Jeff McManus is the brains behind the beauty of the Ole Miss campus
(As published in the May/June 2017 Issue of Rebel Nation Magazine)
Jeff McManus, whose expertise in landscaping has gained The University of Mississippi accolades of being named “The Most Beautiful Campus” by a number of national publications like Newsweek in 2011, The Princeton Review, and most recently, last fall, in USA Today’s Readers Choice competition.
As a professional landscaper based in Oxford the past 17 years, McManus first began working for Ole Miss in 1999.
“Then-Chancellor Robert Khayat requested some funds earmarked for campus beautification,” McManus recalls, “and he wanted to take our campus to another level. After a nationwide search, he ended up picking me!” he laughs, “and it’s been a great professional experience ever since.”
Regarding the accolades, McManus says that he and his staff don’t call them national “recognitions”: “We call them national championships since we’re on a college campus!” he chuckles. “It’s a great feeling to have our work noticed and the beauty appreciated because the campus has really come far, I think, and it’s being noticed nationally.”
“You know, in my career I used to focus on growing the plants needed for beautification; not I focus more on growing the people,” McManus says of his evolving philosophy. “While we now have a smaller staff than we used to, we have a more excited group of professionals who love what they do and that shows – it translates over to the work on campus.”
McManus has 33 full-time employees who currently work with him and he says they constantly scout, not only other college campuses, but also places like the botanical gardens, to get ideas and inspiration to bring back to Oxford. Oftentimes we even interact with their crews to garner these ideas.
“The Grove, the famous hub of Ole Miss of course, gets most of the attention of our work and it deserves it,” McManus answers when asked about personal professional favorites. The grass is beautiful, we use a lot of seasonal favorites, like pansies and marigolds, at The Grove and around other parts of the campus. The goal, simply put, is to make the whole campus look sharp,” McManus summarizes. “We want people who drive in to say ‘Wow!’ and be impressed by what they see.”
Maintenance of the campus grounds takes place five days of every week. McManus says. “It’s a full time job for us,” he states. “It has to be in order to look the way it does. Media people and TV crews show up all the time, unannounced and we always have to have things looking in top shape. We also have trained our crew on how to deal with the media,” McManus notes, adding with a laugh, “they go from ‘weeders’ to ‘leaders,’ as we say!”
As for future work and plans? “The University has commissioned a connection, a beautiful corridor between the Grove and the stadium that is going to be magnificent and yet another place for fans to interact. Work will be ongoing for a year or two and the result will be tremendous.”