They are indispensable for keeping the campus going and keeping it pleasant, yet they are not always the first people you think of when you think about the campus: the cleaners, caretakers, caterers, gardeners, receptionists – the list is long. In these coronavirus times too, they play a crucial role. Resource has been seeking out these key people. This time, meet Harrie Scholten (59), a campus groundsman, whose work includes the indoor courtyard garden at Lumen.
photo Guy Ackermans
‘I’ve always been interested in nature. Even when I was in primary school, people said I should do something to do with plants or animals when I grew up. In the end, I chose plants and I haven’t regretted that yet. I go off to work cheerfully every morning. The nice thing about this job is that I can influence what grows and flowers on the campus. I recently read in Resource that a rare orchid was found in Lumen’s wild garden. I think that’s lovely. I haven’t seen the orchid myself yet, because it’s a matter of luck whether you come across it.
I’m responsible for the inner courtyard at Lumen, and I enjoy that, because I’m interested in subtropical and Mediterranean plants. Before I got this job, I worked in the tropical greenhouses of the former department of Tropical Horticulture, working with crops such as cacao, coffee and rubber – which was quite unusual at that time. For me too, because I only knew about ordinary agricultural crops and ornamental plants. I had to learn a lot, and that was nice. But then the tropical collections were digitalized, and the plants were no longer needed. I thought that was a real pity. The digitalization coincided with a reorganization and that was the end for me. I was redeployed and came to work in grounds maintenance. That was a completely different thing and it took a bit of getting used to at first.
In the 17 years that I’ve been working as a groundsman, I once nearly sawed off my fingers when we had to cut down a tree. We had no space at all, and when a branch fell towards me, I automatically put my arm up to fend it off and the chainsaw touched my fingers and destroyed the tendons. It took a year before I could really use my hand again.
Because of the coronavirus, the campus has been extremely quiet recently. But that meant I wasn’t bothered by people with different opinions on how the grounds should be maintained. On the other hand, I didn’t get as many compliments either. But I was happy that I could carry on working, because I couldn’t bear to sit around at home all day.
It can be difficult to stick to the one-and-a-half metre rule in our job. You put posts next to new trees, for instance, so they are firmly anchored in the ground. Then one person holds the posts while the other one hammers it into the ground.
At the moment, I am doing mainly maintenance: weeding and biological pest control. In the autumn and winter, the pruning period starts and we replace trees or shrubs that have died off in the summer. That happens a lot these days because of heat and drought. I’ll be retiring in seven years. If things go on like they are at the moment, that’s fine by me. I am getting older and with certain jobs, like mowing, I start to feel a few aches and pains by mid-afternoon. But I’ll keep going, touch wood, because I’m in good health.’