KST Cover
Mason Library shade border photo by Ann Card Keene State's Green-Thumb Gardener

Joe Britton has three simple goals each spring: grow at least 45,000 of the best plants, strive for sustainability in his garden designs, and get those little seedlings into the ground in an artful way.

Joe Britton photo by Chris Justice Have you ever wondered where all the beautiful annual flowers on our 170-acre campus come from?

Let me introduce Joe Britton, KSC gardener, whose love of plants and enviable work ethic create the gorgeous gardens you see all around us.

Joe grew up working in his family's greenhouse production business in Westmoreland and went on to get a degree in ornamental horticulture and floriculture operations at UNH. He worked for the Elm Research Institute, then came to Keene State in the spring of 2005.

He currently produces all of the annuals and perennials for campus plantings. He is also responsible for all of the lawn maintenance on campus, plus snow removal and the less-glorified aspects of the job, such as trash picking.

Joe starts growing plants in a greenhouse in February, but the real work starts months earlier, as Joe meticulously plans the gardens, orders the seeds he will need, and develops a complex production schedule.

Photo by Mark Corliss

If you are picturing someone puttering with grow lights and a few bags of potting soil, you will have to expand your vision. The College uses anywhere from 45,000 to 70,000 plants, and Joe grows them all in his greenhouses in Westmoreland. This does not count certain plants that are direct-seeded, such as cleome and zinnia, thousands of bulbs, or other plants bought in the course of a year.

I asked Joe what he is trying to achieve in his KSC gardens. He answered, "I am trying to produce specific high-performance plants, the best cultivars for the many different growing conditions we have here. And in the spirit of sustainability, an idea that permeates our whole philosophy, I want to shift toward using more perennial plants to reduce the need for intense maintenance in our gardens. I also would like to do more with educational vegetable gardens, maybe even a victory garden. We're fortunate to have such good soil to work with here, thanks to our composting program. We have a beautiful mulch pile."

To get all of those plants into the ground, Joe directs many student helpers, instilling in them a sense of pride, curiosity, and stewardship. He works with Mark Cormier and several other full-time employees as well.

On Founder's Day each spring, Joe teaches a popular gardening class and is always willing to give tours of our campus gardens, each of which has its own personality and design. He is especially proud of the butterfly garden at Oya Hill, which was started on Founder's Day in 2006 with volunteer help and, through a Pepsi grant, expanded to the grove of small gingkos across the walkway.

I know all of you home gardeners who marvel at our Keene State gardens are itching to know exactly what Joe will be planting this year. He graciously agreed to share his plant lists for the Oya Hill butterfly garden and for the beautiful shade border in front of the library. Perhaps you can locate these exact cultivars and create your own version of Joe's gardens. As for Joe's green thumb, you'll have to develop that on your own.

Photo by Ann Card

The Mason Library Shade Border
"The library bed is special to me," Joe said, "because aside from its perennial bulbs, it is exclusively planted with annuals that feature blooms of timely interest. The bed changes all year, starting with a mix of 1,800 early- to mid-season daffodils and 500 Iris Siberica we planted last fall, followed by annuals for the summer and finally fall mums, asters, and ornamental cabbages and kale. I selected this list of annuals for their beauty, long-lasting blooms, foliage, and shade-loving habits."
  • Argyranthemum x Butterfly
  • Heliotrope x Fragrant Delight
  • New Guinea impatiens x Harmony series
  • Scaveola x Sapphire
  • Sweet potato vine x Deep Purple and Margarita
  • Snapdragons x Rocket Mix
  • Angelonia x Serena series
  • Coleus x Kong Red
  • Coleus x Wizard mix
  • Calibrachoa x Aloha series
  • Dahlia x Figaro
  • Dahlia x Dinner Plate
  • Nasturtium x Climbing
  • Ageratum x Hawaii

Photo by Ann Card
The Butterfly Garden at Oya Hill
This sunny garden, a mix of annuals and perennials, is designed to attract and feed butterflies.

Perennials (already installed)
  • Buddleia x davidii (butterfly bush)
  • Echinacea purpurea x mangus
  • Delphinium x Pacific giant
  • Valerian x red spp.
  • Leucanthemum superbum x Alaska (Shasta daisy)
  • Digitalis purpurea x Crystals mix (foxglove)
  • Rudbeckia fulgida x ‘Goldstrum'
  • Cosmos
  • Zinnia x Benaries giant
  • Sunflower x Teddy bear
  • Celosia x Plumosa
  • Osteospermum (Cape daisy)