In 2016, Park City Gardens will celebrate 25 years of keeping Merrill in bloom.
The flower project was conceived in 1991 by then-Merrill alderperson Patsy Woller and Donna Block. The pair saw Merrill as very plain and wanted to do something to change that.
A group of volunteers, initially known by various names such as Merrill Flowers and the Merrill Beautification Project, joined with the Merrill Park and Recreation Department to develop flower beds in public spaces in the city. That first year, plantings were done around the Stange’s Park concrete letters, near the Streeter Square sign, in urns outside the Merrill Post Office and in the triangle near old City Hall. The next planting was the triangle of land between Grand Avenue and Prospect Street.
The Merrill Area Chamber of Commerce made a financial contribution to the project in 1991, and the city contributed $150.
“As word got out and the flowers started appearing, people were really excited about it,” said co-founder Donna Block.
The group placed their first ad in the Foto News thanking volunteers and donors in 1991.
A social brainstorming session was held in August 1991, to discuss the flower plots and ways to expand the program. The group came up with the idea of placing flower contribution containers around town. School children helped by decorating the collection cans.
Donna Block and the flower committee, in 1992, were responsible for the Merrill Business Council endorsing a plan to encourage Merrill businesses to place flower barrels in front of their establishments to enhance the recent, citywide flower planting efforts. Donna made arrangements with Pamida to sell wood 1/2 barrels to business owners at a discount, Merrill Park and Recreation Department delivered soil to fill the barrels, and the participants then planted flowers of their choice, watered, and cared for the plantings throughout the summer. A total of 53 flower barrels were filled that year. Some of those same barrels are still evident around the city today. By 1992, approximately 17 flower bed locations had been established, planted, and cared for by businesses and individuals. Over the years, some flower bed locations have remained the same, some have been eliminated, and in other instances, additions made.
The project still hadn’t been formally organized by 1994, when an article in the Foto News referred to them as the “Flower Power” group.
In 1995, a social was held in appreciation of those who contributed to the “Merrill Flower Project.”
In 1996, it was recommended that the group become incorporated and the name be changed. One of the committee members suggested renaming the group the GoGo Gardeners, another possibility was the Potpourri Planters, or the Blooming Beauties. In 1997, after incorporation, the name was changed to Park City Gardens, Inc.
One of the primary challenges for Park City Gardens has always been keeping the flowers watered all summer. The group’s first water wagon was built by the Church Mutual maintenance crew, headed by Ron Mittelsteadt. It was fashioned out of a modified boat trailer with two plastic barrels that held 100 gallons of water. The apparatus was towed behind the Block’s Jeep.
By 2002, the number of flower sites had reached 25. The water trailer was still in use, as the group sought a volunteer to assist with it. Terry Glisch came forward as the first watering volunteer.
Currently, there are 21 flower bed locations tended to by approximately 60 volunteers. Current planting sites include River Valley Bank, Riverside Park, the roundabout, Normal Park, the gazebo, Streeter Square, Lions Park, the old municipal pool, Kitchenette Park, the west side, Trinity Church, two at the Courthouse, and at street corners on Prospect, Liberty, State and Cottage streets.
The most striking addition in recent years has been the plantings in the roundabout at Center Avenue and First Street.
“The showplace was the roundabout,” Park City Gardens board member Mari Nelson said. “This year it’s really taken off with a wave of perennials.”
Park City Gardens is looking at ways to further enhance the roundabout, possibly with a sculpture.
Recently, Park City Gardens has picked up the care of the flowers around the Normal Park gazebo. In 2015, the group was also approached by the city for ideas to beautify the newly-created green space in the parking lot next to Trophy Bar and along the north end of the Center Avenue bridge.
This past year, due to the difficulty of watering it, the flowers around the Stange’s Park letters were discontinued.
Plans for this year include improving the bed at Kitchenette Park. That bed is sinking and will be revamped. Also, the First Street wall plantings, which consume a lot of water, will get a drip line in the future.
Keeping the flower beds watered all summer remains an issue. Unfortunately, the UTV that was purchased as a dedicated watering vehicle was non-operational all last summer. The cost of the UTV is shared by Park City Gardens and the Hanging Flower Basket group.
The city’s Park and Recreation Department picked up the watering duties last year using one of their trucks.
“We were very fortunate to have Park and Rec do it,” Nelson said.
All these sites require a dedicated group of volunteers to plant and care for them. The volunteers decide what to plant in their individualized bed, what the design will be, and it is individually planned for its location, size and shape.
Last year, the group was fortunate to have new volunteers come forward but always welcomes more.
“If anybody wants to help, we can always use more help,” Block said. “The group is getting to be older and we do need new, younger people coming in.”
Park City Gardens is supported by community donations. The collection cans that the group has traditionally put out at local businesses raise less than $200 annually. However, there are several businesses, civic groups and individuals that come forward every year with donations to the project. The donations are used to purchase plants, dirt, fertilizer and equipment. The city of Merrill provides the water and labor to keep the flower beds looking great.