Why I Do It

Derek Pearson puts his love of the outdoors to work keeping Dal’s campus beautiful.

- December 12, 2022

(Danny Abriel photo)
(Danny Abriel photo)

HIS BACKSTORY: Derek Pearson was a groundskeeper at an agricultural college in England in the 1980s. After taking evening classes in creative gardening and countryside management, he moved to Canada and did the Master Gardener Training Program through the Faculty of Agriculture’s Extended Learning. Now he is one of four gardeners in Dalhousie’s Facilities Management Grounds Crew in Halifax—each responsible for making their own part of Dal’s three Halifax campuses—comprising 79 acres, the size of around 20 city blocks—beautiful and camera-ready.

HIGHLIGHTS: For the past 11 years, Pearson has spent many of his days in the most-photographed areas on campus—the Studley Quad and Sherriff Hall (backdrop to many weddings). There he is not only responsible for the day-to-day upkeep but he’s also the creative impetus behind the look of the grounds.

Pearson says the weather, the seasons and the needs on campus dictate the kind of treatment each area gets. “Once you get used to a place you get the feel of it. While you’re weeding, ideas pop into your head and you think that a particular area isn’t looking as good as it could be. You recognize the areas that could be improved,” Pearson says. “And sometimes you just want to try something just for the sake of it, for the fun of it.”

“It’s rewarding to see the gardens build up year on year. If you’re just going into some- one’s personal yard, you put in an installation and you never see it again. Here every year, you can see it evolving and that’s quite a nice sight.”

With convocation early in spring, the team relies on perennials and bedding plants to provide pops of colour. Once that is over and the weather has turned warmer, the real creativity begins. Pearson offers the example of gardening around older structures like the Chemistry Building and the Hicks, where he goes for a cottagey look. It appears as if the gardens on either side of the main doors of both buildings are symmetrical. Look more closely, however, and you will notice slight differences to accommodate for the difference in sun and shade.

Pearson is most proud of a crevice garden now thriving with succulents outside the Chemistry Building and ground cover running from Killam Library to the Steele Ocean Science Building. “You just squeeze small plants in but the roots will spread out underneath and in between the rocks. It’s a really hot, sunny area but the little seedlings like the warm weather and they’re just thriving.”

WHY I DO IT: “It’s a great job if you like to be outdoors, which I do.” Pearson says. “We’re encouraged to be creative and bring ideas, and people listen to you. It’s a very supportive environment.”

Even in winter when Pearson, like the rest of the grounds team, spends the majority of his time shovelling snow and chipping away at ice, the promise of another year’s growing season makes it all worthwhile.

This story appeared in the DAL Magazine Fall 2022 issue. Flip through the rest of the Fall 2022 issue using the links below.


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