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Behind the Blooms: The South Oval Mums

Behind the Blooms: The South Oval Mums

Groundskeeper rakes a section of flower bed on OU campus

Every fall, OU community members and campus visitors look forward to seeing the dazzling display of chrysanthemums on the Pitman Parterre of the Van Vleet (South) Oval. While the South Oval gardens might have slightly fewer visitors this year due to COVID-19, the mums are no less spectacular and still a valued tradition of the university.

This year’s theme is “Oklahoma, Sooners and the Year,” and over 15,000 mums were used in the design.

Aerial photo of a planted OU flower bed on the south oval. Flowers spell out BOOMER and SOONER

Chester Warner, OU gardening supervisor, has been working on the 2020 display since the summer of 2019.

“Planning for the South Oval mums starts a full year in advance,” Warner said. “Once the design is completed over the summer, bids for plants are sent out and we begin prepping the flower beds. The mums are planted in June or July so they will be at peak bloom for when we anticipate OU’s homecoming celebrations.

“I have a good crew that works with the flower beds – from bed prep, to watering, to weed control, to shearing, to mulching. They have done this for years and are very good at it.”

An OU groundskeeper drops a small mum plant into a pre-dug hole in the flower bed

OU Landscape and Grounds team members plant mums in the South Oval gardens on July 16, 2020.

The South Oval gardens are funded through an endowment created by the late OU petroleum engineering alumnus Morris R. Pitman and his children, Russ Pitman and Jill Pitman Jones.

A groundskeeper tends to the mums, planted in bright stripes on the OU South Oval

While the entire display takes a full year to plan, Brandon Cox, assistant director of landscape services, said it typically takes the Landscaping Department around a month to finalize the design for the South Oval.

“We are allowed to be creative with the design,” Cox said. “Throughout the process, we go through a team approval phase, which helps the department determine what is needed to bring the design to life.”

With this year’s mums now at their peak, Warner and his team have turned their focus to the design for 2021 – which is sure to be just as beautiful as this fall’s blossoms.

An OU Students snaps a cell phone photo of the flowerbeds
Low-ground shot of a large patch of mums up-close
Mums planted in the OU Unity Garden, South Oval
Close up detail of the Mums at morning, contrasting stripes of mums fill the frame
Detail: a monarch butterfly rests on a bright yellow mum
The Sower Statue is wearing a fabric PPE mask with an OU pattern, the planted flowerbeds stretch out behind it.

By Mackenzie Scheer

Article Published:  Wednesday, October 21, 2020