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Parties Extra! Oklahoma State University's gardens are in full bloom

by Helen Ford Wallace Modified: August 5, 2013 at 9:45 am •  Published: August 5, 2013


One of the topiaries on the Oklahoma State University campus. (Photo by Helen Ford Wallace).

You don’t have to ask Ann Hargis how her gardens grow.

You can look around the Oklahoma State University campus to see that the gardens are alive and well and growing just fine.

OSU is where her husband, Burns Hargis, is president, and she is the “first cowgirl,” as she describes herself. It is also the place where the Department of Horticulture and Landscape Architecture is set up for teaching and research.

Ann Hargis, Steve Dobbs, OSU’s manager of grounds and landscape services, and I checked out a few of the gardens on a short, rainy-day tour in Stillwater recently (the heavens decided the gardens needed a summer drink). We didn’t even get to the headquarters’ garden, the Oklahoma Botanical Garden & Arboretum, saving that for another day.

There are many growing venues for students, alumni and guests to view, and all are filled with beautiful and well-planned areas. They include the Central Garden, the new Price Garden, the Formal Garden and plazas where creative topiaries are featured during the growing months. The gardens are filled with thousands of varieties of flowers, plants and herbs. Some you might recognize; some you might have to ask their botanical names.

In each garden we visited, Ann Hargis had knowledge about the flowers and plants, or a curiosity to learn. She and Dobbs have a similar vision in their desire to beautify the campus. Ann Hargis, OSU first lady for the past five years, has “bloomed where she was planted.” And there are thousands of flowers blooming there with her.

We got to see orange flowers (OSU’s favorite color), along with many other colors and varieties. These viewings included Ann Hargis’s favorites, orange canna lilies, at her campus home, Wilham House.

We saw large blooming magnolia trees planted by the late Henry Bennett, an early OSU president. “He loved magnolias,” Dobbs said. “He had a master plan for the campus.”

Dobbs also pointed out new plant material, the sweet gum slender silhouette trees, planted around buildings.

“We want the campus to be beautiful and inviting and also educational,” Dobbs said.

Most of the gardens have bar code technology (QR, or Quick Response, codes) so the students, alumni and guests can interact with the displays and get information about plants and how to grow them.

Topiary boot

The topiary cowboy boot display, in the southwest corner of Theta Pond, is made of eight different plants that create the texture of the boot, including the OSU orange “O” made by using bronze-color hens and chicks flowers. It weighs 2,300 pounds and is almost 8 feet tall. Among the plants that are always used are Joseph’s coat, miniature sweet flag, basketgrass, dwarf mondo grass, variegated creeping fig and creeping fig, dwarf sweet flag and dichondra. Other flowers are added for color.

An intricate frame was created for the boot that involves a way to transport it back to the greenhouse for the winter months. William Hilson, landscape technology specialist, built the boot, and he and Steve Dobbs designed it.

Price Family Garden

New on the campus is the Price Family Garden, dedicated in April by Linda and Stuart Price. Hargis noted the garden was given in honor of mothers. “Mothers have a great influence on students,” she said.

The plaque on the wall in front of the Atherton Hotel has a quote from Edwin Hubbell Chapin: “No language can express the power, and beauty, and heroism, and majesty of a mother’s love. …”

This garden is a cutting garden for flowers for the hotel and the Ranchers Club Restaurant. There also are edible foods and herbs the restaurant’s chef, Ben Coffin, uses in cooking. Growing are different flavors of mint, basil, fennel, rosemary, lavender and Swiss chard. There are zinnias, hibiscus, mums and pansies in season; also growing in the garden is one of the historic OSU magnolia trees. There are peach trees and raspberries. There is squash, pinto beans, okra, soybeans, lettuce, asparagus, peppers and several types of tomatoes.

Also of note

Another topiary located just south of the football stadium is the Garth Brooks topiary hat. This hat is a replica of Brooks’ favorite straw cowboy hat that he wore for the Oklahoma Centennial Celebration. It is created using creeping fig plants. The words “Go Pokes,” planted in Joseph’s coat, are by the hat. A nearby QR code tells the story. Many of the QR codes, used as teaching aspects for horticulture, are linked to the OSU website.

The Old Central Native Garden is by OSU’s oldest building and features plants native to Oklahoma, such as big bluestem, black-eyed Susan, coneflower, ox-eye daisy, evening primrose, gaillardia and horseherb. The Formal Gardens by the Student Union features outstanding, organized landscaping and placement of plant material.

Wilham House has its own gardens and beautiful trees. Ann and Burns Hargis grow vegetables such as tomatoes, squash, okra and various herbs. One of their patios has a fireworks-looking topiary and pots filled with gorgeous summer flowers and plants.

Orange power on display

If you tour many of Oklahoma State University’s gardens, you’ll see orange flowers. Steve Dobbs, OSU’s manager of grounds and landscape services, offers a list of the names of the varieties of orange flowering, fruited or foliaged plants on campus for OSU fans of the color:

The summer and spring orange plants in the Price Garden: sweet pepper, ‘Tangerine Dream’; sweet pepper ‘Good as Gold’; cauliflower ‘Cheddar’; Swiss chard ‘Oriole Orange’; cuphea ‘Big Cigar’; canna ‘Intrigue’, and pyracantha ‘Mohave’.

Orange flowering or foliage plants in formal gardens or seasonal beds on campus include: celosia ‘Fresh Look Orange’; celosia ‘Ice Cream Orange’; zinnia ‘Double Zahara Fire’; lantana ‘Bright Orange’; cuphea ignea; Esperanza ‘Bells of Fire’; coleus ‘Rustic Orange’; canna ‘Orange Punch’ and canna ‘Robert Kent’.

The Hargis patio with blooming plants. (Photo by Ann Hargis).



Ann Hargis and Steve Dobbs with one of the topiaries on campus. (Photo by Helen Ford Wallace).



Plaque at the Price Garden. (Photo by Helen Ford Wallace).


by Helen Ford Wallace
Society Editor
Helen Ford Wallace is a columnist covering society-related events/news for The Oklahoman. She puts local parties online with daily updates. She creates, maintains and runs a Parties blog which includes web casts. She is an online web editor for...
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