- Associated Press - Sunday, May 11, 2014

LINCOLN, Neb. (AP) - George Pinkerton and his staff at the Downtown Lincoln Association are hoping to make your stroll through the urban streets like a walk in the park - literally. Granted, it is a park with tall building canyons, lots of traffic and more concrete than turf, but thanks to them, there are plenty of spots to stop and smell the flowers.

Over the past seven years, Pinkerton and his staff have been making the downtown streets a little brighter, more fragrant and a bit shadier. He explained that grant money from a variety of sources - the Nebraska Statewide Arboretum, the NRD, Nebraska Forest Service, to name a few - all have contributed to the end result.

There are lots of things to consider when drawing up the landscape plans for downtown Lincoln, Pinkerton told the Lincoln Journal Star (http://bit.ly/1uDuUNS).

In addition to the usual factors - shade or sun, water sources and disease resistance - Pinkerton has to think about proximity to downtown bars (greenery there has a rougher life), ease of theft (concrete bowls are hard to move) and follow-up maintenance.

Over the years they have learned from some problems. Over 40 percent of the beautiful rugosa or old-fashioned roses that lined some streets got the viral disease rosetta. “When that hits, you need to pull them quickly so it doesn’t spread,” Pinkerton said.

The ability to keep everything watered is Pinkerton’s biggest challenge, he said. Much of the irrigation system in place is over 40 years old, and it only covers about 40 percent of the needs.

Don’t look for bluegrass turf on the open areas under trees. Instead you’ll find wood chips - 1,000 cubic yards of them are spread each year - and experiments with buffalo grass.

Many containers are hand-watered, but workers try to plant materials that are drought-tolerant varieties, he said.

High-velocity winds that whistle through the buildings and ice storms are other routine weather issues. Then there is the occasional passer-by who decides to transplant one or more of the containers or take a few home. And every year, someone decides to sit in the middle of a bowl or two.

Ron Harvey, owner of Urban Trails, a local nursery, designs and supplies plant material for many of the pots. His experience guides his plant choices, he said.

The structure of the downtown buildings means plants may be in sun part of the day and heavy shade the other part. Some weeks, they may need extra water, but on rainy cycles they could be very wet, he said.

For that reason, Harvey’s choice for some of the containers he designs may include the very hardy dragon begonias. “They can do well in sun or shade,” he said.

Harvey follows the “thriller, filler, spiller” formula for many of the containers, meaning a taller plant, medium height in the middle and something that will trail over the edges. Grasses - Fireworks fountain grass and White Lancer feather grass are two he often uses in the center - and lime green and dark purple sweet potato vines are used as trailers.

Supertunias, a petunia hybrid, often are part of the containers Harvey designs.

Because it is almost planting time, all hands are on deck. The completion of the West Haymarket area means even more containers - and several of them are a gigantic 64 inches across. A total of 100 pots, landscape bowls and hanging baskets will be planted with an assortment of plants in the next few weeks, Pinkerton said.

Story Continues →