Character: Campus groomer Kandis Byrd

"I would have laughed hysterically if you told me 20 years ago I’d be doing this," says Kandis Byrd, a UW campus gardener and plant advocate.

I didn’t like gardening as a kid.

I started growing food in my yard about 10 years ago. I planted tomatoes, carrots and a few cucumbers. My obsession grew and the entire backyard is now garden beds. The only remaining grass is a small patch for the cats to play.

I am a Gardener 2 in Area 8.

There are around 36 gardeners responsible for maintaining the entire UW campus, including the mowing and irrigation teams. A three-person crew is responsible for each area. Mine includes Hutchinson and Lewis Halls, the Intellectual House, Hansee and McMahon dorms and more.

My father is a UW alum who rowed crew.

When I started working here in November 2015, it was near the canoe house and I often sent him pictures of the sunrises. He was super excited. It’s an awesome connection to see the things my dad saw so many years ago.

I would have laughed hysterically…

…if you told me 20 years ago I’d be doing this. When my son was 18 years old and applying for college loans, I decided to also take a swing at bettering myself. I applied and received grants that allowed me to return to school at 43 years old. I earned a horticulture degree from South Seattle College in 2014.

Mornings on campus are sleepy and quiet.

I start work at 7 a.m. and those early hours are amazing. I’ve seen coyotes walking East Campus and baby ducks hanging out along Canal Road. That whole world is hidden by mid-morning.

Kandis byrd, uw gardener

Can you name the plant? Photo: Ron Wurzer

There is a pair of trees…

…an older Redwood and Sequoia, that stand like sentinels near the Waterfront Activities Center. They were here before the campus. Some of the rhododendrons are over 50 years old. I love the winter hazel with its stretching arms and little droplets of golden flowers. There are so many treasures.

I love the culture of plants.

It’s my passion to know the names of plants, their families and how they interact. Some are bullies. Some need to be more assertive. We help them by weeding, shaping or mulching so the plant communities grow in healthier ways.

Fall is all about leaves, leaves, and more leaves.

Spring is weeding and edging while summer is general maintenance. And in winter, we spend a lot of our time mulching. There is a huge bunker where leaves and much of the coffee grounds from campus cafés are combined to create a beautiful, rich compost.

I volunteered at a children’s vegetable garden…

…in South Seattle. Many of those kids had no idea a strawberry came from a plant in the ground with bugs and soil. There are university students who have no idea how things are grown or why. Put your hands in the soil and you stop taking things for granted.

It’s a mystery to most people.

I like when students and other people approach me with questions. I want to share my knowledge because I think horticulture is the coolest science ever.

Horsetail isn’t a favorite weed.

I can’t hate it, though, because it’s a native plant. I choose to find it lovely because
I have no choice but to live with it. If you can’t do anything about a problem, choose to find the beauty in it.

My Christmas list usually includes…

…books, some new overalls and one year, I asked for a machete. I was thrilled to see it under the tree!