News Blog

Games in the Garden: Hospital Horticulturalists Compete to Sharpen Their Skills

Dan Bangert holds a plant in front of Earl Johnson and Nick Sambucetti, who are writing a list of possible problems and solutions for plants.

The Grounds Team at Pennsylvania Hospital has a mission to “put smiles on faces” through their work beautifying and maintaining the 12.5 acres of greenery surrounding the nation’s oldest hospital. To ensure they are providing the best possible care for the hospital’s 10 gardens with 25 unique types of flowers and 45 tree species—some more than a century old—the team holds an annual competition called the Captain Grounds Tournament to strengthen their skills and refresh their horticultural knowledge. 

“Although we go over this information while we work, and when we attend seminars, I find the best way for the team to retain and reinforce the information is through games,” said lead horticulturalist Dan Bangert. Throughout the day, when a team member lost a point for incorrectly answering a question, a common response would follow: “Now I’ll never forget that!” 

Nick Sambucetti plants flowers in a Pennsylvania Hospital courtyard.
Groundskeepers maintain the property by pruning, watering plants, and cleaning leaves and other debris out of drains to prevent clogging and flooding during rainstorms. One of the tournament’s activities refreshes those skills. 
Blake Sieminski pushes a cart full of tree branches in a Pennsylvania Hospital courtyard.
The Captain Grounds Tournament, now in its fifth year, puts the groundskeepers’ expertise to the test through a series of hands-on activities including collecting the most litter and pulling the most weeds around the property in a limited timeframe; and creating the best flower arrangement in concrete planters.
A groundskeeper plants flowers in a concrete planter.
Bangert reinforces the idea for a planter to have three key features to create an eye-catching design: thriller (tall plants that add height), filler (plants that make the planter look full), and spiller (plants that cascade over the side). The contestants' planters are not only evaluated based on appearance, but on how well the groundskeepers present their ideas and share why they chose certain plants. Earl Johnson, pictured here, chose plants that could thrive in direct sunlight. “These events are also meant to enhance public speaking skills,” said Bangert. “If they have an idea for the garden or a solution to an issue, they’re going to have to sell those ideas to others.”
Dan Bangert stands in front of several plants in a courtyard. Nick Sambucetti and Blake Sieminski hold clipboards and examine the plants.
In a courtyard that was previously only used to store large oxygen tanks for the hospital, Bangert and his team planted a flourishing garden to create a more visually appealing area for patients and staff whose windows overlook the area. Each plant has a hue of yellow, in honor of Bangert’s mother’s favorite color.
Dan Bangert stands next to a table with fishbowls and wears a white construction hat.
Bangert wears a white construction hat with silver wings, gifted by the Engineering team several years ago, as he’s known for always being on the move. Over the years, the hat has collected items like a small traffic cone, a tiny shovel, and a red poinsettia from holiday decorations. He wears it during the tournament to draw the attention of passersby away from the groundskeepers, so they can participate in events without distraction.
Earl Johnson tosses a ping pong ball into a glass fishbowl as Blake Sieminski and Nick Sambucetti watch from the side.
“Which of these flowers are not planted at Pennsylvania Hospital?” Answering trivia questions correctly grants the groundskeepers an opportunity to earn points through a carnival game tossing a ping pong ball into a fish bowl. Other trivia questions cover topics such as common plant diseases and solutions.
On left, Blake Sieminski, holds the Captain Grounds trophy, and sits with Earl Johnson, Dan Bangert, and Nick Sambucetti. On right, a red, white, and blue shield decorated with the phrase “Captain Grounds” with a photo of Blake Sieminski in its center.
The name for the tournament is inspired by Captain America. The winner receives a trophy that looks like the superhero’s shield, displaying a photo of the winning groundskeeper in its center. Congratulations to Blake Sieminski—this year’s Captain Grounds Champion. Pictured here: Sieminski, sitting in the center, with fellow groundskeepers Earl Johnson, Dan Bangert, and Nick Sambucetti.

You Might Also Be Interested In...

About this Blog

This blog is written and produced by Penn Medicine’s Department of Communications. Subscribe to our mailing list to receive an e-mail notification when new content goes live!

Views expressed are those of the author or other attributed individual and do not necessarily represent the official opinion of the related Department(s), University of Pennsylvania Health System (Penn Medicine), or the University of Pennsylvania, unless explicitly stated with the authority to do so.

Health information is provided for educational purposes and should not be used as a source of personal medical advice.

Blog Archives


Author Archives

Share This Page: