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Summer Gardens at Stony Brook

Stony Brook’s greenhouse in the R&D park, ready for planting on campus. The flowers hanging baskets are Petunias, bottom is a mix of annuals including Begonia, Marigold, Dusty Miller, etc.

Summer is a quiet time on campus. Students have gone home, faculty are on hiatus, dorms and dining halls are closed and rebuilding for the fall semester gets under way. It is also one of the prettiest seasons on campus, with lush greens and hidden gardens in full bloom. A walk on campus on a summer day is an enchanting experience.

What we see on campus today actually began this time last year, according to Alaina Claeson, horticulturist and landscape coordinator on Stony Brook’s Campus Operations and Maintenance team, which also includes Mike DeBlasi, grounds and plumbing manager, and fellow horticulturist Dana Fernandez. In preparation for commencement, January through May is a hectic time for designing, growing, preparing and installing the new gardens and flower pots throughout campus. After that, during the quieter summer months plans and designs are created for the following year. Around October, nearly 10,000 annuals are ordered for the following spring. In March they are planted and grown in the greenhouses in the R&D Park, and then planted on campus around April, or as soon as it gets warm. Then the cycle begins again.

If you’ve noticed similar colors on campus, that’s no accident. The team grows large amounts of the same plants. While red and white are always a part of the design, they try to incorporate other color schemes. For example, this summer’s theme is purple and yellow.

“This is my office,” Claeson says with pride, walking past the Administration fountain toward the Academic Mall. “I’m always outside, and if it’s raining, there’s plenty to do in the greenhouse.”

During this quiet time on campus, she takes the time to really look at the various landscapes and gardens to see what needs to be changed and updated. In fact, she often runs through campus to see the gardens from a different perspective and get new ideas for the year ahead. In fall the team focuses on maintenance, pruning and getting the greenhouse ready for the growing season. Snow removal keeps the team busy in the winter months. She recommends taking walks every two to three months to see various stages of growth and blooming, and how the landscape evolves throughout the seasons. 

A campus walk with Claeson on a sunny June day reveals the well-known Instagrammable spots, along with a few hidden gems and areas with potential for the future.

— Story and photos by Chris Maio

Click on the numbers below to see more of our campus in bloom.

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  • Thanks, Chris!
    I loved learning more about the campus greenery. It is so nice to take a walk and take it all in. I’ll be looking out for Alaina to say hi 🙂

  • Thanks so much for the beautiful landscape! I really enjoy walking around the campus and look at those plants ! May I suggest you to add the names of the plants on the side so that we can learn about these plants while enjoying their beauty? We are an educational institution. Why not grab the chance to “educate” viewers? Thanks for consideration!

  • Thank you Alaina for making our campus beautiful. I usually try to get out and take a walk daily and have noticed how beautiful all the plantings are. I noticed that one of your goals was have our campus designated as an arboretum. Years ago, when we were touring campuses for my son, the guide pointed out that American University in DC was designated as a an arboretum. That certainly impressed me as a parent (maybe not my son), but I am sure it will impress many prospective SBU student parents. Good luck.

  • The campus looks beautiful!

    I’d like to add a plug (no pun intended) for adding more (there are some already) northeast and Long Island native flowers, trees and shrubs to the campus.

    With this much land we could surely have a big impact on the environment by staying away from the non-native (and sometimes invasive) plants. As a University with a clear focus on our environmental impact, it seems like this is one small way we could be part of the change for the better.

    There is a robust, growing community on Long Island that is embracing native plants–let’s be a bigger part of it!

    I’m sure the many campus deer and rabbits play a part in the decisions about what to plant.

  • Beautiful! Thanks for making the campus beautiful! Nature and colorful plantings around campus will surely keep everyone happy, relaxed and present.

  • Thank for the the update. I work on the hospital side of things and don’t get a chance to
    get to the campus. Your pictures do encourage taking a walk or bike ride on the other side (LOL), before summer’s end.

    Again, thank you.

  • You have done a wonderful job making this campus beautiful Alaina, thank you! I truly enjoy my occasional lunchtime strolls now more than ever. Your work also gives me ideas about what to plant in my own gardens at home.

  • I try to take daily (or every other day) walks around campus now that it is quiet and the weather is nice, I did notice all of those and much more, it is really pretty.
    I also want to add that the landscape in front of and around Schomburg apartments is also spectacular!

  • It would be nice to see red and white echinacea’s incorporated into the landscape campus and the hospital.

  • Intriguing article. Thank you! It would be exciting to see the deciduous and perennial plantings labeled, as those interested would greatly benefit.

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