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Labor of love flowers on Second Street

Scott Taylor, husband of Arline Taylor, waters the colorful blossoms that his wife tends as part of the Second Street Gardeners volunteer group.

Twenty-six people spend mornings, evenings and weekends making sure the gardens that line Second Street corners are a sight to behold.

Started by Sandy Bowen in 2004, Second Street Gardeners is a volunteer effort to tend to gardens that might otherwise be neglected.

According to Bowen, a retired River Falls High School teacher, she often took walks down Second Street. Many times she noticed that the gardens that had been put in at a previous time were neglected.

After complaining about the gardens to a friend and saying "...somebody should do something about this," her friend said, "...Sandy, you can do something about this."

Bowen, who loves to garden, took her friend's "call to action" and called the city. She asked if they would give her enough money to get the garden maintenance program started.

The city directed Bowen to the Business Improvement District (BID), a group of business owners and other interested parties that work together to improve the downtown.

After Bowen presented to the BID board and secured the money for the rehabilitation, she "...leaned on her friends."

"Most were willing," she said about rounding up volunteers to help rehab the Second Street gardens.

Since 2004 the BID board has continued to give the Second Street Gardeners a stipend for things such as mulch and new plants.

The 26 unpaid gardeners include: Mary Jo Pedriana, Patty Tricker, Barb Chapin, Genevieve Needham-Score, MaryLynn Wiskerchen, Audrey Iverson, Lori's Massage, Ruth Lee, Lu Lueck, Mary Solum, Kari Hussey, Ellen Schultz, Shelly Wilson, Linda Ross, Kristen Wilson, Gabe Schulberg, Peggy Berg, Barry and Kim Lindsay, Nicky Shella, Marcia Pharis, Mary Waters, Arline Taylor, Susan Gnatzig, The Gorden Family and Deb Freeman

To grow a garden

The gardens that dot Second Street intersections have different types of plants, including annuals -- which give instant color -- and perennials -- which are the backbone of a garden.

They include: Geraniums, lilies, irises, coreopsis, daisies, Russian sage and more.

In the last two years, the gardeners have been busy putting in tulip bulbs.

Prior to the season, Bowen contacts UW-River Falls professor, Dr. Marcia Pharis, who allows her to pick out plants at a reasonable cost. In addition to UWRF, the River Falls Garden Club also helps out the Second Street Gardeners.

Each garden has its own gardener who does all the maintenance and decides on what plants will be grown.

"Each garden has a gardener," said Bowen. "There are no rules."

One such gardener, Arline Taylor, along with husband, Scott, maintains a garden on the northeast corner of Second and Cedar streets, by Char's Family Hair Care.

Arline enjoys donating her time to "her garden" -- in particular, she likes that her Second Street garden is full sun, while her at-home personal gardens are shade gardens.

Some volunteers have taken on the task of tending to more than one garden or have taken over places that were not initially part of the Second Street gardens.

Two years ago River Falls was awarded the "America in Bloom" distinction -- given to cities that demonstrate beautification of the community through plantings.

During that time additional areas were added to the Second Street gardens, including the triangle at the corner of Second and Spring streets, which is maintained by First National Bank of River Falls.

The Second Street Gardeners have also inspired others to "adopt" gardens throughout the city, including a few at Hoffman Park and one by the River Falls Hospital sign.

The biggest problem that the gardeners face is the lack of a ready water supply -- they have to haul water in five gallon buckets.

Said Bowen: "If it rains, yay, yay, yay. Otherwise we haul water. This year was hard because it was hot and dry."

A wish list item would be a city-owned watering truck that would drive down Second Street and water all the gardens.

Another problem the gardeners have faced is people who help themselves to the plants or ornaments.

Bowen never thought she would have to address that problem, but in the last year, items have been going missing.

Although initially worried about the gardens getting trampled during events like the River Falls Days parade, Bowen says that has not been the case.

The biggest reward for the volunteers is people who take the time to thank them.

"It is amazing that so many people notice or pay attention," said Taylor.

The volunteers say they have gotten horn tapping, positive comments yelled out car windows and people sharing their appreciation.

Bowen mentioned one instance where a visitor from Toronto commented on how impressed he was to see volunteers taking care of community gardens.

Always in need of volunteers to help, Bowen says " don't have to be a gardener."

Spring requires the most time commitment but, come summer, Bowen says the gardens need about an hour a week.

To donate time or money to the Second Street Gardeners, call Bowen at 715-425-0244.

Said Bowen: "In a small town, people care."

Jillian Dexheimer
Jillian Dexheimer has been a copy editor and reporter for the River Falls Journal since 2011. She previously worked for the River Falls Chamber of Commerce and Tourism Bureau. Dexheimer holds a sociology degree from UW-River Falls.
(715) 426-1046