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Editorial: Block after block, travel on Second Street delights the eye

The 20 corner gardens that we can’t help but notice and admire up and down Second Street are tended to by an informal group called the Second Street Gardeners. While year after year there’s turnover in the group, these are not city employees but volunteers.

Sandy Bowen has been overseeing the volunteers since 2004. She said those who join are passionate gardeners who feel a sense of civic pride about doing a good deed for their city.

Group members design and pick colors that will form their own little gardens at the street corners. Bowen said this individuality is preferable to a dull, cookie-cutter appearance. Second Street Gardeners are simply asked to keep up their gardens and make sure plants and flowers don’t block views for pedestrians, bicyclists and drivers.

Second Street Gardeners must bring and haul their own water in various size pails. Some, Bowen says, have made arrangements to tap into running water from nearby businesses and Ezekiel Church.

Most, but not all, the gardeners are women. Bowen said the women’s husbands are often brought along for their “sweat equity” to carry mulch and other supplies. Most, but not all, the gardeners are retired. Two are school teachers.

The volunteer gardeners gather at Bowen’s house to select their choice of flowers in April. The city’s Downtown Business District and the River Falls Garden Club pay for the purchases.

Bowen gets flowers from area greenhouse vendors along with student-grown ones from the UW-River Falls Horticulture Department.

Weather permitting, the aim is to have the 20 gardens blooming by Memorial Day, maintained throughout summer and cleared away after fall’s first heavy frost.

The gardens are a blend of perennials and annuals, and include day lilies, daisies, black-eyed susans, astilbes, marigolds, petunias, cone flowers, phlox, liatris, hostas and more.

Bowen said that as they work curbside, the gardeners are often stopped and complimented by passersby. A common question is, Do you work for the city?

They don’t, of course, but what these volunteers do each summer through their creativity and dedication is cultivate a corridor of public art that brings natural beauty along a very busy street in River Falls.

Anyone wishing to become a part of the Second Street Gardeners in the future is welcome to call Sandy Bowen at 715-425-0244 or email her at