‘A beautiful community project’ – Annual flower basket program seeks $15K for 2017

Published 10:12 am Wednesday, November 30, 2016

A group of community leaders have a simple almanac when it comes to tracking the changing seasons in Austin: the community flower baskets.

Community leaders met at the Austin ArtWorks Center Tuesday to kick-off the 22nd annual fundraising campaign for the Austin flower basket program, which will put 246 flower baskets downtown and around the community in 2017.

To Steve’s Pizza owner Steve Davis, the baskets mark the seasons in Austin.

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“I can tell when the seasons change,” Davis said. “When the baskets go up, it’s spring time. Then I look out and go, ‘Oh, the baskets are gone.’ You know what that means.”

Bonnie Reitz, who chairs the flower basket committee, added that one of her favorite days of the year is when the flower baskets go up.

“It’s a fun thing for our community,” she said.

The 2017 target of 246 baskets is six higher than 2016 because of added space by the Spam Museum.

The flower basket program aims to raise $15,000 in public donations this year to go with $16,000 from the city of Austin and $10,000 from Hormel Foods Corp. for a total of $41,000.

More than 110 businesses and people give to the program, according to Rietz.

“We’re just very appreciative of that,” she said. “We hope that people will donate again.”

The baskets will again be grown by Hilltop Greenhouse in rural Hollandale, and owner Gretchn Boldt is excited to get the baskets growing early next year.

“It’s fun to get them growing and start it out and just watch the progress of the baskets until the time that we deliver,” Boldt said.

The baskets are typically up by mid-May, and Boldt credited Austin Park & Rec’s seasonal help for maintaining the flowers throughout the spring and summer.

“You take such good care of them the whole season to make them look that beautiful,” she said.

Boldt called the program “a beautiful community project.”

“I think the whole community pitches in,” she added. “It’s just wonderful when you come to Austin. … It just lightens you up.”

The baskets will once again be grown at Hilltop Greenhouse in rural Hollandale. Herald file photo

The baskets will once again be grown at Hilltop Greenhouse in rural Hollandale. Herald file photo

Davis has had people from across the country visit Steve’s after stopping at the Spam Museum — including people from warm-weather places often associated with flowers, like Florida — and they’ll even compliment Austin’s program.

“I’m sorta proud of that,” Davis said.

To Rietz, it’s great to have the flowers to greet the tourists coming to Austin to visit places like the Spam Museum; however, she noted it’s a boost to the locals too.

“We also do it for the people who live here, because the beauty of our own community — you just walk a little taller with a smile on your face when you’re downtown in the summer looking at the flowers,” she said.

The baskets aren’t just downtown, as Austin Parks & Rec Director Kim Underwood noted the flowers go by East Side Lake, Marcusen Park, Sterling Center and more.

“I just think it’d be a little drab if they weren’t there,” she said. “So there’s a lot of spots that pop a little color when you have that going on.”

When Austin’s program started, Underwood recalled using Red Wing’s program for inspiration, but she said now Austin’s program is the envy of many communities.

“I think the flow basket program enhances our city,” Underwood said. “When people come to visit, we get compared to a lot of cities with baskets and they to call and ask what our recipe is because they are usually a little better than some of the other cities, which is pretty awesome.”

Mayor Tom Stiehm said he hears many positive comments about the program.

“It dresses up your downtown,” he said.

To support the program, people can send checks to Austin City Hall courtesy of Tom Dankert at 500 Fourth Ave NE., with “Flowers 2016” in the memo line.