Gardening Guru Returns to SU

Former grounds manager Ciscoe Morris leads tour of campus greens and gardens

Written by Annie Beckmann
Photography by Chris Joseph Taylor
September 23, 2011

When celebrity gardener Ciscoe Morris returned to Seattle University recently, a gaggle of gardening enthusiasts followed him around campus to soak up his unabashed joy for trees and plants, snails and bugs and—oh, la, la!—hummingbirds.

“Male hummingbirds do nothing but protect their territory and mate. My kind of job,” he said, with a laugh.

Morris, who spent nearly 24 years as SU’s gregarious garden guru, led a group of 20 on a colorful historical tour of the stomping grounds he left in 2002 to pursue his successful multimedia career, including hosting his own local radio and television shows. It was 2½ hours of nonstop Morris-vignettes, with lots of gardening tips thrown in, all in that native Wisconsin dialect his fans love. The event was a sell-out fundraiser for Professionals Without Boundaries, a group of SU students, staff and faculty dedicated to leading service projects locally and globally.

“Those jade plants?” he said, pointing in the corner window of the Bannan Building, “They were 99 years old when we got ’em. They were given to the university by the Pigotts.”

He rhapsodized about the seeds the late Fujitaro Kubota (of Kubota Garden fame) brought in his pocket from Japan in 1907 and called out many of the rare trees Kubota planted around campus in the years before Morris arrived.

“When I first came here, there were almost no birds. I hated the thought of spraying poisons."—Ciscoe Morris

“This Japanese pine,” he said as he directed eyes to a tree near Bannan, “it came from seed from Fujitaro Kubota’s pocket.”  

The lively gardener blithely boasted about climbing the giant sequoia alongside the Pigott Building on several occasions, once to save its very top. As the tour continued Morris stopped abruptly in front of the Administration Building to remark on a blue atlas cedar with double trunks that he cabled up high when he was worried it might topple.

He shared his pride that under his watch SU was the first university in the state to be designated a backyard wildlife sanctuary. In the years he was on campus, Morris was pleased to report, only 10 trees came down.

The group marveled at how he had the foresight to garden without pesticides, a campus-wide policy that continues today. “When I first came here, there were almost no birds. I hated the thought of spraying poisons,” he said.

When someone asked about slug bait, Morris suggested iron sulfate as an alternative. Northwest snails, he added, are actually edible escargots brought here by the French.

“The only way to get them to leave is to get French people to move into your neighborhood,” he suggested, with a bit of a blush. “I can’t lie worth a poodle.”

For nearly 24 years Ciscoe Morris was the head grounds keeper and resident garden guru.
Ciscoe Morris leads participants on a tour of SU's notable pesticides-free grounds.