by Jackie Reid Dettloff

The golden rod is flowering and that means our growing season is moving into the home stretch. It has been a gorgeous season. Block after block, as I look around our neighborhood, I see gardens that have been tended with obvious care. And I’m just talking about front yards here. Who knows what horticultural wonders may be found enclosed within the backyards of Riverwest?

The gardens we highlight this month belong to us all. Right now they bloom with tall splashy canna, tidy trusty sedum and bright yellow rudbeckia. We pay for these plantings with our tax dollars and they are designed to beautify our community all year round. I’m talking about the landscaping along Humboldt Boulevard and Capitol Drive.

Every year on the Tuesday after Memorial Day, city crews arrive with their trucks to plant tulips and daffodils along the median strips of these two important local thoroughfares. When the bulbs are finished blooming, they are removed and replaced by annuals and perennials chosen to give a succession of flowers throughout the growing season. The plant stock comes from the huge nursery operated by the Forestry Division of the City of Milwaukee’s Department of Public Works. Located in Franklin, the nursery supplies plants for the Summerfest grounds and the County Zoo as well as boulevards throughout the city.

Darren Walker is the Urban Forestry Specialist assigned the task of maintaining the plantings along Humboldt, so you might see him weeding or picking up trash along the planted median. Darren likes to hear from neighbors. When people suggested that plantings in the flower bed near the intersection of Humboldt and Clarke were too tall and may have contributed to a rash of accidents at that corner, Darren conveyed that citizen input to his supervisor and was instrumental in having lower-growing plants at that location this year.

Paula Oleszak is Darren’s boss. She is in charge of the Forestry Service Central District from the Industrial Valley to Capitol Drive and from Lake Michigan to Wauwatosa. With such an enormous territory to manage, she sees that her department “is stretched very, very thin. It’s getting harder and harder to do all there is to do.” Since 2004, she points out, the Forestry Service budget has been cut by 50% and she doesn’t even want to talk about cuts that may be written into the next municipal budget.

All of this goes to say that the urban landscaping that contributes to our quality of life this year is not guaranteed. It will need citizen support if it is to continue. And we’d better smell the roses or at least notice the lilies now because there’s no saying how much longer they will be there.

Riverwest Currents online edition – September, 2006