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New trees, plants coming to Mississippi Terrace

Gift funds new landscaping in area west of Lippincott Hall

Spring is bringing rebirth to a historic part of KU’s campus. Mississippi Terrace, the area west of Lippincott Hall between Jayhawk Boulevard and Mississippi Street, is being replanted and landscaped thanks to a gift from an alumnus.

The planting, which includes replanting the lawn at Watson Library, marks the completion of the first phase of major utility tunnel replacements.

Dennis Farney, a Wilson, Kan. native who earned a bachelor’s in journalism and master’s in political science from KU, donated $10,000 to replant and preserve the terrace he recalls fondly from his days as a student.

“When I came to KU, it was a revelation to me to find a campus that treasured beauty, not only architectural, but landscape and natural beauty as well, and I didn’t have to go to Paris to find it,” Farney said. “That was probably the most lasting effect KU had on me. I hope these plantings become the framework and catalyst for an even more beautiful garden on this site over time.”

One of the most historic spots on campus, Mississippi Terrace ties together development efforts over the history of the university. The terrace is located within the original 40-acre parcel of the university and is a part of the initial campus plan developed by George Kessler. Later, the firm of Hare & Hare included planting plans for this area as part of its campus master planning designs. Their plans retained the terraced grading and open space that was first envisioned by Kessler.

Drawing on the historic resources of the KU Campus Heritage Plan completed in 2008, the 2002 KU Landscape Master Plan and the Campus Plan of 1997, the current landscape plan has been designed in the spirit of the historic designs. Maintaining the open space of Mississippi Terrace with its subtle terracing was an important consideration. The space provides views to Marvin Grove for pedestrians walking along Jayhawk Boulevard and provides a connection between the busy campus core and the expansive grove below.

In the 1990s, the Historic Mount Oread Fund, a KU preservation group of which Farney was president, put together a plan for a heritage garden on the site. Lawrence architect Craig Patterson and Lawrence garden historian Nancy Smith contributed as well.

The Heritage Plan recommends that plant species appropriate to the period be used as part of any new planting on Mississippi Terrace. Extensive review of the original plant lists provided a starting point for the current plant palette. However, some new cultivars and similar species that are more viable today will give the same character and serve a similar function as the historic plants. Modern maintenance issues have also been taken into consideration. The beds of groundcover and low, spreading shrubs shown on the Hare & Hare plans will be expanded on the steep slopes to minimize mowing and to control erosion. The stone wall along the sidewalk at the bottom of the terrace has been rebuilt in the original dry-set stone style.

An additional consideration for the current plan is minimizing the impact of the above ground tunnel structures and utility cabinets, said Marion Paulette, landscape architect with Design and Construction Management, who worked on the plan. A variety of shrubs planted at the base of Lippincott Hall and Dyche Hall will screen the utilities and still allow views of the significant architectural features of the upper stories of the buildings. The planting beds behind Lippincott follow the slope of the hill and are designed to minimize the impact of the tunnel structure that bisects the hillside. At maturity the plants will be taller than the top of the tunnel and the curvilinear layout of the beds will lead the eye past the structure, rather than drawing attention to it.

Along Jayhawk Boulevard, the redbuds and beds of iris will be replanted. Additional work will be completed as part of the reconstruction of Jayhawk Boulevard in the coming years to include planting street trees along Jayhawk Boulevard that conform to the spacing of the Hare & Hare plans and recreate the arching canopy provided by American Elms several decades ago. Several tree species will be planted to provide shade and continuity along the boulevard. Multiple species will be chosen to reduce the risk of devastation by disease with a single species, as was the case with the original planting of American Elms.

Street trees will also be planted along Mississippi Street in a less regular sequence. As an echo of the historic tree canopy along Jayhawk Boulevard, two cultivars of disease-resistant American Elms will be planted along Mississippi Street to test their potential use on campus.

The lawn in front of Watson Library and extending toward Stauffer-Flint Hall has evolved into an important campus green space and will be retained as such by renovating the ground plane of grass. The most significant feature around Watson is the mix of evergreen and deciduous trees, originally shown on the Hare & Hare plans. A variety of evergreens will be planted on the west side of Watson to complete the framing of the building.

To see a video about the Campus Heritage Plan, click here.


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