Plant containers make cities and towns more attractive. Often installed and maintained by local governments, but women's clubs and chambers of commerce also cooperate in this civic project. Window boxes on city buildings, plant boxes in front of libraries and courthouses, planters in parks and public gardens, as well as hanging baskets on lampposts, help make a city beautiful. New buildings are often equipped with planters. Spacious, free-standing types with permanent trees and shrubs now adorn many parks and small squares. In public places, their broad copings provide a resting place for strollers.
Flower baskets are charming on the lampposts of the lovely seacoast town of Camden, Maine, probably the first in the country to adopt them. Hanging baskets are now established features of other cities and towns.
Victoria's Graceful Baskets
Also famous for its hanging baskets is the city of Victoria, the capital of British Columbia, Canada. The lamppost baskets of Camden do not hang, but in Victoria they do; they are suspended twenty inches from the lamp standards on iron arms placed eleven feet or more above the sidewalks and usually parallel to the curb for reasons of safety. Each basket, weighing up to seventy pounds, is thirteen inches wide and eleven inches deep and is constructed of twelve-gauge galvanized wire on a nine-gauge frame.
Since 1937, baskets have decorated Victoria's business districts and sections bordering the picturesque inner harbor. After a trial of various plants these are now grown: the ivy-leaved geranium Enchantress, dwarf petunia Rose Queen, lobelia Sapphire, schizanthus Giant Blotched, dwarf coreopsis Dazzler, viscaria Rose Beauty, Mexican marigold Golden Gem, variegated ground ivy, and nasturtium Hermine Grashoff. Except for geraniums and nasturtiums, all plants are raised from seed. The schizanthus, nasturtiums and petunias are at their height early in the season, the viscaria in July, while the others come later. The soil mixture consists of two parts peat, two parts sand and nine parts sterilized rotted turf loam, supplemented with two ounces of ground limestone, two ounces of superphosphate, and one ounce of sulphate of potash per bushel of mixture.
Method of Watering
According to Mr. W. H. Warren, Park Administrator, "the baskets are maintained by one man with a right-hand tank truck powered by a take-off gear from the truck's motor. He waters the baskets during the hours of 11 P.M. to 7:30 A.M., six days a week, as he drives along the curb with an aluminum pipe wand shaped like a shepherd's crook. Liquid fertilizer is supplied every two or three weeks in the form of a three pound ammophos (16-20-0) per gallon tank."
To make watering more effective, a two-inch strip of galvanized iron runs around the top of each basket inside the moss and above the soil level. This prevents loss of water over the sides. To conserve moisture, a size thirty-four tin wash basin, treated with roofing cement on the inside and always kept full of water, is attached to the bottom. Baskets are prepared in the greenhouse in April and displayed on the lampposts from early June to early October. The cost for each including the basket, pan, plants and labor, is $10.00, plus $6.00 each for maintenance. Five other British Columbia cities have followed Victoria's lead, Nanimo, Vancouver, New Westminster, Kelowna and Vernon. Olympia, Washington, has also set up baskets and recently, Everett, in the same state had a favorable showing for the first time.
In Montreal In the United States and Canada, many organizations sponsor window-box contests to stimulate interest in this simple and effective method of making cities more attractive. The Window Box Competition of Montreal, Canada, is conducted by Mr. Henry Teuscher, Curator of the Montreal Botanical Garden. Every spring, from March to April, the Botanical Garden offers three lectures on window-box gardening in which students prepare and plant at least one box.
According to Mr. Teuscher: "The Window Box Competition has been active for about fifteen years and is still going strong. In the beginning, we had up to one thousand entries, but most so inferior they could not be considered for prizes. Only one hundred prizes were given, and the prize winning boxes were so superior they established high standards. In consequence, only those registered who really had good boxes and so had a chance to get a prize. During the last few years we have rarely had more than 250 entries, but these really were the best in the city."
Four silver trophies comprise the donated awards given each year to the owners of the best boxes, and if an entrant receives a trophy for three successive years, he is entitled to keep it. This has happened several times. A bouquet of roses or other flowers is also presented to each of the first four winners, while ninety-six others are given pots of house plants. Mr. Teuscher has a sum of $300.00 to spend on this project, and this covers the expenses of judges and secretarial help.
Civic Beautification in Philadelphia
The Neighborhood Garden Association of Philadelphia was started in 1953 by Mrs. James Bush-Brown, retired Director of the School of Horticulture for Women at Ambler, Pennsylvania, with the purpose of beautifying through window boxes and gardens, the blighted areas of the city. The first year seven garden blocks with four hundred boxes participated. By 1959, the project included 272 blocks and numerous gardens in vacant lots and around individual homes.
When a group decides to improve the appearance of a block, it forms a block unit, enlisting the services of the occupants of the houses. The members make their own boxes, set them up, and fill them with soil. Then the block is assigned to a suburban garden club, whose members supply the block with plants and instruct the owners on planting and care. Blocks hold weekly meetings in members' homes, and there is a monthly get-together in a community center.
The Philadelphia project is valuable because it helps to clean up untidy city blocks and makes them attractive with plants. It also teaches community cooperation among the occupants of tenements and apartments. Because of its success, other cities have sent delegates to study the methods. The Tonawanda Project near Buffalo, New York, and the beautification contests of the Beacon Hill Garden Club and the Beacon Hill Civic Association, as well as the Federation of South End Settlements, of Boston have been inspired by the Philadelphia project.
Visitors to Boston in recent years have noted the row of planters along the Tremont Street Mall on the Boston Common in the heart of the downtown shopping area. In all there are twenty-seven rectangular brick planters, each eighteen and one half feet long, six feet wide, and twenty inches high with a single outlet for watering. Between them are twenty-five circular brick planters, six feet in diameter and twenty inches high. Each circular bed holds a white flowering crab-apple with a ground cover of evergreen creeping euonymus. The rectangular planters are edged with low Japanese yew, sheared to twelve inches, and some of the beds have patterns of clipped boxwood in the manner of a knot garden. In spring, the beds are gay with 10,000 bulbs of early-flowering tulips, Vermilion Brilliant, Pelican, Rising Sun, and General de Wet. These are replaced with summer-flowering plants-geraniums, begonias, petunias, ageratums, and marigolds. Mr. John Kane, the Superintendent of the Greenhouses of the Boston Park Department, maintains the beds with two full-time gardeners.
The Window Box Contest sponsored jointly by Boston's Beacon Hill Garden Club and the Beacon Hill Association was started in 1958 under the chairmanship of Mrs. Houlder Hudgins. Today, there are more than 350 window boxes on the historic Hill. To aid participants in the project, literature is distributed with instructions on how to make window boxes, how to secure them firmly, how to fill them with soil, what kinds of plants to grow and what care to give. Most important were the plant lists, suggesting the best kinds for sun and shade. Since the Hill is located in the heart of the city, soil was distributed free to all residents who needed it. During the first year, a crew of forty boys delivered the soil in pails, in many instances hauling it up several flights of stairs to occupants who had no other way of getting it.
Judging each year takes place in late July, when the boxes look their best. At the end of the season, there is a general meeting at which color slides of the boxes are shown and awards are made. There are two grand prizes, one for the "best individual window box on Beacon Hill" and the other for the "best group of two or more window boxes on a single building." The four top prizes consist of two silver trays and two Paul Revere bowls. In addition, potted plants are offered by merchants on the Hill, as well as other donors. There are two prizes in the children's division.
Window boxes, other containers, and pots and tubs at doorways, have made this old section of Boston more distinctive. "A new idea for Boston," read the application blanks, "a contest which combines the fun of gardening with the pleasure of making Beacon Hill a more beautiful and enjoyable place in which to live."
In New York City
Extensive planting of streets and buildings in New York City began in 1956 when Mrs. Mary Lasker persuaded the Park Department to allow her to plant four blocks along Park Avenue with tulips. Amazed at her success, despite the soot and grime, they gave her permission to plant twenty-two Park Avenue blocks the next year and there adopted the enthusiastic beautification program known as "Salute the Seasons." Its purpose is to bring beauty to the downtown areas of New York by planting trees, shrubs and flowers and by setting up window boxes and tubs at shops, banks, hotels, museums, and churches. As the theme suggests, flowers are changed according to the season, with pansies and bulbs in spring, geraniums, begonias and other annuals in summer, and chrysanthemums in fall. Offering valuable information, with instructions on kinds to grow and when and where to plant, is a practical booklet prepared under the direction of the New York City Department of Parks in cooperation with the Department of Commerce and Public Events.
A container garden on a grand scale is at Mellon Square Park in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. Viewed from above, this almost one and a half acre park presents a magnificent spectacle with its attractive design, well planted beds, and patterned pavements. Mellon Square Park, built in 1955, covers a six-floor underground parking garage for 1000 cars. An eighteen-inch roof holds up containers made of reinforced concrete, capped and faced with polished Minnesota gray granite. Drainage lines and irrigation pipes for the planters were installed during construction.
The minimum depth of the planters is fourteen inches; here English ivy and trailing euonymus are grown. Other planters, ranging in depth from twenty-four inches to four feet, hold large deciduous trees. Watering is by means of installed bubblers and sprinkler heads, supplemented by considerable hand watering with short sections of hose. Plants are fed a dry complete fertilizer in early spring, followed by applications of liquid fertilizer in late spring and midsummer.
Planting material was selected on the basis of appropriateness for the design and its ability to withstand soot and grime, fumes from automobiles, and wind that sweeps between tall buildings. There are three enormous neatly-sheared Japanese yews, and the trees include European beech, honey-locust, sourwood, little-leaf linden, sweet-gum, sophora, sweet bay magnolia, and crab-apples.
Hahn's Shamrock, are used as ground covers. In spring, there is color from bulbs; these are followed by annuals and chrysanthemums for summer and autumn displays. Some tropical plants, crotons, pandanus, acalyphas, shrimp plant, and hibiscus, are in a special box, which is also used for a Christmas tree display. For protection against winter injury, plants are sprayed with Wilt-Pruf in early November when the weather is bright, warm, and sunny.
Beautifully maintained, Mellon Square Park is considered "one of the most outstanding examples of redevelopment in an urban area. Surrounded on all four sides by skyscrapers, the park is a cool and inviting oasis to the tired shopper, the harried executive, and the multitude of workers who are employed in the downtown area." In the midst of concrete and steel, where gardening in the open ground is not possible, Mellon Square Park represents a large-scale garden created in boxes and planters-an outstanding and successful example of this new gardening concept.