Austin Flower Basket Program to turn 23, seeks donations

Walking through downtown Austin during the summer, you can see flower baskets hanging from streetlights. The baskets overflow with colorful flowers that grow longer as time goes by. A walk down Main Street boasts flowerpots outside various businesses. More flowers can be seen in city parks.

They are planted courtesy of Austin’s Flower Basket Program, which will mark 23 years in 2018. The city is looking for donations to help fund the 2018 program.

“The first year (1995) we had 164 baskets, and this year we’ll have 248,” said former Mayor Bonnie Rietz. “People take a real pride in it. You wouldn’t believe the number of people that talk about the flowers and are so grateful for them, so it’s something that has become part of the fabric of our community, something we can really be proud of.”

Rietz said the city is providing $16,500, while Hormel Foods is donating $10,000. She said they are hoping to raise an additional $15,000 from the community.

“There are over 110 individuals and businesses that give to the flowers to help it all come to be, so really it is a community-wide project,” she said.

The flowers are purchased from Hilltop Greenhouse and Farm, north of Hollandale.

“It’s a wonderful program,” said Hilltop Greenhouse and Farm owner Gretchen Boldt. “It’s an honor for our family to grow the plants, to bring them, and to see how much they flourish while they’re here.”

The flowers are planted and cared for by the Austin Park and Recreation Department.

“It adds to landscape,” said Austin Park and Recreation Director Kim Underwood. “It’s not just concrete and buildings. It adds color to downtown and a few jobs for some youngsters.”

Joining the city in its efforts to raise money is Piggy Blues BBQ owner Ron Meyer.

“The flowers make the downtown look so beautiful and I think that adds to the customer’s experience when they come in,” he said.

Mayor Tom Stiehm and City Administrator Craig Clark encouraged people to donate to the program.

“When you talk to people visiting Austin, the number one thing they mention are the flowers downtown,” Stiehm said. “Everybody has their favorite (attraction), but almost all of them mention the flowers. It’s a good draw for us.”

“I think the community spirit really bodes well for those that are visiting,” Clark said. “They can tell we care about our community and it’s welcoming to those who come visit Austin.”

Rietz said that those interested in donating any amount should write a check out to “City of Austin” and write “Flowers 2018” in the memo line. Checks can be mailed to City Hall at 500 Fourth Ave. NE. Rietz said they hope to receive all donations by January so they can begin planting in February.

“We stand a little taller and walk a little more briskly in the summer when we see those beautiful flowers,” she said. “How fun for people from other communities to come and see our beautiful community.”

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