Plan…ting ahead: Volunteers get their hands dirty to beautify downtown streets
By Eileen Persike
The sun was shining, potted flowers were all around, and the earthy aroma of spring was in the air. This wasn’t a dream scenario – it took place inside a Forth Floral greenhouse on the city’s west side recently, when Master Gardener volunteers gathered to prepare the hanging flower baskets that will line Rhinelander’s downtown streets this summer.
The baskets first went up in 2007. Downtown Rhinelander Inc. (DRI) volunteer and Master Gardener Diane DeiRossi has been part of the flower project from the start, initially becoming involved to coordinate volunteers.
“I came to find out that they had nothing but the idea so we needed to talk to other communities, find out what they were doing, how they were watering, what kind of pots they were using,” DeiRossi recalled. “And we did learn a lot about what pots to use from Tomahawk and about watering from Rice Lake.”
They began small, the first year hoisting baskets on 50 street lights, because of the warning DeiRossi said she received from the folks in Rice Lake.
“They said, ‘you only have one chance to do this right, because if it doesn’t go well, they’ll remember it for years,’” she said with a laugh.
The next year they went full-on with 120 baskets.
“We had the baskets with the little pockets,” Dei Rossi said. “They looked amazing but they were water hogs and took a lot of work.”
The plants had needed daily watering, a process that began with a big water tank, powered by a marine battery, in the back of a truck and many pre-dawn mornings for DeiRossi and her husband. The watering was eventually streamlined and required only one person to do the job.
New baskets this year, purchased with the aid of a Rhinelander Community Foundation grant, are self-watering and may only require watering ever three days, or so.
The small group of volunteers that convened at the greenhouse systematically plugged the small plants into the 120 baskets. Forth Floral’s Henning Hempel selected the varieties the volunteers planted. He said he tries new and different combinations every year.
With the baskets full, Mother Nature takes over. The increasing warmth and longer days will grow the flowers quickly to have them ready to be hung by Memorial Day.
The entire project is sustained by volunteers, with help hanging them from the city of Rhinelander. Anyone interested in being part of the downtown flower basket effort may sponsor a basket for $100, although fundraising volunteer Marilyn Norden said any amount is welcome. New this year, flower baskets can be sponsored in honor or in memory of a loved one. Send checks to DRI, P.O. Box 1638, Rhinelander, 54501. For more information, visit the Downtown Rhinelander, Inc. Facebook page, or call 715-393-8425.