Every day, thousands of people pass through Houston’s airports. Some come to fly, others arrive from foreign countries, and others come to work at the countless shops and restaurants. While their reasons for passing through our airports may be drastically different, one part of their experience is constant; the beautiful landscaping they get to enjoy to and from the airport.
With the three airports’ grounds totaling thousands of acres, maintaining the remarkable aesthetic set by countless colorful flower beds, trees, and bushes, is no small task. Rising to this challenge, are a team of dedicated, hard-working individuals who have pride and love for their work; each of whom are integral to creating the warm and inviting imagery throughout the Houston Airports.
“We are the ambassadors that welcome the first people to come to Houston, and we want them to think of us as an inviting place. Our landscaping is the first thing they see,” says Director of Maintenance Peter Ferguson, who has been with Houston Airports for seven years. His tight-knit alliance with horticulturalist Amy Griggs, horticulture inspector Danny Adams, and contracted partners with Western Horticulture works toward making the best first impression for the many travelers passing through the airports. It is a partnership founded on trust and respect. “I couldn’t pull this off without my team,” says Ferguson. He continued to say “I can’t stress enough the importance that the contractor is treated as part of our staff and that makes communication easy, and they easily understand the atmosphere that we want to portray for those coming to the airports." The staff from Western Horticulture definitely have their hands full, as roughly 30 people are tasked worth maintaining the landscaping of all three airports, with the exception of abnormally large projects.
In some cases, there are added challenges that really show the true versatility of those who look after the airport’s landscaping. Weather, being the most prevalent of problems facing the landscapers, can prove to be quite the test. “With our seasonals, they do fine in the heat, but if there is a cold snap they’ll go down really quick,” said Adams. For instance, roughly two weeks before Houston hosted Super Bowl 51, an unexpected freeze severely damaged many of the flowers—a potentially catastrophic event in the wake of an influx of passenger traffic where favorably showcasing our city was paramount.. In spite of this, the crews devotion to keeping the airport grounds looking “opening day fresh” prevailed, and through carefully planned methods, the plant life was salvaged and looked great just in time for Super Bowl weekend. Weather conditions such as this, as well as hindrance from wildlife in the area amongst other challenges reveal just how adaptable these landscapers can be. “We have a lot of white tail deer,” Griggs stated, “especially in these more wooded areas.” While many people would never consider deer a threat, for a landscaper, they can be the difference between a beautiful arrangement of plant life or a meal. “Using some plants in certain areas can be like ringing the dinner bell for deer,” revealed Adams. So much must be taken in to consideration to keep the large facilities of HAS looking pristine, but this resourceful group manages it.
With all those factors must surely come a lot of stress, but according to Adams and Griggs, it’s all worth it. “When you enjoy what you do, it’s not really stressful,” Griggs cheerfully admitted. The love and pride those on this team possess for the work seems to stand at the core landscaping at HAS. “This is by far the biggest facility I’ve worked at, but it is by far the most fun,” said Adams. They, along with the contractors take pride in receiving compliments from those who pass through and admire their work. It is one of the main driving factors that inspires them to continually improve on their already impressive work. “I want the landscaping to be pretty and eye-catching that even people who don’t know plants, those who just drive by will notice it.” Griggs said when elaborating on her goals. Adams is going on his 11th year with the Houston Airport System and Griggs is currently pursuing a Master's degree in horticulture. Both have Bachelor of Arts degrees in horticulture.
It’s hard not to notice the aesthetically pleasing views surrounding the airports, and it all is credited to hard work, passion, and a team effort. From the unexpected challenges, the huge area to care for, and the high standards to which all involved in the landscaping hold themselves, what has been accomplished here is nothing short of extraordinary. It is a healthy reminder that we should all take some time to stop and smell the flowers.