Red and blue wildflowers and tall grass grow on a hill near two institutional buildings

Sustainable Beauty

Sustainable Beauty

Visitors to Williams often stop to take pictures in front of Chapin Hall, Thompson Memorial Chapel and the college’s gates. In the spring, a new image popped up across social media shares: a hill brimming with red and blue wildflowers behind the renovated Davis Center on Walden Street.

The eye-catching new landscape is made up of a low grass mix that will grow alongside 19 types of wildflowers blooming throughout the summer, including the early annual corn poppies and bachelor’s buttons. Landscape Ecology Coordinator Felicity Purzycki says that the small prairie will “stabilize the bank, be low maintenance and entice people to take the meandering sidewalk”—in addition to increasing biodiversity on campus.

Scott Henderson, the college’s senior project manager of planning, design and construction, adds that the spot “was meant to offer a diversity of planting that reflects the mission of the Davis Center”—a space intended to support historically underrepresented communities at Williams through campus engagement with issues of identity, history and cultures as they affect intellectual, creative and social life. He notes that it also offers passersby a chance to connect with nature.

In addition to the new wildflower meadow on Walden Street, the college’s 450-acre campus includes athletic fields, manicured lawns, microforests, meadows and garden beds. Williams’ strategic plan includes a commitment to environmental initiatives that develop and manage landscapes with “sustainability, access, aesthetics, equity, and connections between campus and town.”

Choosing the layer Landscaping and Grounds on the campus map reveals 10 locations, from an herb garden outside the Class of 1966 Environmental Center to a native plant ecosystem behind the Spencer Studio Art Building. Various gardens grow asparagus, rhubarb, berries, fruit trees, grapes and more, and some are open to the community of Williamstown. Students are encouraged to lend a hand in sustainable landscaping by volunteering to sort seeds in a seed library, helping to maintain campus gardens, and joining clubs for beekeeping, birding or sustainable growing.

Campuswide, the college uses integrated pest management to mitigate environmental risks, careful watering, and a light-handed approach to maintaining game and practice fields. Tree health has been monitored through a project called TreeKeeper, developed by Purzycki to inventory more than 2,500 trees on campus.

Letting vegetation grow is another way to increase sustainable landscape. Purzycki says the college has recently increased low-mow areas, where grass is only mowed one or two times per year, by six acres, making a total of 11 low-mow acres. She adds, “The new [Williams College Museum of Art] site will have additional meadows and fields of flowers to further our goal of biodiversity.”

Some of these spots will be marked with new signage that explains how Williams’ use of arbitrage through the Renewable Energy Certificates Management Program generates funds through the sale of solar-generated energy to areas in dirtier electric grids. A portion of these funds are then used for hedgerow restoration, landscape redesigns and tree plantings. Tanja Srebotnjak, director of the Zilkha Center, says, “I’m very excited about the landscaping projects because I think our campus landscapes play a big role in welcoming people to Williams and providing so many valuable outdoor benefits to students, faculty and staff. Healthy, native and drought-tolerant and naturally pest-resistant landscaping also helps with climate change adaptation and mitigation by reducing labor-intensive maintenance and use of noisy, fossil fuel-dependent equipment.”

While the multiple benefits of all this work might not be immediately known to people off-campus, the small prairie is definitely garnering attention. As one visitor wrote on Instagram: “Beautiful.”’


View this post on Instagram


A post shared by Williams College (@williamscollege)

Photographs by Abby Wood Meczywor ’10

Regina Velázquez is an associate editor and senior writer in Williams’ Office of Communications.