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"A Miami moment with ... Bill Zehler"

04/19/2012

Bill Zehler. (Photo by Jeff Sabo, Miami University photography).
"A Miami moment with ..." is a Q-and-A column featuring Miami employees.

Bill Zehler, Miami University's horticulturist, strategically plans the planting of seasonal flowers and bulbs all over campus. While nurturing thousands of seed varieties over the last 15 years into beautiful flowers, Zehler also grew another passion of his — volleyball. What started with coaching the Miami women’s club team has flourished into directing a regional program that serves almost 15,000 children.

Q: While we are enjoying an incredible spring this year, I understand the unseasonably warm temperatures created a problem for Miami’s gardens. What is the problem?
A: Spring came too early. Normally, we would be under snow at least until March. This year we have had April in March and May in April. Our tulips usually bloom the first week of May into mid May, looking really nice for commencement weekend. This year, they are already done blooming. Unfortunately, what would normally be glorious color for graduation weekend, many beds may be empty. But, we will still have lots of color for commencement this year. We created 60-65 flower pots and will plant some of the beds with petunias, geraniums and other cold tolerant plants.

Q. So, is it still too early to plant the summer annuals?
A: Yes, it is too early as we may still have some danger from potential frost. We carefully plan the timing of planting flowers. We grow our own flowers, upsizing three times before they even go outside. We start them from seeds, move them to a 4-inch pot when the roots develop, then into a gallon or mum-size pot. We time the planting so that they are in full bloom when we put them in the ground.

Q: This takes a lot of strategy. What are some of your secrets?
A: We actually weed. We do not use any chemicals in caring for the gardens. Barb Tonner (building and grounds specialist) and I employ student workers, about only 8 this year, who help us with upkeep. We produce about 50,000 flowers each year. While I don’t have any favorites, some of the favorites of our employees and guests include angelonia, the bigger types of begonias and petunias. Dr. Hodge espcially likes petunias and Mrs. Hodge especially likes pansies.

Q: What kind of gardens do you have at home?
A: I did a lot of organic farming before I started working at Miami, but I don’t much anymore. I used to sell vegetables to farmers markets, but now I only keep a garden for personal use. I don’t have a lot of time with work and my duties in volleyball as director of Borderline, the youth club, and the Ohio Valley Region.

Q: How did you become involved in volleyball?
A: I played on Miami’s men’s team. Several students were interested in beginning a women’s team and asked me to coach. That is how the women’s volleyball club at Miami started. Almost 20 years ago we founded Borderline, a volleyball club for girls. Today, Borderline has 22 teams ranging in age from 10 and under to 17 and under. The organization serves girls throughout southwest Ohio and eastern Indiana. We also run tournaments from February to May, renting facilities from Miami University.

Q: What do you love about the game?
A: It’s kind of like the weather; it is unpredictable. The sport has so much momentum, teams feed off each other, and get very competitive, and like gardening, strategy plays a big role in the game.

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