensuring healthy plant within the greenhouses.
The true definition of a working landscape is eloquently displayed through student work on the horticulture land. A plethora of activities are accomplished within these luscious gardens. Busy hands grow and tame plants, while green minds study the floral and arboreal areas. In the greenhouses, professors teach students plant names and varieties, what can be grown where, what plants require sunny habitats, and how to properly cut a plant back. In spite of the limited space provided by the greenhouses, students are taught innovative horticulture techniques and receive hands on training. The horticulture unit allows a student to become familiar with horticulture practices through propagation, growth and treatment of plants.
The fruit of the students’ labor is a fantastic green garden and a working landscape worth visiting .