Too early to talk flowers?

Published 10:57 am Thursday, December 4, 2008

Forget the snow, cold wind and freezing temperatures.

Bonnie Rietz, Kim Underwood and Bonnie Mogen are thinking “Flowers ’09.”

The trio launched the new fundraising effort to put petunias in the hanging baskets from city street lamps at a Wednesday morning press conference at Bonnie’ Hallmark.

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The city of Austin has budgeted $20,000 to the petunia project. The remaining $20,000 needed will come from private donations.

“This is an exciting time,” said Rietz, the former longtime Austin mayor and chairperson of the Flowers ’09 project. “It seems strange to be thinking of flowers when looking outside and seeing snow.”

“One of our favorite dates is in the spring-time, when the beautiful baskets are put up around the city and the pots are planted with beautiful flowers,” she said.

The hanging baskets of flowers have been in place since 1995 after the city replaced its street lamps with the antique-looking lamps.

“It’s a wonderful program because so many people are involved with it,” Rietz said. “It’s a wonderful way of dressing up our city and we get many comments on the beautiful flowers.”

Residents cam sponsor gifts of flowers in memory of a loved one or in honor of someone as a Christmas present.

Checks may be sent to the Austin City Hall in care of the city administrator’s office.

Gifts are, of course, tax-deductible.

According to Underwood, acting director of the Austin Parks, Recreation and Forestry Department, said 303 baskets are currently hung each spring along Austin city streets.

The baskets are hung along Main Street, Fourth, Third and Second Avenues, Sterling Shopping Center, 10th Street Northeast and the Mill Pond Pathway in Horace Austin Park as well as East Side Lake.

“It really dresses up the whole city with such beautiful brightness in the summertime thanks to the people’s donations,” Rietz said.

Individual businesses can sponsor a hanging basket in front of their business with a minimum $100 donation.

The baskets must be hung in approved areas designated by the PRF department.

In its 14-year history, the flower project has seen more hanging baskets hung.

According to Underwood, the peak was 411 hanging baskets in 2001.

Reductions in Local Government Aid in 203, caused the project’s growth to be curtailed.

The $20,000 from the city’s budget and $20,000 from private donations helps pay for the PRF department’s staff who water the lowers throughout the growing season.

“Other things that are nice about the program include the fact it gives young people jobs in the summertime,” Rietz said.

The flowers are purchased locally.

Johnson Floral, Beerg’s Nursery and Dolan’s Nursery have all been retained to supply the petunias.

Mogen said her store hears from shoppers, who remark about the flowers.

According to Austin Downtown Business Association president Mogen, positive comments about Austin’s flowers have supplanted compliments about Red Wing’s own flower project.

“We get customers in the store, who come in, then walk out and then walk back inside. They just have to tell you how beautiful the flowers look,” she said.

Austin’s flower fans are “fussy,” according to Mogen.

“When there weren’t as many yellow flowers in the baskets as there were in the past, we heard comments about that,” Mogen said. “These customers know their flowers.”

For more information about the Flowers ’09 project, call city offices at 437-9940 or the PRF department at 433-1881.