Big Man on Campus

by | Feb 1, 2021 | Arboriculture, Horticulture, People, Plants

(Above: Clethra-macrophylla)

Grounds Superintendent Philip Schretter creates a botanical paradise at Georgia Southern-Armstrong

Rather than put a garden in a corner of campus, Philip Schretter has transformed his entire university into an arboretum and botanical garden.

For the past 28 years, the grounds superintendent has worked at Georgia Southern University-Armstrong Campus in Savannah. In that time he has created as much diversity as possible. His collection now includes 4,000 plants on the 80-acre campus. And he has never planted the same thing twice. 

Philip Schretter

“We are most proud of our diversity and the number of things we were able to grow we were told wouldn’t grow here,” he says. “You can find plants here you can’t find other places.”

He credits his hardworking staff, Georgia’s coastal climate where the ground seldom freezes, along with his administration that has given him the liberty to be creative. 

The college campus, which doesn’t even have a horticulture program, has attracted students and faculty alike who are drawn to the plants.

“Most all of the plants are labeled,” he says. “Students walk by our beds every day and see that every plant is different. Flowering plants catch their eye. We’ve created outdoor rooms where they can sit in the gardens off the main walkways.”

During a pandemic, the gardens are more valuable and appreciated than ever.

The campus is open to the public, and Philip and his team regularly give tours to garden clubs and other interest group. Sharing the gardens is a highlight of his work, he says. 

Philip has been interested in plants since high school. He went to the University of Georgia where he studied horticulture and became focused in public gardens.

He says the key to good design on campus is accessibility—he wants the students to enjoy the gardens while not having to go out of their way. 

“Students want to go from point A to point B the fastest way possible, so our beds are visible from the sidewalk,” he says.

While the gardens are lush and diverse, Philip says they were created to be as low maintenance as possible, and low maintenance equates to more sustainable.

“We hardly fertilize anything, and we grow centipede grass which requires very little fertilizer,” he says. “Everything we do, we do it with saving time, money and chemicals in mind.”

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