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News & Stories: 2007-08

Another spring at Calvin for Bob Speelman
May 9, 2008

Campus arborist Bob Speelman prunes a tree

Bob Speelman, supervisor of landscape operations, prunes a redbud tree in front of the Fine Arts Center.

When this time of year rolls around, Bob Speelman is eyeing the willow buds: “They get very, very large and green,” he said of this first sign of spring on the Calvin campus.

The other sign that spring has arrived, said Speelman, the Calvin supervisor of landscape  operations, is the big maintenance list. “It seems like everything needs to be done at once,” he said. “We need to repair our snowfall damage, the damage we cause with our snow removal equipment. Cleaning up, still doing spring cleaning, raking up stray leaves, spreading mulch. The waterfall—we edge it and weed it and spread fresh mulch and bark. There’s re-seeding where we replace the topsoil and grass seed.” The list, he indicated, goes on.

Speelman has cultivated the Calvin landscape for more than 20 years. He grew up in Oak Lawn, southwest of Chicago and learned the rudiments of his craft while working for his uncle’s landscaping company. “That’s where I learned to love changing the environment, changing how things look, improving them,” Speelman said.

He first joined Calvin’s grounds crew as a part-time student worker in 1984. “I pulled weeds and spread bark and picked trash—what entry-level employees do,” he said. Two-and-a half-years later, Speelman accepted a staff position on the crew and completed his psychology degree, studying part time and working full time.

Bob Speelman pours over the campus mapFollowing graduation, Speelman studied horticulture at Michigan State University until he returned to Calvin in 1987. “Some people graduate here and move to all corners of the earth… .,” he commented. “I was just happy to be here. A guy left, and I took his position and muddled through and got more education as the years have gone by.”

Throughout 20 years of muddling, Speelman has helped to transform Calvin’s physical plantation. “Everything we’ve done in the last 20 to 30 years is far more diverse than it was in terms of the mixture of shade trees, ornamental trees and perennials. It used to be just trees and foundation plantings. It was two types of plants, and now its many types of plants, creatively combined.”

Speelman has planted around1,000 trees on the Calvin campus, and he admits to a fondness for ornamental varieties: “Kwanzan cherry, weeping crabapples, certainly magnolias, planted a couple of Juneberries,” he recited. In spring, the flowering trees add a lot of color to the original physical canvas of the campus, he said, which existed first as Knollcrest Farm. (At least 10, 000 trees still stand on campus, many in natural areas, which were part of the farm ’scape.)

“His fingerprint is all over the campus,” said grounds director Charlie Huizinga. “His vast wealth of knowledge —I think he knows every tree and what it’s called, Latin name, common name, when it was planted, all that kind of stuff.  Makes my job a lot easier and makes me look good.”

Speelman has earned the knowledge of things green and flowering a little at a time during his Calvin career. As he planned and planted and pruned his way around campus, he earned his bona fides as a Michigan Certified Nurseryman in 1993, a Michigan Master Gardener in 1996 and an International Society of Arborist Certified Arborist in 2006.

In spring, he said, it all pays off as he surveys the entire campus picture.

Bob Speelman with the tuplips“I love … seeing the Sem Pond come to life. The cherry trees along the edge are flowering now,” he said. The original Sem Pond cherries died in 1988. “We re-planted them with the exact same things.” And while watching the willow buds, Speelman said, he’s also waiting for the tulips, his favorite hint that spring has arrived.

“Planting bulbs is a no-brainer,” he said of the maintenance that produces the blooming tulips and daffodils on campus. “I tell people, it’s not a lot of fun planting in the fall because it’s cold and wet and cloudy, but you really look forward to spring. We wait six months of winter. Wow, that’s really disgusting,” he added. “I tell people I feel better physically, spiritually and emotionally when spring comes.”

~by Myrna Anderson, communications & marketing

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Bob's spring pruning tips

• Don’t leave stubs. Prune just above a bud.

• On a big branch—anything bigger than two inches in diameter—prune outside the branch collar, the swelling where the branch connects to its parent branch or trunk.

• Prune on an angle to encourage a plant to grow in the direction of that angle.

• Thin your shrubs by pruning the interior branches. “People don’t thin their shrubs enough,” says Speelman. “We want air circulation and light to get into the inside of the plant. That keeps everything healthy.”

• Honor the shape of the plant. Don’t prune trees or shrubs into boxes or other unnatural shapes.

• Remember to prune plants in winter. “It’s a great time to prune, and the plant has a lot of time to grow back,” says Speelman.