Trees. We often take them for granted, but our campus would look bare without them. Coming from Hong Kong, one of the most densely populated areas in the world and where greenery is scarce, I formed a powerful first impression of the mighty and colorful trees adorning the University. Several months later, I continue to be awed by the stunning natural beauty of our campus, for which we have Rob Borman, Physical Plant’s Grounds Manager, to thank.
Responsible for maintaining the outdoor campus since 2014, Borman removes trees that pose a danger to the community and plants new ones in their place. Though it sounds simple, this important process involves great expertise and effort.
“When it comes to trees, no situation is exactly like the next,” Borman explained. “I make an effort to observe the tree canopy wherever I go on our campus. I mostly keep an eye out for dead wood, broken limbs, and other signs of decline. I will usually take a photo and add trees to my overall tree list. Once a tree is on my list, I break it down to a few different categories. Mostly whether it needs a pruning or needs to be removed, and whether it presents an immediate danger to people or structures.”
Borman cites storms as the number one adversary to the tree population at the University, as the lightning that accompanies them often deals irreparable damage to many trees. This August, an extreme thunderstorm felled several trees and damaged others, including one of the largest oak trees on campus that was located on Foss Hill and was eventually removed.
“If a tree presents a danger, I contact a tree contractor and schedule removal as soon as possible,” Borman said. “If I feel a tree doesn’t present an immediate danger, it will remain on the list until I can have a larger amount of work done at once. This will help save some money. Once the tree is slated for removal, I post a sign on the tree and post a picture with description on my tree blog.
“There are also times when I feel better about getting a second opinion,” he continued. “I have found a few people I feel I can trust with this. Sometimes they help me decide where a tree falls on my list, mostly as it pertains to safety.”
Borman also stressed the importance of tree planting in the tree upkeep process. In fact, according to his blog, almost 200 trees and shrubs have been planted on campus since 2014.
“It is always my goal to plant a tree for every tree we lose,” Borman said. “I keep a map of recent plantings, and possible future locations. When we lose trees in prominent locations, this can often open up the space for new trees. It’s always unfortunate to lose a tree, but I enjoy seeing its rebirth, so to speak, in another tree.”
Tree planting is no less complex of a process than tree removal, requiring a careful evaluation of both the tree and its surrounding ecology.
“It’s vitally important that a tree fits its space,” Borman said. “There’s nothing worse than planting what will become a large tree in an inadequate space. Inevitably the tree will have to be removed prematurely. [It is] also important that [the tree] is a species that will thrive in our climate or ‘zone.’
“Beyond finding the right tree for the space and our climate, there are a few [species] that have a history on our campus,” he explained. “At one point, we had well over 100 elms. When I started as Grounds Manager, we had less than 20. Thankfully, I have had the opportunity to start to revitalize our elm population. You can see some of these new elms on College Row.”
Considering Borman’s focus on trees, his favorite plant may come as a surprise.
“Before coming to Wesleyan I worked in professional baseball as a groundskeeper,” he said. “It was my job to be obsessed with turf grass, to have the field perfect every single day. Turf grass is still my favorite ‘plant.’ I think my favorite tree on campus is the dawn redwood in the CFA, as well as the majestic elms on College Row.”
When asked what the Wesleyan community could do better to help conservation efforts on campus, Borman had a simple answer: respect the outdoor space.
“We go to great lengths to pick up litter around campus every day,” Borman said. “Help from the community by using trash containers or by picking up stray litter would go a long way.”
Borman concluded with glowing words for the University’s mission.
“Wesleyan is an amazing university where people come to grow themselves and prepare for their futures,’” Borman said. “I just hope to be able to help provide a beautiful campus while they do it.”