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Published: Saturday, 4/30/2011

Loyal alums show school spirit with flowers and grass designs

The Virginia Tech logo is landscaped into the lawn of fan Mike Goatley, as the homeowner shows his pride in Blacksburg, Va. The Virginia Tech logo is landscaped into the lawn of fan Mike Goatley, as the homeowner shows his pride in Blacksburg, Va.

Deborah Barber, a devoted sports fan and avid gardener, shows her team spirit by planting flowers in school colors.

The Madison, Wis., resident holds degrees from Northwestern University (purple with white) and Wisconsin (cardinal and white). Her husband, Rich Brown, on the other hand, is an Illinois grad (orange and blue). So she plants in her schools’ colors, with a nod to his.

“How I love the purple and white combo in perennial irises, annual petunias and other flowers,” Ms. Barber said about her Northwestern connection. She uses red and white annuals to represent Wisconsin, while blue scilla and daffodils with orange centers serve as the Illini link. The last, she says, shows “a gentle expression of rivalry.”

“As a 50-something gardener, the specific colors recapture my memories of schools, school friends and hometowns from my younger years,” Ms. Barber said.

Along with enthusiastic alumni, colleges, and universities also sometimes plant in school colors.

Bulbs always are a good choice for color-themed gardens, said Scott Kunst, owner and head gardener at Old House Gardens Heirloom Bulbs, a mail order and Internet business operating within shouting distance of Michigan Stadium at Ann Arbor.

“You can predict when bulbs are going to bloom,” Mr. Kunst said. “If you have a purple and white crocus, for example, you know they’ll be blooming at the same time every year. Antique bulbs offer a wider range of colors.”

Annuals, also, are easy to grow, he said. “The good thing about annuals is that you can mix them up — colors and varieties.”

And what better than containers for strutting your stuff if your team advances to a postseason bowl game or playoffs? Barber had red geraniums in white pots when Wisconsin was invited to play at the Rose Bowl last season.

Sports-crazy gardeners aren’t limited to flowers when showing school spirit: Grass also can send the message.

“Fertilizers will create block letters in lawns, although it’s tough to make symbols,” said Mike Goatley, a turf grass specialist at Virginia Tech. “Mowing patterns can be creatively done, but are more effective when the turf or the viewer is elevated.”

Mr. Goatley became involved in a turf war of sorts at his Blacksburg, Va., home several years ago when he used a warm-season zoysiagrass that goes dormant in winter over a green, cool-season fescue lawn to make an emphatic Virginia Tech logo. He eventually sold the property, complete with school symbol, to a Clemson grad.

“He wanted a tiger paw instead,” Mr. Goatley said with a laugh, referring to the Clemson mascot.

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