In the Garden:
In Westfield, New Jersey, a municipal worker tends a lovely hanging basket of geraniums as part of the America In Bloom program to beautify communities.
Westfield -- One of America's Official Cities in Bloom
Enjoying an early October evening with friends along the Potomac is delightful under any circumstance. Add the history and beauty of the American Horticultural Society's Headquarters at George Washington's Riverview Farm. Note the friends as gardeners, horticulture professionals and civic leaders sharing stories and ideas about improving their communities.
This was the opening celebration of America In Bloom (AIB)'s 10-year anniversary with garden tours, talks, presentations, awards and delicious food.
The weekend was abuzz with gentle rivalry, starting with Thursday's special awards dinner under the big tent within view of the river. Stories of towns and cities discovering their own creativity and resources unfolded over three days. Many of the 22 AIB communities are in the Mid-West and South, several in the Northeast, two in California.
Last year Westfield, New Jersey won the AIB award for its 25,001 to 50,000 population category, as well as the best landscaping award of all communities entered. I'd luckily, inadvertently joined their table. They filled me in. Westfield's been a contender for three years.
For a participant's fee, AIB provides structure and support for civic pride and beautification through landscaping and environmental improvements. The registration process is a self-organizing evaluation and resource developer. AIB sends impressive, experienced judges who tour the community and meet with local government officials and community volunteers. They painstakingly evaluate for six criteria in the commercial, municipal, and residential sectors -- community involvement, environmental efforts, heritage preservation, urban forestry, landscapes, and floral displays -- and write an extensive evaluation. These may become a blueprint for enhancements to a community's quality of life and support for grant applications.
At Saturday's "A Celebration of America In Bloom Communities" awards dinner, disappointed Westfield lost top honors to Holland, Michigan. The Westfield In Bloom (WIB) effort kept its Four-Bloom rating though. (Achieving Five Blooms is rare.) And judges recognized Westfield for leadership in environmental awareness, specifically Westfield Memorial Library's installation of a solar panel system.
Sherry Cronin, executive director of Downtown Westfield Corporation, and Dave Williams, owner of Williams Nursery and president of the Garden Centers of America, co-lead Westfield in Bloom (local name for AIB).
Under the AIB umbrella, Westfield finds synergy, says Williams. "A lot of things are already happening in our community. AIB is a way to tie things together, to give it a central core, a purpose. It's nice to have the team leadership, which brings in more people." More than 50 non-profits provide strong volunteer commitment and increasing community awareness and pride.
Williams' passion for plants runs deep. His motivation is clear and simple. "Flowers in the downtown area just make you feel better." He grew up selling tomatoes in his family's garden center to earn college tuition. Now the garden center supplies material for the AIB displays.
About 20 miles northwest of Manhattan, Westfield dates to the late 1600s when it was purchased from the Leni Lenape chieftains. AIB recognizes Westfield for its unique, rich heritage and strong community.
Architect Barbara Vincentsen, WIB volunteer and AIB judge, explains: "In Westfield, people have always walked and been very social," reflecting the "old concept of downtown walk-about." The 1970s brought historic revitalization. "We can still walk with our kids to get ice cream. They ride their bikes around after school." Another old concept remains "Front porches are closest to the downtown. Front porches are where people wave to their neighbors. You can easily say 'Hi' to fourteen people in a day."
Co-chair Cronin says WIB is about more than gardens and hanging flower baskets. The overall community benefits from the campaign emphasizing education, improvement, and civic pride.
Registrations for the 2012 national awards program can be submitted until February 28, 2012. America in Bloom is an independent, non-profit 501(c)(3) organization dedicated to promoting nationwide beautification programs and personal and community involvement through the use of flowers, plants, trees, and other environmental and lifestyle enhancements.
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