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Volunteers help to beautify downtown Roanoke

Volunteer Joshua Thacker places a zip tie on a hanging basket to keep it in place on a Roanoke light pole.
Volunteer Joshua Thacker places a zip tie on a hanging basket to keep it in place on a Roanoke light pole. Photo by Joseph Slacian

About 30 volunteers converged in Roanoke on Thursday afternoon to help beautify the downtown area. The volunteers – from Reusser Design and from the Roanoke Beautification Foundation – hung 60 potted plants from 30 light poles throughout the downtown area. “Each year Roanoke Beautification Foundation solicits donations from fans of Roanoke and uses that money to purchases flowers,” Foundation member John Nelson said. “We pay someone to water the flowers each morning for the entire summer.” The flowers generally arrive in May and stay up until mid-October.  “We try to keep them up as long as we possibly can,” Nelson said. “Mother Nature usually dictates when we take them down. “They are impressive when they go up, but even more so when they come down. They get quite substantial.” In addition to the daily watering, the vining geranium plants are fertilized once a week. Although it is too late to do so this year, the public can order hanging baskets through the foundation, Nelson said. Those orders are generally taken in the fall, so the nursery – Van Root Nursery — knows how many baskets are needed. “They start to grow them in early winter in their greenhouses, then we just coordinate with them what day we need them delivered,” Nelson said. “We, fingers crossed, have an army of volunteers that day and get them hung up. It’s a very slick operation.” When they are taken down, the plants are composted and the hanging baskets are returned to the nursery. In ideal circumstances, it takes less than an hour to hang the plants. “It’s almost as if a person walked into a business and then came out 20 minutes later and suddenly the street had flowers,” Nelson said. “It wouldn’t be apparent how that happened.” The foundation has been hanging the baskets for about 15 years. “To say that (the baskets) are an attraction is probably and understatement,” Nelson said. “I happen to work downtown. I can hear people all day long – visitors to downtown – making comments about just how great they are. They get overflowing. We’ve had some that get so massive that birds will build nests in them.” The baskets contain red and pink flowers. If all goes as planned, the colors will alternate from pole to pole, with red flowers on one pole and pink flowers on the next. “You’d like to think an army of adults could handle alternating colors,” Nelson said. “I’m not saying there’s never been a mistake. But the great thing is that all we have to do is take it down and swap it out. No one’s the wiser.”