OU’s campus is often named one of the most beautiful in the nation, thanks in part to its varied vegetation.
The flowerbeds on the South Oval are filled with a kaleidoscope of floral colors, frequently rearranged in striking new patterns. But although these eye-catching flower arrangements may look expensive, they don't cost students one cent.
OU's landscape director Allen King said that an endowment was created by the late OU alumnus Morris R. Pittman and his family for landscaping on the South Oval.
“He gave us a certain amount of money and it goes into our fund at the foundation, and work off that interest every year,” King said.
“We probably spend $30,000 a year [on the South Oval] … that’s strictly from the endowment — it pays for the labor, the materials — everything,” King said.
King said that no student tuition money that he is aware of goes into grounds keeping, and that every flower seen on the South Oval is completely paid for.
King said that although there isn’t a list of plants at OU, he estimates OU has over 50-60 varieties of trees and hundreds of varieties of shrubs and ground covers.
The plants at OU are either native to Oklahoma or Oklahoma-proven — that is, proven to be able to survive in Oklahoma. The Chinese pistache tree is an example of an Oklahoma-proven plant on campus, he said.
Some of the plants on campus may be surprisingly old.
The shrub-lined sidewalks by Buchanan Hall (called the X Hedges), have likely been here at least fifty years, maintained by planting cuttings from the same plants, King said.
Meanwhile, the arrangement of flowers on the South Oval is meticulously planned throughout the year. King said the flowers are changed to a red dianthus so that everything is red for commencement. After commencement, they go back to mum planting.
“I sit down and draw it out. We know how many plants go in the beds.” He said he figures out a theme and comes up with the themes himself.
This year he used 15,000 mums and 5,000 little Joseph’s coat plants for the "Sooner Nation" theme, according to an OU website.
King said he sometimes takes inspiration from his experiences. One year, they had an arrangement that resembled a beaded belt, he said. He said his inspiration was when he went into the store and saw an interesting diamond knife sheath with yellow diamonds. “I thought, ‘I can do that in flowers,’ and did it.”
“This year I just wanted to go with all red and white on Campus … just went with the OU theme.”
King said they remove the mums from the South Oval beds the Monday before Thanksgiving. He said they will let the flowerbeds set for the winter and replant in March.
When the mums are removed, people will be able to take the flowers for themselves, King said. The flowers are perennial, which means that they come back after the winter and live for more than two years.
“We actually have a lot of schools that come and get them to plant them,” he said.
Leftover flowers don’t return to the South Oval — at least not in their original form.
“The rest of them, we take them to our compost pile,” King said.
The beauty of the South Oval flowers and the rest of a campus may impact on touring students as well.
“I think the administration that we have believes that the first impression is the best,” he said, “We have so many people here that just love the campus in general, and I have such a great crew who take a lot of pride in their work.”