Stop to Smell the Tulips

Kendra Bell

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St. Joan of Arc Chapel is a classic photo op for the Marquette community and tourists alike. However, the charming appearance of this spot is not be possible without the work of service manager Jim Blonien and his team of 13 full-time groundskeepers, who plant and maintain every flower in the area.

The garden is a mainstay of the university, something that’s been consistent throughout Blonien’s 41 years at Marquette. In his experience, the garden’s most talked-about aspect is the tulips, which usually bloom in early May.

“When my kids (attended Marquette), most of the comments they got were, ‘When is your dad planting the tulips?’ and ‘How long are the tulips gonna stay?’” Blonien says. “Then when the tulips came up, there would be a lot of online posts with people saying, ‘We’re so happy.’ That gives us a lot of pride.”

The process of preparing the garden begins in fall, when the tulip bulbs are planted. Next, they are covered with dirt until spring, to protect them from the winter temperatures. The crew aims to ensure the tulips are in full bloom for graduation, but the varying extremes of spring weather have an effect on how quickly the flowers come in. Once the tulips peak, the crew begins planting the annual flowers. These annuals, such as petunias and begonias, are vital because the tulips’ peak bloom only lasts a few weeks.

“We plant the tulips first so we have some color first,” Blonien says. “Once the tulips are fading, we start planting the annuals to make sure there’s still color.”

The appearance and layout of the garden change every year. This has a lot to do with flower availability, and also the interest of keeping things fresh, groundskeeper Christopher Stiyer says. One recent addition to the garden is large flower pots in place of traditional surface flower beds, which are easier to maintain.

The space requires additional care compared to other gardens and flower beds on the grounds. It receives daily attention throughout the summer, which involves watering, pruning, trimming bushes and cleaning the centerpiece fountain.

Aside from squirrels, rabbits and poor weather conditions, one of the major threats to the garden is students. Upon arriving to work Monday mornings, the crew often finds flowers that are pulled out or stepped on.

“(Students) are wrecking the aesthetics,” Blonien says. “It just takes (the team) longer to put them back.”

One of the most unconventional aspects of the garden is a plaque commemorating a time capsule, buried in 1965. Blonien says he believes the capsule includes a Marquette Tribune and some personal effects of Rev. John Naus, a Marquette resident Jesuit and philosophy professor who worked at the university for nearly 50 years. The full contents will be unearthed when the time capsule is reopened
in 2025.

In addition to providing a great photo spot, the garden is a tool for promoting the university, Chris Bartolone, the assistant director for facilities services, says.

“The appearance of the campus — the cleanliness — is huge for (prospective students) and their parents,” Bartolone says.

Bartolone recommends Marquette community members stop by to appreciate the work of Blonien and his team. “A lot of times, people walk right by and take it for granted,” Bartolone says. “They should stop and smell the roses.”

Or, in the case of this garden’s most popular feature, the tulips.

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