Interview by Leta Rowan, Green Student Intern
The University of Mississippi’s award-winning landscaping is a very visible part of campus. The work that goes into planning, installing and maintaining the landscape is lesser known, in part because it often happens early in the morning or late at night. Nathan Lazinsky, assistant superintendent for UM Landscape Services and a certified arborist, has worked at the university for six years and plays a large role in the behind-the-scenes of campus landscaping. Nathan, who is originally from Chicago and owned and operated his own landscaping business for 14 years before joining UM, also works closely with the Office of Sustainability on Green Week events such as Ole Miss Tree Trail Walks and the annual Arbor Day Tree Planting Celebration, and advises on a variety of projects including the UM Compost Program and the UM Campus Garden. Green Student Intern Leta Rowan interviewed Nathan to find out what he’s planting in his own yard, why he enjoys his job and the answer to the question we’ve all been wondering—has he ever had a run-in with a Grove squirrel?
Q: Could you explain briefly what you do as an arborist and assistant superintendent of Landscape Services here at Ole Miss?
A: My job on campus is to oversee day-to-day operations. I also oversee the plant, tree and flower maintenance, new designs and design the seasonal flower beds. I assess all the trees on campus and schedule maintenance as needed. I also schedule future tree planting. I train our staff on the correct pruning and planting procedures.
Q: The trees at Ole Miss are beautiful year round it seems. What do you usually consider when determining which kinds of trees to have on campus? What are you planting in your own yard at home?
A: We try to have a diversity of trees on campus, and make our decision of what species to plant by the site conditions and what species have done well in this area. We plant a lot of native species, as well as our oaks that grow up to be our stately signature trees. I have a diversity of plants at home. I enjoy cutting flowers to bring inside and place in vases. When I designed my home landscape, I tried to stagger plants so that something is always in bloom. I also enjoy growing my own vegetables. I have herbs and fruits mixed in with my ornamental beds, creating an edible garden.
Q: What led you to want to work in landscaping?
A: I have been doing landscaping my whole life. It’s one career where you can see your results at the end of the day.
Q: What’s some advice you would give students here who might be interested in going into landscaping profession?
Some advice I would give someone that was going into the landscape profession would be try to work for a firm for a summer before going to school to make sure this is what you enjoy. The green industry is hard work in inclement weather, and you can’t be afraid of getting dirty or sweating, but it can be very rewarding. A tree planted in the right conditions can live over 1000 years for many generations to enjoy.
Q: What kinds of things do you get to do that we as students don’t really get to see? What do you spend most of your time doing?
A: Working on campus, I believe my job has a huge impact. I believe we create the curb appeal that makes this campus desirable to attend and be part of. We feel that we are a huge recruiter for the university.
Q: What’s the most enjoyable part of your job?
A: I spend a lot of my time teaching and training both our staff and the community, [which] I would have to say this is one of the more enjoyable parts of my job. It is always great to train an employee and empower them to make an impact on something bigger. We never know if a student from here will become the next president or create a cure for cancer, but I believe that we could have a small part in that by making this the most beautiful campus, and recruiting that student to attend Ole Miss. They might have it narrowed down to two schools and decide to attend here because they felt comfortable on campus and loved the way it looked. Think about it—Would you rather stay at a hotel with palm trees and flowers or one with a parking lot in front of it?
Q: I know that you’ve worked closely with the Office of Sustainability before, and with Green Week approaching soon, could you explain your involvement with Green Week in the past?
A: I have been conducting a tree tour for Green Week over the past few years. The idea is to educate the community of the importance of trees, as they are essential to life. We also work with the Office of Sustainability [and host a] tree planting ceremony during Green Week. We teach the correct way to plant a tree, and encourage hands on participation.
Q: The Grove is almost unidentifiable (compared to how it looks before the first home football game) after the end of the football season. How much work goes into restoring the Grove during the offseason?
After football season, our main priority is fixing the Grove. We have to rake all the debris first. Then we focus on breaking up the compaction in the soil, so we can grow grass. Then we over seed with a tall fescue. It is a challenge every year, but we have it down to a science now. The goal with the Grove is to have a lush, green grass for graduation.
Q: With all of this warm weather most of the trees on campus seem to have already started to bloom. Is this affecting your work at all?
A: With the recent warm weather, trees have begun to bud and leaf out. This has been somewhat of a challenge because we do the majority of our pruning during dormant season. Once the trees leaf out, we can only do minimal pruning.
Q: Certainly something we’re all wondering — Do you ever have run ins with Grove squirrels and other critters on the job?
The squirrels have never been a problem with me, but I have encountered some raccoons while pruning trees that were not that happy to see me.