In 1998, Capital City Partnership President John Labosky had seen beautiful hanging baskets in downtown Red Wing, Minnesota. He thought this would be a nice addition to downtown Saint Paul. Around that same time, the Rice Park Association wanted to start their own hanging basket program for Rice Park pioneered by Saint Paul Hotel General Manager, Bill Morrissey, his assistant, Janet Yoswa and local businessman, Brian Braden.
In the summer of 1999, Capital City Partnership and the Rice Park Association combined to purchase 108 baskets to hang on the decorative lamp posts downtown. This was done in partnership with Saint Paul Parks and Recreation, which provided the daily watering of the baskets In June 1999, members of the Saint Paul Garden Club traveled to Chicago for a gardening conference and witnessed the gardening and beautification happening under Mayor Daley’s leadership. Betsy Kelly, a Saint Paul Garden Club member, came home from that meeting inspired by what she experienced in Chicago. She approached the city of Saint Paul about transforming downtown with plantings, baskets and urns.
In April 2000, the Saint Paul Garden Club set up a meeting at the Landmark Center with the support of Mayor Norm Coleman. The guest speakers at the meeting were landscape architect Douglas Hoerr and Chief of Staff for the Chicago Park District Drew Becher. Both men were key people in the development of the Grow Chicago program.
Capital City Partnership increased their number of baskets to 194.
Despite the building excitement to beautify Saint Paul, the 2001 season saw slow development of the project. Betsy Kelly and the Saint Paul Garden Club were working hard to promote the project. Capital City Partnership increased their total number of baskets to 244.
In 2002, the efforts to beautify downtown were greatly increased with the election of Mayor Randy Kelly and the subsequent appointment of a new Director of Parks and Recreation, Bob Bierscheid. Both Mayor Kelly and Bierscheid were aware of what had been done in Chicago and saw the benefits of beautifying downtown Saint Paul. It was determined, as an initial planting and a statement by the city as to its commitment to the beautification of downtown, to plant the medians on Kellogg Boulevard between the Robert Street and Wabasha Street bridges. Plans were drawn up with the inclusion of ground beds, 11 urns and irrigation throughout. The design was created by Mark Madsen of Bachmann’s in partnership with Tim Agness and Jody Martinez of Park and Recreation’s Design Section. Plans were reviewed by the Saint Paul Garden Club as funding partner and 2003 STAR grant author/awardee. Capital City Partnership increased their number of hanging baskets to 296.
2003 - 2004
The years of 2003-2004 saw many changes in the beautification of downtown. The medians along Kellogg Boulevard were planted and raised beds and urns at City Hall were improved and expanded. These projects were made possible by the support of the mayor through a State Tax Revitalization (STAR) grant awarded to the Saint Paul Garden Club. Mark Granlund was promoted to Arts and Gardens Coordinator for Parks and Recreation to oversee maintenance and development of gardening activities. Mark had spent the previous eight years developing the education department at the Como Park Zoo and Conservatory. 2003 saw the beginning of the official Blooming Saint Paul program with this name being chosen for an overall program of gardening and beautification in Saint Paul. There was a groundswell of interest in beautifying downtown through attractive plantings. At the mayor’s request, a contingent from the City of Saint Paul attended a Greening Conference in Chicago. Those attending the conference included Bob Bierscheid, Mark Granlund, Tim Agness, Jody Martinez, Tim Griffin of Riverfront Corporation, Bob Sandquist of Public Works, Natalie Fedie of the Mayor’s office, and Paula Soholt and Deni Svendsen of the Saint Paul Garden Club. The Saint Paul contingent came home with many ideas and inspiration. Plans were developed for the planting of a core downtown area by the Design Section of Parks and Recreation, and for the next two years, a horticulture staff structure and budget were developed to handle the current and future workload. The Youth Job Corps program was tapped to provide 40 youth annually to maintain public gardens throughout the city. Twenty-seven window-box planters and four large urns were added around City Hall and work was done to develop partnerships and opportunities. Capital City Partnership leveled off their number of hanging baskets to 250.
2005 - Coming Together
The hanging basket programs, begun by the Capital City Partnership and Rice Park Association, were incorporated into the Blooming Saint Paul program. This led to new designs and a new grower for the basket program, which led to a significant savings for the project. Other developments include:
- Creation of the Blooming Saint Paul Awards, in partnership with the St. Paul Garden Club, given to exemplary public and private gardens located in the City of Saint Paul
- a second place finish in the national America in Bloom awards program
- establishment of a community vegetable garden program, and
- the addition of 12 new garden sites totaling over 7,000 square feet. (2005 STAR grant proceeds awarded to the Saint Paul Garden Club. Sites include neighborhood recreation centers, Cesar Chavez, 7th Place Plaza, Mears Park, Wabasha Bridge)
- Blooming Saint Paul landscape crews gain responsibility for maintenance of Kellogg Boulevard from 7th Street to Robert Street
2006 - More Partners
Expansion of the Blooming Saint Paul program continued as the Department of Public Works began to integrate Blooming Saint Paul concepts into the design of the Suburban Avenue and Rice Street renovation projects. Other accomplishments include:
- The hanging basket project expanded with baskets along Cesar Chavez Road and at 7th Place Plaza
- The south end of the Wabasha Bridge and Margaret Recreation Center plantings were revitalized after several years of neglect
- A new community vegetable garden was established at Dunning Recreation Center
- The first Blooming Saint Paul awards ceremony was held in January 2006 at the Como Park Zoo and Conservatory hosted by Director of Parks Bob Bierscheid, with new Mayor Christopher B. Coleman and Saint Paul Garden Club President Ingrid Conant presiding
2007 - A Year of Growth and Recognition
The Blooming Saint Paul program and its staff received awards and recognition from the Minnesota Recreation and Parks Association, the Saint Paul City Council, the Minnesota State Horticulture Society, and the Garden Club of America. The program continued to expand with hanging baskets added on Rice Street and at Wacouta Commons
2008 - Readying Saint Paul for the Republican National Convention
Downtown was polished and primped with the addition of 40 large planters. After much support from the mayor's office, most hanging baskets were allowed to stay up for the convention. Other accomplishments:
- more hanging baskets added to Rice Street
- a community vegetable garden is established at Prosperity Heights Park
- the Blooming Saint Paul greenhouse is expanded by an additional 100% allowing staff to grow 10,000 plants for Saint Paul parks
- Blooming Saint Paul Awards doubles the number of nominations
- 35E corridor in downtown receives a make-over with a cleaning out of old trees and shrubs and replaced with 13 new trees and turf
2009 - On Display
This was the first year of participating in the Flint Hills International Children’s Festival. Blooming Saint Paul staff created a floral display called The Singing Garden. It was located on Market Street at Landmark Plaza and was made of more than 30,000 flowers. Display includes five seven-foot diameter spinning flowers on motors.
The Blooming Saint Paul Advisory Panel was created to help guide the activities of the program. Panel consists of representatives from city wards, city departments, district councils and businesses.
- Hanging baskets added at newly completed Upper Landing Park, sponsored by Upper Landing Condo Association
- Planted medians added to Marshall Avenue and traffic circle at Charles and Albert
- Public Works Department makes 8 acres of land available for community gardens
2010 - Getting Help
Blooming Saint Paul gets a boost with the addition of a Volunteer Coordinator within the Natural Resources Section. Outreach to schools and volunteer groups is expanded. In 2010, more than 375 volunteers provided more than 3,800 hours of gardening. Other accomplishments:
- Program grows 150 hanging baskets in the Blooming Saint Paul greenhouse
- Horticulture Academy, Blooming Saint Paul’s summer employment program for teens, receives a grant from American Gardening Association for youth to design and plant garden beds
- Ramsey County and Saint Paul Food and Nutrition Commission established to support a local food system, including community gardens
- Blooming Saint Paul wins first place at Minneapolis Art Institutes Art in Bloom Floral display competition
- Blooming Saint Paul Awards guest speaker at ceremony is columnist/writer Bonnie Blodgett
- Purchased two electric water scooters for hanging basket program with electric water pumps, thus reducing emissions and sound pollution
- Reduced the use of fertilizers in hanging basket program by 85%
- Three community vegetable gardens added to city property: Skidmore Park Community Garden, Baker Recreation Center Community Garden and Rice Recreation Center Community Garden
- Created the Friendship Forest display for the Flint Hills International Children’s Festival with more than 30,000 flowers which were then repurposed for city gardens
2011 - Looking Good
Blooming Saint Paul gets a facelift with a new and improved web page design for the Natural Resources Section of Parks and Recreation. Finding information and navigation is greatly improved. A new larger greenhouse was purchased in the fall which increased growing area by 200%. Finally, the Flint Hills International Children’s Festival display, The Discovery Garden, is a highlight of the festival with a 35-foot tall spinning yellow daisy. Other accomplishments:
- Volunteers in city parks increase to over 400 people contributing more than 4,000 hours of gardening
- Blooming Saint Paul Awards program expands to include presentation of the City’s new Landmark Tree program
- Secured $25,000 for improvements to Blooming Saint Paul City Nursery in Como Park for propagating plants for City parks
- Commissioned by the Ordway Theatre to design and install fourth International Children’s Festival garden with an eleven foot tall story-time tree sculpture by Curtis Ingvoldstad
- 75% of water fleet water pumps and motors converted to electric
- Approved two new community gardens (Tatum Park, Linwood Park)
- 6 volunteer Greenhouse Assistants recruited to assist with growing plants and baskets for City
- Engaged over 175 volunteers participating in 1 time volunteer event opportunities
- Coordinated more than 475 volunteers who provided more than 4,350 hours of service to maintain 70 sites.
- Maintained 544 sponsored hanging baskets
- Commissioned by the Ordway Theatre to design and install fifth International Children’s Festival garden with an artist painted storytelling tent
- 186 Blooming Saint Paul Award nominations and handed out 23 Blooming Saint Paul awards
- Successful Blooming Saint Paul Awards Ceremony with guest speaker garden writer Eric Johnson and 120 attendees
- Colorful replanting of Landmark Plaza with annuals
- Worked with Minnesota League of Cities to secure funding and volunteer time to redesign and install a garden at Scheffer Recreation Center.
- Coordinated more than 575 volunteers who provided more than 4,650 hours of service to maintain 70 sites
- Successful Blooming Saint Paul Awards Ceremony with guest speaker bee expert Marla Spivak and 120 attendees
- Installation of two new community gardens at recreation centers in partnership with the University of St. Thomas (Conway and St. Clair)
- Completed moving Greenhouse to Como Central Service Facility and added environmental controls
- Maintained 592 hanging baskets