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Bloom Town: BIDs in Northampton  and Amherst get busy beautifying downtowns

  • Planters in downtown Amherst <br/><br/>CAROL LOLLIS

    Planters in downtown Amherst

    CAROL LOLLIS Purchase photo reprints »

  • Chris Hall, owner of Hall and Son Landscaping, waters the planters in  downtown Amherst. <br/><br/>CAROL LOLLIS

    Chris Hall, owner of Hall and Son Landscaping, waters the planters in downtown Amherst.

    CAROL LOLLIS Purchase photo reprints »

  • Tom Willard, left, and Michael Carr of the Northampton Business Improvement District care for the hanging geraniums at the corner of Main and King streets.<br/>KEVIN GUTTING

    Tom Willard, left, and Michael Carr of the Northampton Business Improvement District care for the hanging geraniums at the corner of Main and King streets.
    KEVIN GUTTING Purchase photo reprints »

  • Planters in the traffic islands of King and Main streets in Northampton are cared for by Jim LaSalle. Each planter is different but among them they feature ornamental grasses, two kinds of sweet potato vine, marigolds or petunias.<br/>KEVIN GUTTING

    Planters in the traffic islands of King and Main streets in Northampton are cared for by Jim LaSalle. Each planter is different but among them they feature ornamental grasses, two kinds of sweet potato vine, marigolds or petunias.
    KEVIN GUTTING Purchase photo reprints »

  • Jim LaSalle, 85, owner of LaSalle Florists in Whately, waters flowers on Main Street in Northampton Sunday. He said he usually waters late at night when there is less traffic, but was forced into afternoon watering when it didn't rain as forecast on Saturday. His gravity-fed water hose, which is connected to a tank of fertilized water in the back of his van, allows him to do most of his job without leaving the vehicle.<br/>JERREY ROBERTS

    Jim LaSalle, 85, owner of LaSalle Florists in Whately, waters flowers on Main Street in Northampton Sunday. He said he usually waters late at night when there is less traffic, but was forced into afternoon watering when it didn't rain as forecast on Saturday. His gravity-fed water hose, which is connected to a tank of fertilized water in the back of his van, allows him to do most of his job without leaving the vehicle.
    JERREY ROBERTS Purchase photo reprints »

  • Michael Carr, left, and Tom Willard of the Northampton Business Improvement District care for the hanging geraniums at the corner of Main and King streets.<br/>KEVIN GUTTING

    Michael Carr, left, and Tom Willard of the Northampton Business Improvement District care for the hanging geraniums at the corner of Main and King streets.
    KEVIN GUTTING Purchase photo reprints »

  • These hanging planters in front of the Hampshire County Courthouse are among those tended by the Northampton Business Improvement District.<br/>KEVIN GUTTING

    These hanging planters in front of the Hampshire County Courthouse are among those tended by the Northampton Business Improvement District.
    KEVIN GUTTING Purchase photo reprints »

  • This hanging planter of geraniums is among those tended by the Northampton Business Improvement District.<br/>KEVIN GUTTING

    This hanging planter of geraniums is among those tended by the Northampton Business Improvement District.
    KEVIN GUTTING Purchase photo reprints »

  • Tom Willard, left, and Michael Carr of the Northampton Business Improvement District care for the hanging geraniums at the corner of Main and King streets.<br/>KEVIN GUTTING

    Tom Willard, left, and Michael Carr of the Northampton Business Improvement District care for the hanging geraniums at the corner of Main and King streets.
    KEVIN GUTTING Purchase photo reprints »

  • Planters in the traffic islands of King and Main streets in Northampton are cared for by Jim LaSalle. Each planter is different but among them they feature ornamental grasses, two kinds of sweet potato vine, marigolds or petunias.<br/>KEVIN GUTTING

    Planters in the traffic islands of King and Main streets in Northampton are cared for by Jim LaSalle. Each planter is different but among them they feature ornamental grasses, two kinds of sweet potato vine, marigolds or petunias.
    KEVIN GUTTING Purchase photo reprints »

  • These planters in the traffic islands of King and Main streets in Northampton are cared for by Jim LaSalle. Each planter is different but among them they feature ornamental grasses, two kinds of sweet potato vine, marigolds or petunias.<br/>KEVIN GUTTING

    These planters in the traffic islands of King and Main streets in Northampton are cared for by Jim LaSalle. Each planter is different but among them they feature ornamental grasses, two kinds of sweet potato vine, marigolds or petunias.
    KEVIN GUTTING Purchase photo reprints »

  • This is a detail of one of the planters in the traffic islands in downtown Northampton cared for by Jim LaSalle. Each planter is different but among them they feature ornamental grasses, two kinds of sweet potato vine, marigolds or petunias.<br/>KEVIN GUTTING

    This is a detail of one of the planters in the traffic islands in downtown Northampton cared for by Jim LaSalle. Each planter is different but among them they feature ornamental grasses, two kinds of sweet potato vine, marigolds or petunias.
    KEVIN GUTTING Purchase photo reprints »

  • These planters in the traffic islands of King and Main streets in Northampton are cared for by Jim LaSalle. Each planter is different but among them they feature ornamental grasses, two kinds of sweet potato vine, marigolds or petunias.<br/>KEVIN GUTTING

    These planters in the traffic islands of King and Main streets in Northampton are cared for by Jim LaSalle. Each planter is different but among them they feature ornamental grasses, two kinds of sweet potato vine, marigolds or petunias.
    KEVIN GUTTING Purchase photo reprints »

  • These planters in the traffic islands of King and Main streets in Northampton are cared for by Jim LaSalle. Each planter is different but among them they feature ornamental grasses, two kinds of sweet potato vine, marigolds or petunias.<br/>KEVIN GUTTING

    These planters in the traffic islands of King and Main streets in Northampton are cared for by Jim LaSalle. Each planter is different but among them they feature ornamental grasses, two kinds of sweet potato vine, marigolds or petunias.
    KEVIN GUTTING Purchase photo reprints »

  • sitting, Jacqui Cowles and a co- owner of Andrews Green House, and Sarah LaCour, the interim operations director for the BID, with planters in down town Amherst. <br/><br/>CAROL LOLLIS

    sitting, Jacqui Cowles and a co- owner of Andrews Green House, and Sarah LaCour, the interim operations director for the BID, with planters in down town Amherst.

    CAROL LOLLIS Purchase photo reprints »

  • front, Sarah LaCour, the interim operations director for the BID, and  Jacqui Cowles a co- owner of Andrews Green House,  with planters in down town Amherst. <br/><br/>CAROL LOLLIS

    front, Sarah LaCour, the interim operations director for the BID, and Jacqui Cowles a co- owner of Andrews Green House, with planters in down town Amherst.

    CAROL LOLLIS Purchase photo reprints »

  • back left, Jacqui Cowles and Andy Cowles, owners of Andrews Green House, front left in black, Sarah LaCour, the interim operations director for the BID, and Claudia O'Brien, an employee of Andrews Green house, with planters in down town Amherst. <br/><br/>CAROL LOLLIS

    back left, Jacqui Cowles and Andy Cowles, owners of Andrews Green House, front left in black, Sarah LaCour, the interim operations director for the BID, and Claudia O'Brien, an employee of Andrews Green house, with planters in down town Amherst.

    CAROL LOLLIS Purchase photo reprints »

  • back left, Jacqui Cowles and Andy Cowles, owners of Andrews Green House, front left in black, Sarah LaCour, the interim operations director for the BID, and Claudia O'Brien, an employee of Andrews Green house, with planters in down town Amherst. <br/><br/>CAROL LOLLIS

    back left, Jacqui Cowles and Andy Cowles, owners of Andrews Green House, front left in black, Sarah LaCour, the interim operations director for the BID, and Claudia O'Brien, an employee of Andrews Green house, with planters in down town Amherst.

    CAROL LOLLIS Purchase photo reprints »

  • Chris Hall, owner of Hall and Son Landscaping, waters the planters in  down town Amherst. <br/><br/>CAROL LOLLIS

    Chris Hall, owner of Hall and Son Landscaping, waters the planters in down town Amherst.

    CAROL LOLLIS Purchase photo reprints »

  • Planters in down town Amherst. <br/><br/>CAROL LOLLIS

    Planters in down town Amherst.

    CAROL LOLLIS Purchase photo reprints »

  • Planters in downtown Amherst <br/><br/>CAROL LOLLIS
  • Chris Hall, owner of Hall and Son Landscaping, waters the planters in  downtown Amherst. <br/><br/>CAROL LOLLIS
  • Tom Willard, left, and Michael Carr of the Northampton Business Improvement District care for the hanging geraniums at the corner of Main and King streets.<br/>KEVIN GUTTING
  • Planters in the traffic islands of King and Main streets in Northampton are cared for by Jim LaSalle. Each planter is different but among them they feature ornamental grasses, two kinds of sweet potato vine, marigolds or petunias.<br/>KEVIN GUTTING
  • Jim LaSalle, 85, owner of LaSalle Florists in Whately, waters flowers on Main Street in Northampton Sunday. He said he usually waters late at night when there is less traffic, but was forced into afternoon watering when it didn't rain as forecast on Saturday. His gravity-fed water hose, which is connected to a tank of fertilized water in the back of his van, allows him to do most of his job without leaving the vehicle.<br/>JERREY ROBERTS
  • Michael Carr, left, and Tom Willard of the Northampton Business Improvement District care for the hanging geraniums at the corner of Main and King streets.<br/>KEVIN GUTTING
  • These hanging planters in front of the Hampshire County Courthouse are among those tended by the Northampton Business Improvement District.<br/>KEVIN GUTTING
  • This hanging planter of geraniums is among those tended by the Northampton Business Improvement District.<br/>KEVIN GUTTING
  • Tom Willard, left, and Michael Carr of the Northampton Business Improvement District care for the hanging geraniums at the corner of Main and King streets.<br/>KEVIN GUTTING
  • Planters in the traffic islands of King and Main streets in Northampton are cared for by Jim LaSalle. Each planter is different but among them they feature ornamental grasses, two kinds of sweet potato vine, marigolds or petunias.<br/>KEVIN GUTTING
  • These planters in the traffic islands of King and Main streets in Northampton are cared for by Jim LaSalle. Each planter is different but among them they feature ornamental grasses, two kinds of sweet potato vine, marigolds or petunias.<br/>KEVIN GUTTING
  • This is a detail of one of the planters in the traffic islands in downtown Northampton cared for by Jim LaSalle. Each planter is different but among them they feature ornamental grasses, two kinds of sweet potato vine, marigolds or petunias.<br/>KEVIN GUTTING
  • These planters in the traffic islands of King and Main streets in Northampton are cared for by Jim LaSalle. Each planter is different but among them they feature ornamental grasses, two kinds of sweet potato vine, marigolds or petunias.<br/>KEVIN GUTTING
  • These planters in the traffic islands of King and Main streets in Northampton are cared for by Jim LaSalle. Each planter is different but among them they feature ornamental grasses, two kinds of sweet potato vine, marigolds or petunias.<br/>KEVIN GUTTING
  • sitting, Jacqui Cowles and a co- owner of Andrews Green House, and Sarah LaCour, the interim operations director for the BID, with planters in down town Amherst. <br/><br/>CAROL LOLLIS
  • front, Sarah LaCour, the interim operations director for the BID, and  Jacqui Cowles a co- owner of Andrews Green House,  with planters in down town Amherst. <br/><br/>CAROL LOLLIS
  • back left, Jacqui Cowles and Andy Cowles, owners of Andrews Green House, front left in black, Sarah LaCour, the interim operations director for the BID, and Claudia O'Brien, an employee of Andrews Green house, with planters in down town Amherst. <br/><br/>CAROL LOLLIS
  • back left, Jacqui Cowles and Andy Cowles, owners of Andrews Green House, front left in black, Sarah LaCour, the interim operations director for the BID, and Claudia O'Brien, an employee of Andrews Green house, with planters in down town Amherst. <br/><br/>CAROL LOLLIS
  • Chris Hall, owner of Hall and Son Landscaping, waters the planters in  down town Amherst. <br/><br/>CAROL LOLLIS
  • Planters in down town Amherst. <br/><br/>CAROL LOLLIS

Business people know that a welcoming downtown attracts customers to shops and restaurants, and visitors to tourist destinations. In Northampton and Amherst, the Business Improvement District in each community underwrites stunning planters that beautify the main streets. And people seem to appreciate the effort.

“We get great feedback,” said Sarah LaCour, interim director of the Amherst BID. “There is a lot of confusion,” she added. Many people assume the plantings are maintained by the local departments of public works, but the current effort is entirely financed by the local business communities.

All this effort comes with a price and with a lot of hard work. Dan Yacuzzo, director of the Northampton BID, said the annual cost is about $15,000.

Barry Roberts, president of the Amherst BID, said a similar sum is necessary annually in addition to a very large initial expenditure for the large containers and the brackets on the light poles that support the hanging baskets.

Northampton’s BID has underwritten the cost of the planters for the past four years, while the project is new in Amherst this year.

The plants and the maintenance staff are very different in the two municipalities.

BID employees in Northampton maintain the hanging baskets, while Jim LaSalle of LaSalle Florists of Whately takes care of the planters in the median strips. In Amherst, Chris Hall of Hall & Son Landscaping in Belchertown does the regular watering and fertilizing while Andrew’s Greenhouse in South Amherst created the planters and keeps them trimmed.

‘Blizzard’ geraniums are the mainstay of the Northampton hanging baskets along with trailing variegated vinca vines. The pink, white, rose and blue ivy geraniums are “self-cleaning,” meaning they don’t need constant pruning or dead-heading, which could become a nightmare with 96 baskets hanging 15 feet above ground.

BID employees regularly trim the trailing vines. Otherwise, it would be terribly tempting to pranksters to pull them down, said Tom Willard, who helps maintain them.

Dodging baby strollers

BID employees Willard and his colleague, Michael Carr, clean downtown and water the hanging baskets three times a week. They trundle slowly down the sidewalk in a small bright orange vehicle with the BID insignia on the front and the back, dodging baby strollers, wheelchairs and pedestrians.

“We used to water them with a truck but we had to cordon off the parking spaces all the time,” Willard explained.

Willard uses water-soluble fertilizer, which turns the water blue, every fourth or fifth watering or every seven to 10 days. “The fertilizer makes the flowers pop,” he said.

He usually drives the vehicle while Carr uses a long wand with a hooked nozzle to do the watering from a 250-gallon tank.

Three-decade tradition

The Northampton plants went up the week before Memorial Day and will stay in place until there’s a hard frost and it’s time to put up the holiday decorations, Willard said.

The planters along the median strip on Main Street, which have been part of the Northampton landscape for more than 30 years, are maintained by LaSalle, a well-known figure in the city. He’s been doing this for at least 15 years, he said, first with the Northampton Beautification Committee, then with the local Chamber of Commerce and now for the BID.

LaSalle selects and grows the plants at his greenhouse in Whately. In the spring Smith Vocational and Agricultural High School students help plant them on site and later dismantle the pots and store them over the winter at the school.

The challenge of the ground-level planters compared to the hanging baskets is all the blacktop surrounding them plus the exhaust from cars stopped at traffic lights, LaSalle noted. They require a great deal of water, sometimes daily in really hot weather. He uses a weak solution of water-soluble fertilizer every time he waters.

Each of the planters in the median strip is slightly different, LaSalle said.

“We didn’t want them all to be the same.” However, there are similar plants — sweet potato vines, Pennisetum setaceum ‘Rubrum’, an ornamental grass whose plumes waft in the wind, petunias and calibrachoa (million bells), marigolds and zinnias, Dusty Miller and some geraniums.

He says this year he used too many sweet potato vines in each container, three instead of two. The vines overwhelmed the colorful flowers, especially the geraniums. Next year he plans more petunias and fewer vines.

LaSalle said he hopes his company is asked back again next year. “We’ve been part of downtown Northampton for a long time,” he said.

Amherst’s new planters

The inaugural year of planters through the Amherst BID seems to be just as successful as Northampton. The new planters were installed during the second week in June, just in time for the annual Taste of Amherst event.

According to Mina Lussier, an Amherst BID member who was involved in the planning, the project is all due to “Mr. Amherst,” Barry Roberts. It was his idea and he undertook the arduous task of commissioning and installing the brackets on the light poles for the large planters, she said.

“We had the one-time expense of the baskets plus the brackets. There was a problem with hanging the planters because the light poles are very lightweight,” Roberts explained. He had to have special brackets crafted by Amherst Welding to support the planters.

Installing the heavy baskets was a real challenge, Andy Cowles said. “With Barry behind us, we got it done.” It took two days to hang all the 87 baskets, some of them double containers.

Lussier said Andrew’s Greenhouse staff was given free rein on color and plant choice and Cowles said they got advice from their professional representative from Ball Seeds.

They chose three combinations. On South and North Pleasant streets, the planters have two forms of sweet potato vine with ‘Vista’ petunias in pink and rose, that don’t required dead-heading. On Main Street, they tried another combination with bold magenta and orange New Guinea impatiens, which are supposed to take the heat well, along with gray-leaved trailing dichondra vines, ‘Red Threads’ alternanthera, a foliage plant and calibrachoas in yellow.

In the Spring Street parking lot near the Lord Jeffery Inn, the planters hold single ivy geraniums, lantana, ‘Dragon Wing’ begonias, vinca and yellow calibrichoas. “This is the combination I like best,” Cowles said. “The yellow calibrachoa really shows up.”

The hanging baskets needed pruning a couple of times this summer, Cowles said. Teetering on an unstable ladder wielding pruning shears while cars are moving below can be scary. One of his employees got half-way up the ladder and said, “No way.” He finished the job himself and it took five hours.

There are also seven ground-level planters on the corners of Main, Amity, South and North Pleasant streets and along the small median across from the Town Common. Lussier and Claudia O’Brien of Andrew’s planted these on site. The planters also have the bold foliage of sweet potato vine plus lantana, calibrachoa, the centerpiece of Pennisetum setaceum ‘Rubrum’ and graceful, delicate white gaura.

“The reason everything did well was Chris Hall,” Cowles stated. “His dedication was incredible. He kept things going those first two weeks in the heat.”

Hall and his employees water three times a week, usually around 6 a.m. to avoid parked cars. Later in the day, “You double-park and you can run the hose between the cars,” Hall said. It takes him about two-and-a-half hours to water.

“People in town have been happy,” Cowles reported. LaCour said she receives phone calls and emails and people stopping her on the street. Cowles is pleased that customers at the local barbershop on Main Street have congratulated him on the plantings, adding that barbershop customers can be very critical of everything from politics to plants.

Like LaSalle, Cowles plans some changes for next year. One of the sweet potato varieties, ‘Illusion’, has more finely cut foliage and “it just looks wilted,” Cowles complained. He also said the New Guinea impatiens attracted June bugs and Japanese beetles which feasted on the flowers.

Thanks to the positive reaction of townspeople and visitors, the Northampton and Amherst BIDs will most likely finance the planters again next year.

They just want everyone to remember that the project is finished by local businesses, not by the local departments of public works.

Cheryl B. Wilson can be reached at valleygardens@comcast.net.

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