A Tale Of Nearly 200 Cities

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The 10-year milestone of the America In Bloom (AIB) program takes me back to when industry leaders came together through OFA to take a leap of faith. We agreed to launch a collective marketing program focused on making plantings more visible by beautifying cities and towns. Canada’s successful Communities In Bloom was our model and we had a pilot program with four U.S. cities paired with four mentoring Canadian cities in their national program in 2001.

The moment of truth came that fall, when it was time to launch a full AIB competition in the United States in 2002. Would enough cities participate? In Ohio, I approached Westlake, where I live, and Willoughby, where I work, and was thrilled both mayors agreed to enter. But what has been even better is the “flower power” or multiplier effect I’ve seen since. The quality of the plantings just get better as they spread and pop up throughout the towns.

Bang From Baskets
Willoughby has the best hanging basket program in Northeast Ohio. Instead of trying to figure out how to do baskets on its own, the city partnered with a grower to produce baskets that would last spring through summer. The key to any basket program is regular watering/fertilizing and the city has crews watering every morning with mobile water trucks, rain or shine.

Each year, the baskets change in terms of the mix of petunias and calibrachoas. Dragon Wing begonias have been a fool-proof choice, as well. In addition to the baskets throughout the historic retail district atop fancy lightposts, they stretch down Euclid Avenue on all the telephone poles for at least a mile. Baskets of geraniums then adorn a fence near a park.

The business district also has large, square, wrought iron planters around each tree. Planter boxes decorate both sides of the bridge spanning the Chagrin River. As a result, Willoughby has become such a nice place to be and the restaurants and shops keep getting hipper and trendier all the time.

Big On Bloom
Out of all the cities that have participated in AIB, Westlake (a past winner) does the best job of organizing a local contest modeled after AIB. Residents enter categories for homes, condo associations, businesses, nursing homes and churches, and all the raised adopt-a-beds on Hilliard Boulevard are automatically entered. Local master gardeners judge the entries. About 300 residents will turn out for the awards in August presented by the mayor. Four garden centers present gift certificates as prizes to the winning entries and have been instrumental in educating the public on plantings. Just about every development in Westlake has nice landscaping, and the In Bloom program has become a focal point in all the city’s communications.

Show Your Support
At the OFA Short Course in Columbus this month, there will be a special celebration recognizing all the individuals and companies who supported AIB for 10 years. It will be an opportunity for the industry to “renew its vows” and financial support for the program, which many didn’t think would last more than three years. As an industry, we’re highly skeptical of national promotions, but this is one that has lasted 10 years on a modest budget thanks to OFA and those who continued to contribute after the initial five-year pledge.

What can you do to support the cause? Buy an AIB raffle ticket ($100) before July 11, when the winning tickets will be drawn at our Evening of Excellence reception at Short Course. Approach your towns about participating next year. The best place to really learn about the program is the AIB symposium and awards program, which will be in Washington, D.C., Oct. 6-8. The event will be extra special returning to our nation’s capital for the 10-year milestone. For more information, visit AmericaInBloom.org.

Delilah Onofrey directs Flower Power Marketing for the Suntory Collection. She can be reached at donofrey@gmail.com

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