By Jessica Barzilay
Even the walk from class to class can be educational at Harvard-Westlake. With a campus full of greenery and biodiversity, students leave the classroom to see the ecological and biological phenomena taught in their lessons as they exist in nature. Creating and maintaining the plant life on campus is full of challenges, but it is also a real world example of science in action.
Felipe Anguiano, Upper School Plant Manager, can attest to the complexities of balancing the many factors that his job entails.
“There are a lot of different considerations when we are talking about landscaping,” Anguiano said.
Chief among those considerations is safety, he said, and potential danger is the most frequent reason for changing the upper school landscape. The school commissions tree trimmings three times a year, in order to secure against the risks posed by the pairing of overgrown branches and California earthquakes.
A man referred to as the “Tree Doctor” from Cali Scott Tree Company comes to evaluate the campus foliage several times throughout the year.
“It’s only for safety or access, or else we don’t touch the trees; we just prune them and keep them alive,” Anguiano said.
For instance, when a pipe burst under the cafeteria, the school had to remove a tree in order to repair the pipe.
Aesthetics also play a role in the decisions made regarding vegetation. Flower beds near Seaver and Rugby are rotated seasonally to display the most vibrant species in bloom, but this system of rotation serves a dual purpose; by cycling in different plants, the landscapers ensure that the nutrients in the soil never get depleted.
An outside contractor, CBR Landscaping, does most of the physical plant maintenance on campus. The company, which has been working with the school for 30 years, sends two men to work eight hours a day, five days a week. They trim, water and tend the vegetation, as well as monitor the growth of weeds.
The weeds on campus are just one of the many examples of living science that students of AP Environmental Science and AP Biology learn about. In APES, students investigate the biodiversity of insects in soil samples from around school. Tara Kheradyar, who teaches APES, also works to give students an appreciation of the process of the growth and cultivation of plants.
“Our focus is mainly on how plants deplete nutrients in soils, and how this problem is remedied by different agricultural practices,” Kheradyar said.
The students are currently growing green beans, a type of legume that restores the nutrients to the soil, as they study the benefits of the diverse flora around campus, Kheradyar said.
The school provides the ideal environment for biodiversity tests since there are at least 1,500 different types of trees, Anguiano said.
A project begun several years ago placed between 50 and 100 plaques around campus to identify the species of selected trees.
Another consideration for landscapers is the desert climate and the need to conserve water, Anguino said. In compliance with a local ordinance, Anguiano and the maintenance team have retrofitted the valves so that the sprinklers run only twice a week for no more than 15 minutes at a time.
In addition to teaching ecological concepts in AP Biology, science teacher Blaise Eitner also cares for specimens of plants used as teaching tools by the science department. Originally trained as a botanist, Eitner takes notice of the flora at Harvard-Westlake and encourages students to do the same.
“I am impressed by the job that the staff does maintaining the landscaping and plants around campus. I think the students largely (and understandably) take it for granted, but I really appreciate the beauty of both of our campuses,” Eitner said.