Last year, city flower crews went all out to prepare for a city beauty contest.
And while that complexity paid off with an award from America in Bloom, the goal this year is simple beauty for residents and visitors to enjoy, not to impress judges.
“We’re looking at ‘what do people like to see?’ ” said Rob Wheelock, foreman of the beautification crew for the city’s Department of Public Works.
The flower crew decided to group colors together at the city’s gateways at Union Avenue and South Broadway, rather than planting a complicated arrangement that people won’t notice when they’re driving by.
“How many people do you actually see walking down Union Avenue?” Wheelock asked.
In the few weeks in which the city Department of Public Works puts more than 50,000 flowers in the ground on Broadway, in Congress Park and in medians on South Broadway and Union Avenue, the city is transformed from spring to summer.
The Italian Gardens in Congress Park are decked in red geraniums and ferns, the red and green contrasting with the pristine white statues that were placed last year after being reconstructed from historical photos.
“You’ve got flowers that belong here,” said Pat Design, deputy commissioner of public works.
Paths leading to Hathorn Spring at the corner of Putnam and Spring streets sport a complimentary purple and yellow theme with petunias, marigolds and yellow cannas.
Dahlias, snapdragons, cosmos and cannas line the area behind the carousel in Congress Park.
The simplicity extends to the message board at the end of Union Avenue in Congress Park, where for years a Department of Public Works employee has slipped in at the beginning of the day and changed the flowers to reflect the day’s date.
This year, there’s no date — just “Saratoga Springs” spelled out in Dusty Miller against a background of red begonias and the new working fountain that cycles water around the clock.
The idea behind eliminating the date change, Design said, is to save taxpayer money, since it ate up about half an hour a day of a worker’s time.
A crew of three to four people plants the flowers, and about 12 people support the city’s landscaping efforts with watering and mowing.
“What [people] don’t know about our crew is I have a couple of gentlemen picking up garbage,” Wheelock said. “That’s the difference between our city and other cities.”
On Wednesday as Design and his crew worked at the message board, a woman yelled out her car window that the flowers looked nice.
“You get this all day,” Design said.
Wheelock said the planting is expected to be finished next week, two weeks ahead of schedule.
“I think we planted smarter,” he said. “We really took the time to plan out what we wanted to do this spring.”
The DPW plans its own flower beds, Design said. “We all put our heads together and sat down,” he said. “We start thinking in the winter about what colors we’re going to plant.”
Sunnyside Gardens on Church Street filled the $20,000 flower contract this year and also provides winter storage for the city’s grand potted hibiscuses that grace Congress Park.
Impatiens make up the bulk of the city’s flowers, most of which are annuals — especially on Broadway, which boasts 10 different varieties of impatiens, Design said.
But the city is adding some perennials into the mix to save money in the future, said Ned Chapman, owner of Sunnyside Gardens.
“You don’t need to have a permanent, 100 percent perennial bed,” Chapman said, noting that the city is putting some perennial grasses in with wave petunias on South Broadway.
“With good care, they’re good for 10, 15, 20 years,” he said of the grasses.
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